ANZAC Day, 25 April 2013

By Lex Bartlem,

Australian Ambassador to Lebanon

At dawn on 25 April 1915, 16,000 Australian and New Zealand troops landed under fire at Gallipoli, Turkey.

Eleven thousand Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs), as well as many thousands of British and Turkish soldiers, died in the eight months of fighting that followed, which ended in Allied withdrawal and defeat.

Yet, as the years go by, ANZAC Day seems to exercise a greater hold on our collective memory than ever before.  Why?  Why this day above all else?  Why glorify a battle we did not win?

The answer may sound odd to a Lebanese audience.  As Lebanese, you have a long history.  You live the memories of your ancestors every day.  Your present is bound by the triumphs and sorrows of your past, and is reflected in your language, culture and tradition.

As Australians and New Zealanders, we too, are defined by an ancient indigenous heritage.  But at the same time, we remain young nations.  The newest of the new world countries, we are largely unburdened by the past, and blessed instead with an enthusiasm and a great optimism for the future.

ANZAC Day is special because it is a day on which we are invited to look back, not forward.  It is on this day alone that we reflect and remember that our unmatched good fortune, freedom and prosperity came at great cost.

This morning, in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Qasqas, we remembered that the suffering and sacrifice of our young men and women in uniform extended also to Lebanon.

Some three hundred and twenty Australians and fifteen New Zealanders lie in the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida.  And just like those who died in the Gallipoli mud a generation earlier, their sacrifice was not in vain.

In 1941, the 7th Division of the Australian army, along with a coalition of British, Free French, Czech, Indian and Arab Legion forces, liberated Lebanon and Syria from Vichy French rule.

The removal of the Vichy regime directly led to the independence of both Lebanon and Syria, in 1943 and 1944 respectively.

To better reveal the role played by Australia in securing Lebanese independence, we chose this year to make a short film, Engraved In The Heart.

In making the film, we interviewed five Lebanese who have first-hand memories of the Australian troops.  Their recollections go to the heart of some of the very best aspects of the ANZAC tradition.

A gentleman in Zahle remembered the Australians as good men, who loved life and laughed a lot; who enjoyed a drink, a song and a practical joke.

Another recalled, as a boy, selling cold drinks to the tall, handsome and ever-friendly Australians who were building a road in Riyak.

A third gentleman in Riyak remembered a soldier called Major Whitley, who took the time to teach him, at the age of 14, how to drive a car in Terbol.  He recounted with a smile that the Australians even posted him some money in 1946, after the end of the war.

And a lady in Saida movingly told us that her love and appreciation for the Australian troops would never fade or die.  Indeed, it was engraved in her heart.

Today, in more than 70 countries, millions of Australians and New Zealanders will similarly fill their hearts in remembrance.

All of us will pause a while from our busy lives to reflect on the values that underpin the ANZAC legend.  Courage.  Friendship.  Humour.  Loyalty.  Sacrifice.

Above all, we will remember.


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