Perspective from Below

Eilish poppy

Perspective from Below

I don’t always write about food and wellbeing because I think there are things—far more powerful than what’s in your fridge—that shape and inspire who we are today. 

So, with that introduction, I’m launching into a blog about ANZAC Day and why I really get it now. 

My Great Uncles Frank and Maurice were at Gallipoli. Frank was an ‘Ambo’ and Maurice was on the front line. Incredibly they both survived. A cousin uncovered a bunch of letters Frank wrote to his Mum during the war and we started reading them a couple of years ago. I made the trip to Gallipoli in July 2013. 

It was just the three of us that day. No ceremonies; just me and my little family on a hot summer day. We drove around the peninsula and I read out Frank’s letters. I got emotional.  

How can I relate the horrors of the last few days, I don’t know how to start. It has been simply murder. We expected a thousand casualties, but it is at least three times that number..”

We stopped at Lone Pine and read the plaques. Among the many saluting sacrifice to king and country are aching messages from mothers far away. Young men, so many, that never made it to a third decade of life.

One that captured my attention read: ‘’A Mother’s thoughts often wander to this sad and lonely grave”. Her son was 17. 


I simply cannot imagine what that grief looked like.

We sat with our hot feet in the water at ANZAC Cove, we looked up at the Sphinx and imagined the men, eyes fixed on that landmark, alighting from their boats in the early hours of April 25th. It was so perfectly still, so perfectly beautiful, it was hard to imagine the horrors that were to befall them. Frank recalls:

“ The 3rd Australian Regiment at roll call the next day—out of 36 officers and 1040 men—had 3 officers and 320 men. The Turks had machine guns commanding the beaches and just mowed them down”.

Suddenly it all seemed so real as history leapt off the page and reverberated around these hills, around me. 

I sat in the trenches at Chunuk Bair and looked down at the Dardenelles, the focus of this bloody campaign. The scene is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I read more from Frank: how the Turks fired at the Ambo’s, an unspoken pact broken; how he went for days without sleep; how this campaign just went on and on and on; how bodies kept piling up.

Of course the Turks were pulled into a war they didn't start, just like us, and naturally, they passionately defended their land. Gallipoli is rightly a monument to both sides and the travesty that unfolded here. 

I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like to be in that hell. I had to remember there were no roads—not the nicely manicured ones we drove on, it was dense bush and steep, steep hills. Frank went without food or sleep for three days while he went back and forth retrieving bodies and helping the injured. At one stage he describes stopping exhausted under a tree while under fire and waking up some 6 hours later. Imagine your body just stopping; no adrenalin, nothing.

I really don't know what tired is.

''They say France is a picnic compared with this place. I don't mind saying I have had quite enough of it and will be pleased when we are well out of it. Everyone is the same. No one thought it was such a big job..''

What kind of fortitude must one have to withstand this kind of experience? The constant stress, the complete lack of normality, the loss of mates, the aching for home.Of course the war dragged on, but this was a most thankless campaign lasting 8 months. A couple of weeks later Frank describes the state of their troops:

''We are beginning to think they will have to recall the colonial troops now, as we are sadly depleted. Yesterdays engagement made still further inroads on our strength. It is sad to think of the fine body of troops that left Wellington 7 months ago and look upon what remains of them today. It is hard to believe, but it is only too true..''

I often wonder how different our countries would be if the ANZACs had never left and stayed to tend their farms and industries. How different would our histories be? Of course many left in search of adventure, emboldened by the opportunity to help the Allies to victory. They went willingly, but I doubt any were prepared for what they experienced; the romance vs the reality of war. 

Over 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders died in WW1. These are significant numbers for comparatively small nations. It’s one of those numbers we file as ‘cannot process’, but process we must. Every one of those servicemen (and women) was a person, had a childhood, had families and a life back here. Add to that the almost 200,000 who were injured. Add to that those that returned with not just physical scars, but stories and secrets they never shared. Horrors they simply had on replay whenever they managed to sleep.

Of course it was not all beer and skittles back home in wartime either. Wives without husbands; children without fathers. We can’t even imagine what ‘rationing’  looked like. Every day, someone receiving news of loss and wondering when it might happen to you. Women did a remarkable job here in that time, in fact, if you had to find a positive, it was the women who stepped up to keep the country running and support their men abroad.

It was important to visit Gallipoli. Maybe it’s because I’m older and I finally listened to famously retold family stories. It felt so grown up and it affected me deeply; way beyond my perfunctory school studies. I felt ready to be there and to have that moment of recognition, of connection. Having Uncle Frank with me in spirit made it all the more poignant.

Taking a moment to reflect upon what those brave men and women did in wartime is a sobering reminder that we have NOTHING to complain about today. Bully beef and biscuits were pretty fine fare after a hard day in the trenches.

I invite you to join me in a moment of gratitude; for the sacrifices made that allow us the life we have today; for ALL that we have today.

Cliché it may be, but we really don’t have a bloody clue how lucky we are.