On ANZAC Day (April 25) every year, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate and acknowledge the bravery, dedication and sacrifice that young men and women made in military actions for our countries. It is based on a specific day in 1915 when young men landed on the shores of a far flung peninsula in Turkey, suffering huge losses over several months of fruitless fighting.
At dawn on Anzac Day every year, numerous people gather at memorials across the country and around the world to pay their respect to those fallen souls who did so much to offer the way of life that we have today.
Bullet holes in the hull of a small lifeboat in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra bears witness to the unthinkably grim circumstances these young men at Gallipoli peninsula must have felt rowing ashore towards the blood stained beaches.
Today the war memorial in Canberra is one of the world’s finest museums, memorials and exhibitions on Australia’s war history. In the shape of a cross, the memorial is split into two major zones – World War 1 and World War 2 with two large rooms of aircraft and a downstairs area with displays on more recent conflicts involving Australia. Above the museum is the commemorative area including the moving Hall of Memory, the Roll of Honour, the Pool of Reflection and the Eternal Flame.
Though with no real interest in military museums, it is impossible not to be moved and swept into the stories and background to so many of the displays. In one area, dioramas (constructed in the 1920s) of some of the worst of the World War 1 battles on the western front capture the squalor, mud and deprivation of these awful arenas of battle as two armies fought for months to gain or lose a few metres of ground. The detail of the trenches, the battle ground and the individual soldiers goes a small way into offering an understanding the emotions that the soldiers must have endured over a battle 12,000 kilometres from their homeland.
The aircraft hall highlights the small flimsy planes of wood, canvas and wires only a few metres in length used in the first World War. An extraordinary 14-minute film by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame) shot onto a 120 degree screen in the aircraft hall captures the dogfights in the earliest aerial war battles. On the first shot that rang out within inches of a young pilot, the woman sitting next to me leapt out of her seat. The Red Baron’s fur-lined left boot sits in a glass case highlighting the severe cold these young airmen must have experienced fighting in open cockpits.
The highlights of the Australian War Memorial continues in part two.