An ANZAC Reflection

Anzac DayANZAC Day is an annual event remembering Australians and New Zealanders who participated in World War I and in particular the landings at Gallipoli. All theatres of conflict are commemorated on this day, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Timor Leste, and operations in the Middle East. The ANZAC services attract large numbers. Dawn services in particular attract youth, families and children.

About Anzac Day

When is Anzac Day? 
Anzac Day falls on the 25th of April each year. The 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916.

What does ‘ANZAC’ stand for? 
‘ANZAC’ stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. 

On the 25th of April 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula. These became known as Anzacs and the pride they took in that name continues to this day. 

Why is this day special to Australians? 
On the morning of 25 April 1915, the Anzacs set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and an ally of Germany. 

The Anzacs landed on Gallipoli and met fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Their plan to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. 

At the end of 1915, the allied forces were evacuated. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing on Gallipoli and the events that followed had a profound impact on Australians at home. The 25th of April soon became the day on which Australians remember the sacrifice of those who had died in the war. 

The Anzacs were courageous and although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign left us all a powerful legacy. 

What does Anzac Day mean today? 
With the coming of the Second World War, Anzac Day also served to commemorate the lives of Australians who died in that war. The meaning of Anzac Day today includes the remembrance of all Australians killed in military operations.

Indigenous trackers and Anzac Day
Recalling the Indigenous trackers – of the Lighthorse – in the Australian Army in World War I

Who are ANZACS today?

On this Anzac Day the Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, announced that for all who serve in the Australian Defence Forces – we, Australia at large – confer this honorific on then and affirm, “they are ANZAC’S” to honour their sacrifice of leaving kith and kin, home and hearth, to serve and defend our nation. The Governor General said that whatever the era, whatever the calling, their service arises from deep within, it comes from a common sense of duty, of pride in this nation, and pride in who we are.

Anzac Day at Alice Springs
Anzac Day at Alice Springs

An ANZAC Reflection

I have attended many Dawn services on Anzac Day, in the rain, in the cold, in the dark. Circa 2000, the dawn service was a short affair, attended by hardy faithful, by torchlight. Barely 100 people would be in attendance. As the years pass by, the crowds get larger and larger, spill across the road, with families and children in pyjamas and dressing gowns coming, falling asleep sometimes and woken up by the Gun Party when the 21 gun salute is fired. The crowd is significantly larger for the Dawn service, each year.

During this year’s Dawn service, the local Catholic Priest read out the ANZAC Requiem, and I was struck by the final verse:

“May these all rest proudly in the knowledge of their achievement, and may we and our successors in that heritage prove worthy of their sacrifice.”

The idea of being worthy of their sacrifice raises questions about how we live our lives and what it is we are living for. ANZAC day is a day when we acknowledge the sacrifices and loss of life in wars and theatres of conflict the Australian Defence Forces have participated in. What is the value of these lives and how do we show that in the lives we lead this day, and every other day? Are we mindful that we are free to make our own choices in this country, and free to do as we like within the ambit of the laws of the land? How do we make our lives worthwhile, remembering and recalling such a sacrifice? This is a question worthy of reflection.

I have attended many ANZAC services at our local Cenotaph at 11am. Again, the crowds increase year by year, and some journalists reflect dimly that we need our rituals. Where we religiously observe ANZAC day, we are told that our faith is something else. Perhaps this relates to the questions raised above. Nonetheless, I attend and on behalf of the local interfaith network, lay a wreath at the 11:00 service. This wreath has the symbols of the main religions of humanity:


Interfaith Wreath
Lest We Forget – ANZAC wreath with the symbols of the religions of humanity

Living in a town with four mosques, I was not surprised when one of the imams – Sheik Yassin – came up to me and engaged me in conversation, where I was waiting along with a large crowd, all at the ready with their wreaths. The Sikh community was present in their colourful turbans, as was the Buddhist Association – a wreath with the Buddhist symbol – Buddhism being a religion of non-violence. The Uniting Church was nearby.

Sheik Yassin and his companion shared a story of woe: they had attempted to obtain a wreath this morning, only to find the Florist’s closed, and was rather sad. Spontaneously, I invited him to join me, and carry the wreath. The smiles could not come quickly enough. The Sheik was pleased. He is a holy fellow in my experience, for I have felt my crown chakra opening and vibrating when I hear him chant the Qu’ran in public meetings. He is also a good preacher, so I have a high regard for him.

There is some organisation involved, and I had helped the Buddhists to be involved this day and promised to help the Sheik and his Muslim community to participate next year.

In conversation with the Sheik, I raised a point with him that I heard one speaker at the Dawn service say, “We have a common enemy”. This raised some reflection among us that acknowledgement of “a common enemy” hinted that the effects of terrorism are felt by all, in every country. We spoke about Christchurch (we had attended several vigils together – multifaith services, commemorating and offering prayers for victims of Christchurch), and Sri Lanka, the latest and largest devastation of terrorism on the world.

We spoke of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015 and how “Je Suis Charlie” flashed around the world in solidarity the victims. The Sri Lankans in the queue with wreaths joined in, saying that no-one felt safe at home, and that the Catholic Churches had cancelled all Sunday Masses until the authorities tell it is safe to do so.

I wondered about what brings peace in Australia. A friend of mine, an Interfaith Minister, tells that all people who go to war come home wounded and ill in their psyche in one way or another. I am thinking that all of us who live in peace and freedom here, disengaged from the common enemy without a face – except in the media – might also be ill, disaffected by what makes our lives worth living, the sacrifices of others. How do we make our lives worthy of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us? How do we make our lives worthwhile?

Perhaps we do this through attendance at Dawn services, perhaps we do this with sombre reflection on our national flag and all who fought under that flag for our freedom. Perhaps it is by telling the stories of our ANZAC heroes, of our grandparents and their generations who enlisted and fought here by the Darwin Defenders and HMAS Kuttabul and overseas. Perhaps it is by living a life of gratitude for the simple freedoms we take for granted.

I am not afraid to lay a wreath with the symbols of the world’s religions, for religion means to bind back, to bring together. ANZAC services bind our community and remind us of our purpose, our freedom, our future, and how that was won for us and the cost of that victory.

The Buddha and the Ploughshare

It is often chanted that swords will be turned into ploughshares illustrating the era of peace. Here, the Buddha answers a ploughman who accuses him of laziness. The answer is “I am also a ploughman, a spiritual one.”

Faith is the seed, penance the rain,
Understanding my yoke and plough
Modesty the pole of the plough, mind the tie,
Thoughfulness my ploughshare and goad.

I am guarded in the body, guarded in speech;
I am temperate in food,
I make the truth to cut away (the weeds)
Sympathy is my deliverance.

Exertion is my beast of burden,
Carrying me to Nirvana,
He goes without turning back
To the place where having gone, one does not grieve.

So this ploughing is ploughed.
It bears the fruit of immortality.
Having ploughed this ploughing,
One is freed from all pain.

M.K. Gandhi on fighting and Violence:

Gandhi speaks on the Bhagavad Gita:
Questioner I am told you recite the Bhagavad Gita daily?
Gandhi Yes, we finish the entire Gita reading once a week.
Questioner But at the end of the Gita, Krishna recommends violence.
Gandhi I do not think so.

I am also fighting. I should not be fighting effectively if I were fighting violently. The message of the Gita is found in the second chapter of the Gita where Krishna speaks of the balanced state of mind, of mental equipoise. In nineteen verses at the close of the second chapter of the Gita, Krikshna explaikkns how this state of mind can be achieved. It can be achieved, he tells us, after killing all your passions. It is not possible to kill your brother after having killed all your passions. I should like to see that man dealing death — who is indifferent to pleasure and pain, who is undisturbed by the storms that trouble mortal man. The whole thing is described in language of beauty that is unsurpassed. The verses show that the fight Krishna speaks of is a spiritual fight.

Sikhism, the Sacred Warrior and a God of No Limit:

The Sikhs embody the Khalsa, the five K’s of Sikhism and give shape and form to what it means to be a sacred warrior, in the name of the Guru, the community. As a true follower of a Sikhism they must follow the 5 Ks. These are;

1. Kesh (hair)- They must have uncut hair.
2. Kanga (comb)- They must wear a comb in their hair.
3. Kara (steel bangle)- They must wear one on their right wrist.
4. Kachera (shorts)-They must wear these, fastened with string as a belt.
5. Kirpan (sword)- Every one should keep a sword with them at all times.

Yet, the Sikh of faith and the Khalsa Sikh stand before, offer service to and receive grace from a God who is of no limit:

There’s no limit to God’s praise, to His glorification, no limit
There’s no limit to His works, to His giving, no limit.
We cannot limit him by our seeing or by our hearing.
We cannot know the limit of the secret of His heart.
We cannot know the limit of His created world.
We cannot know the limit of His own accepted limits.
How many cry out to know His limits?
But His limits cannot be discerned.
This limit no one can know.
The more that is described, the more remains.
Great is the Lord, His throne is exalted.
Higher than the highest is His Name.
If anyone were to be as highly exalted as He,
Then he would know His exaltation.
But God alone knows how great he is.
Nanak, what we receive is the result of Grace.

An Interfaith Reflection
Jesus Christ said “The Kingdom of God is within you”; Hinduism’s avatars Rama and Krishna both fought wars against evil enemies and instigated an era of right conduct for mankind. Gandhi – who led many non-violent protests against the British in India – speaks of the kinds of violence one has to prosecute in order to have inner peace. The Buddha taught that path to peace was through the noble 8-fold path, with the inner discipline of seeing all with the same sight, and hence, seeing neither enemy nor friend; all are the same. The Jews recite Kaddish for the fallen in war, and join in with the Ode. The Muslims tell it is their duty to Allah – “the God” – to live in peace with all, for jihad, holy war, is an inner jihad each and every Muslim engages in to remove their bad qualities. Many religious stories have bloodscapes, yet all religious narratives point to a peace within, a peace the world cannot give. The real war is the war within to disregard our illusions and attachments and find that inner peace which is deep within our hearts.

This is how we make our lives worthwhile. This is how we prove worthy of the sacrifices of those mentioned in the ANZAC Requiem of 2019.


Field of Remembrance, Shepparton, ANZAC Day 2019.
Field of Remembrance, Shepparton, ANZAC Day 2019.

Because whatever the era, whatever the calling, their service arises from deep within, it comes from a common sense of duty, of pride in this nation, and pride in who we are. There is a determination to protect our sovereignty and preserve the values that unite us as one strong, proud and harmonious nation – Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor General of Australia, 25 April 2019.




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