Last week many people around the world observed Remembrance Day, Remembrance Sunday and Veterans Day, marking the anniversary of the armistice that concluded the military conflict of the First World War. In Australia, Remembrance Day has long been a war commemoration of secondary significance to Anzac Day, the anniversary of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli. Anzac Day is observed with a public holiday, dawn services, morning marches, ‘pilgrimages’, and much rhetoric about the supposed ‘baptism of fire’ of a young nation on 25 April 1915. Remembrance Day is a much quieter affair, not least because its focus is a minute’s silence at the hour of 11 am, when the armistice came into effect.
But this year’s Remembrance Day in Australia was a bit different. For the first time, the eulogy for the Unknown Australian Soldier was performed.
The centenary of the First World War has not yet begun and already we’re seeing new and interesting forms of commemoration of the conflict.
This past weekend, the exterior of the Auckland Museum was – for the first time – not lit on the evening of Saturday 12 October “as a mark of respect to [New Zealand’s] Passchendaele losses”: during the First Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, 845 New Zealanders were killed and 2,700 wounded.
This week the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, gave a speech at the National Press Club [video | transcript]. As befits someone with such a varied career – Nelson has been a medical practitioner, a politician and an ambassador – it covered a lot of ground, including the place of history in society, the Australian relationship with Europe, and his plans for the Memorial on the eve of the centenary of the First World War.
Of special interest to me are Nelson’s plans for the Hall of Memory and Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. Continue reading