As an English Australian Christian, ANZAC Day has been, and remains, somewhat enigmatic. I appreciate, and am sometimes deeply moved, by aspects of it. Yet it often feels a little alien, particularly in its more recent forms: adding, as they do, extra nationalistic and even militaristic overtones to a developed myth which is itself somewhat sub-Christian, and at times even anti-Christian (when, that is, it over-exalts the very elements of blood-sacrifice and trajectories of human violence which Christ's work transfigures and ends). Generally therefore, I tend simply to let ANZAC commemorations pass by, except when I am forced to confront them: such as at the SCG one day at an AFL match, where the invasion of the pitch by a military parade and ritual was a powerful reminder of the sometimes problematic relationship between sport and violence (indeed I wondered what it would take, and what reaction there would be, to a peace march and peace ritual in the same space in a similar manner). As a proud and happy Australian citizen, I believe strongly in the right of my fellow Australians to hold and practice ideas and behaviours different from my own. I also rejoice in the virtues and outstanding stories of courage, resistance and mutual support in the ANZAC myth and I pray that these may indeed flourish in positive ways in our lives and world today. However I still often feel somewhat distanced. Are there, I wonder, ways forward to a more inclusive commemoration?...
Part of the problematic nature of my relationship with ANZAC is increasingly, for me, the deliberate forgetfulness, as well as the distortions, within the ANZAC myth. Granted that events in 1788 are hardly a happy alternative, I have always been staggered for instance that many people tell me that Gallipoli in 1915 is the foundation of modern Australia. Even with the slow recovery of the history of Indigenous military service and stories of female contributions to the war effort, this is hardly a complete picture of what has made Australia a great nation: leaving so much, and so many people, out. The achievement of Federation, early (limited) female suffrage, the measures which brought about the 'working man's paradise', the 1967 Referendum, and the 2007 National Apology may seem more prosaic (certainly the first, itself a monument to exclusion), yet they and other dates seem more suggestive, until some form of genuine Recognition and/or Treaty makes this real. More importantly, is the tragic and shameful loss of young life in war really the basis for centring Australian values, in comparison to, or at least apart from, other peacetime achievements of courage, resistance and mutual support? As a British Australian, I also feel more and more alienated by every rehearsal of the ANZAC legend which denies the multifaceted and multinational complexity of its historical reality. Perhaps most devastating of all is the amnesia about the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the same Turkish leadership now regarded as a noble protagonist at Gallipoli, and still not properly recognised in Turkey or commemorated more widely.
In Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, in the very heart of France, hardly Britain's historic boon companion, there is a moving memorial to the British forces who were slain as part of Allied operations of war. In ANZAC commemorations in contrast, hardly a word is ever mentioned of British casualties at Gallipoli or of the multinational character and connections of the ANZAC forces throughout world war one. Not including those who died from the extensive ravages of sickness, over 120 000 men in the UK forces were killed or wounded at Gallipoli, in addition to 27 000 French, almost 5 000 Indians, 142 men from Newfoundland, and the better known 28 000 in the Australian forces and 7 500 New Zealanders. Of course, the Australian and New Zealander body count represents a truly shocking and terrible proportion of the respective nationalities. The point is not the numbers. It is the sense of human and international tragedy and solidarity which might be evoked. This becomes even more important and poignant when the nature of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is examined. For despite being almost always assumed to be synonymous with Australia and New Zealand alone, ANZAC was a multinational body. At various points in its full lifetime, it included battalions and brigades from India, Ceylon, Britain and Ireland, as well as many British and Pacific Islander soldiers within the Australian and New Zealand sections themselves. One of the great ANZAC heroes, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, is a signal case, although he is hardly alone. Simpson, 'the man with the donkey' is rightly lauded as an inspiration and embodiment of the healthy aspects of the 'Anzac spirit'. He served astonishingly bravely in saving many lives. Yet it is infrequently mentioned that Simpson was only at Anzac Cove because he was a chancer and had signed up in order to return home to Britain (see his statue pictured above in the main street in his native North Shields). Again, the point is not to undermine the staggering native Australian and New Zealand losses, or the significance of ANZAC in displaying and hugely developing antipodean identity. It is simply that there is a bigger and deeper story to be told.
How then would it be if the ANZAC narrative was enlarged - as a MANZAC (Multinational + ANZAC) narrative? - to include others? Would this not be in line with healthy contemporary Australian understandings of Australia as a great, and leading, nation of many nationalities, types and ambiguities? Would this not add to international solidarity against the horror and waste of war and the perils of imperial-led adventures and colonialist mindsets? For one of the most tragic aspects of the contemporary ANZAC myth is its silence over military adventurism overseas: the very source of ANZAC deaths and the appropriate impetus given to Australian and New Zealand autonomy and distinctiveness. Which brings us back to the British and other national casualties at Gallipoli. For if the incompetence and arrogance of British imperial commanders is rightly shown up at Gallipoli, Australians and New Zealanders were not their only casualties. Simpson's native countrymen were also victims of the carnage wrought by the disastrous politics, militarism and nationalism which brought about and flowed through the first world war. Now, I protest a little too much to make the point. Of course a name change is not required. We Australians and New Zealanders do well to attend to our own wounds and find our own strength and hope in and beyond them. Yet this can never be apart from the sufferings of others and it ought to contribute to wider healing. In doing so, maybe a fresh wider perspective would also include the overlooked Pommy Australians. For we were there too, with the native born, and with Simpson and his like, and with the 1.5 million Armenians who were slaughtered by Turks between April 1915 and 1918. Lest we forget.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.