Yesterday was Anzac day, when those of us of antipodean extraction remember the men and women who fought for Britain in the Australia & New Zealand Army Corps … and eat biscuits.
My mother was from New South Wales and her dad, my granddad, fought in France in the First World War. He survived, but suffered trench foot and spent time in the military hospital in Amiens. I can’t imagine the shock of coming from sunny Australia to a northern European winter, let alone the hell of the trenches.
It’s not always remembered in this country, but troops came from all over the world to fight for Britain (and France). Not just Australia and New Zealand, but South Africa, Canada, India, the Caribbean – all corners of the Empire. There’s a scene in one of my favourite films “A Matter Of Life And Death” where a giant amphitheatre in Heaven fills up with troops from all over the world.
The Anzacs are most famous for their role at Gallipoli. This was one of Churchill’s cunning plans, he was head of the Navy, I think at the time. The idea was to land at Gallipoli, defeat the Turks and take them out of the war then march north to take on Austia-Hungary and Germany. The problem was that the landing beaches were overlooked by steep cliffs which were easy to defend with machine guns. Perhaps he knew it was a suicide mission because he sent colonial troops rather than British soldiers.
Between our Anzac and mining heritages, Mr Churchill wasn’t very popular in our house.
My mother was always keen to explain the perspective of those coming from the Empire, or later the Commonwealth, to serve or work in Britain. Schools throughout the Empire taught English history and English literature. Immigrants often found that they knew far more about “the Motherland” than the native population. That didn’t always go down well, particularly if your skin wasn’t white.
The campaign and its aftermath is immortalised in the song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. Oh blimey, even writing the title brings tears to my eyes. I first heard this version by The Pogues, but lots of people have sung it.
There seems to be a common consensus that the First World War was badly handled. Men and women were used like, well human resources, no better than shells or guns (it’s getting like that in some companies I can think of). War as a concept redeemed itself in the Second World war, the Nazis after all, had to be dealt with. But with recent wars the politics and ambition has become more visible again. War is politics by other means. Sympathy and solidarity with the soldiers has increased, certainly in public as can be seen by the support for Help The Heroes.
I don’t have a problem with the frontline troops, except to wonder why they joined up in the first place, but I do not support the current war in Afghanistan. Nor did I support the wars in Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Korea ….
Funnily enough wasn’t it Churchill who said “Jaw jaw is better than war war”?
And now for the biscuits, the taste of my childhood. They are a sort of flapjack, but without fruit and with extra coconut. Here’s my Mum’s recipe for Anzac biscuits: Anzac Biscuits
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.