While in Canberra for Fulbright orientation, we went to the Australian War Memorial. It's a beautiful museum and memorial site, commemorating a lot of history but particularly focused on WWI and the ill-fated (for the Allied troops) Gallipoli Campaign ("Gah-lip-o-lee" [NOT "gal-i-pole-ey"]). I was not familiar with this history, which was shocking to the Australians with me on this tour, as they said Gallipoli is "most" of what they are taught about the history of armed conflict and especially WWI. I thought it was interesting to reflect on these differences in perspective and how history is taught. Notably, there is an Australian miniseries (7 episodes) on Netflix right now about Gallipoli that is worth watching (more info below).
The red poppies were everywhere at the memorial, which was beautiful and moving. From my ROTC days visiting various WWI and WWII sites in Europe, I remember the significance of the red poppies from Flanders fields on the Western Front in WWI (see the famous John McCrae poem below). Although the symbol of the red poppy to honor veterans originated from an American woman (inspired after reading Canadian McCrae's poem), the symbolism has spread across the world as a general remembrance for people who have died in wars.
ANZAC day (stands for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) in Australia is observed on April 25. It is a general memorial day (similar in many ways to our in America), but honors particularly the ANZAC troops who served in the landmark Gallipoli Campaign, their disatrous first engagement with the Allied Forces in WWI.
There is an Australian miniseries (7 episodes) on Netflix right now about Gallipoli. We watched it over the last few days - it's worth watching for the historical elements but also has a decent human drama story arc. Below is a 2:33 minute trailer for the series - find the miniseries on Netflix here.
The Australian War Memorial holds a Last Post Ceremony every day at 4:45 pm, which we observed. Each night the ceremony shared the story of one person listed on the Roll of Honor (i.e., the story of the veteran and his/her "last post"). Family members / descendants of the person of honor are invited to be part of the ceremony, as are other representatives and dignitaries.
There Australian national anthem opens the ceremony, followed by bagpipes ("the piper's lament"). Invited visitors lay wreaths and floral tributes beside the Pool of Reflection. After the person's story is told, Australian Defence Force personnel recites the Ode and the ceremony ends with the sounding of the Last Post. On the day of our trip, Trooper Reginald Wallace Richardson was honored.
The day we went, the Memorial invited the director of the Australian-American Fulbright Commission to lay a wreath during the ceremony (an Australian), which he did with alongside an American veteran who is also here on a Fulbright Scholarship - they're the second wreath-layers. A video of this Last Post Ceremony is below. The day we were there was also the National Day for War Animals, which was difficult to learn about.
The ceremony was pensive, somber, and highly memorable. I was struck the intention with which Australians focus their efforts to remember, and everyone in attendance repeating "Lest We Forget" after the closing words of the ceremony (almost reminded me of a Catholic Mass, "Peace be with you" "and also with you"). The ending of the ceremony in particular with the final tribute and the closing of the Memorial's doors was very moving.
Tess M.S. Neal
Sharing my sabbatical adventure in Australia with my partner and our two young boys. We are staying in Sydney for 4 months on a Fulbright Scholar Award.