Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lest We Forget (Canberra, Australia) - Part One

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.


Nisha said...

I have been to this place. We had especially kept ample time to visit it. Not only to Australians, it gives a different feel of patriotism to others as well.

BarbaraW said...

I have not been to Canberra, but when in New Zealand I visited the War Memorial Museum in Auckland and found it to be quite moving as well. If only these museums could have the effect of halting wars forevermore, but we humans have short memories and we are doomed to repeat the mistakes we forget.

Anil said...

I really like the quote on the Ataturk Memorial in Canberra:

"Those heroes that shed their blood And lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side Here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, Who sent their sons from far away countries Wipe away your tears, Your sons are now lying in our bosom And are in peace After having lost their lives on this land they have Become our sons as well."

Donna Hull said...

War is horrible to imagine but museums like this one in Canberra remind us of what it was really like for the soldiers in battle. Perhaps if we visited them more often we'd be less inclined to settle our differences with guns and bullets.

Gourmantic said...

When we were there a few months ago, we lost track of time, particularity in the aircraft hall. So much that makes you pause and reflect. I found the sound effects from the short movie a bit disconcerting.

War is horrible. Yet humans forget and perpetuate.

Tebonin said...

Yesterday was ANZAC Day. I went to pub with couple of my OZ friends. That was the first time I feel being they are so honor about being a Soldier. Love your blog's pic that lit kid with the wall full of red flowers make me think a lots.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Thanks for a terrific post. It looks like a really well-done museum. A couple of weeks ago I visited the Nimitz Museum commemorating the War in the Pacific with the new wing named for George Bush, a veteran of that war. It is located in the unlikely spot of Fredericksburg Texas, but is enormous and one of the best done museums I have seen. I wonder if there will be interest when the present generations( who have some memories) die away?

Mark H said...

@nisha: For me, it gives a whole gamut of emotions as you see the different displays and read the different stories and events.

@BarbaraW: I've been to thje Auckland memorial and agree that they have made it a very moving place. All war memorials should leave a message that wars are not to be glorified and avodied at all costs.

@anil: Ataturek must have been a fine leader of the Turks. The quote is well known among Australians with its focus on Gallipoli and I think it has driven Turkey and Australia very close together as nations over the years.

Mark H said...

@donna: I think this is one of key elements of a war memorial.

@gourmantic: The museum has done a fine job with the Aircraft Hall. I was surprised at the tiny planes flown in WW1.

@tebonin: The pubs and a game of two-up is a great way to spend Anzac Day.

@vera: Anzac Day has grown dramatically in the last ten years in the numbers observing and celebrating and there are no WW1 fighters left now. I'm very confident that the memories and respect will last for a very long time.

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