Several dozen of the hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders living in Mexico observed ANZAC Day on April 25 at the residence of the Australian ambassador to Mexico in the Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City.
ANZAC Day, one of the most important holidays in Australia and New Zealand, commemorates the participation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in World War I, especially in the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey. During the Gallipoli Campaign, the United Kingdom sent tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealander soldiers on a hopeless mission to invade Turkey at the Gallipoli Peninsula. The British quickly deemed the campaign a failure and abandoned it, but not before 8,500 Australian and 2,779 New Zealand soldiers lost their lives.
“These are shocking numbers, especially considering the small populations our countries had at the time,” said Australian Ambassador to Mexico David Engel, who hosted the event along with New Zealand Ambassador to Mexico Clare Ann Kelly.
Although Australia became formally independent in 1901, the events of World War I mark an important development of the country’s identity, as the people of Australia and New Zealand began to think of themselves as having interests distinct from those of the British Empire.
“We entered the Gallipoli Campaign closely tied to the British Empire,” said Engel. “We left it forever changed, as proudly independent people. The war’s end saw the emergence of two nations who by then had not only forged a distinct military identity, but also two states, resolved to help shape the postwar order. That new order saw, among other things, the beginnings of a remarkable affinity between former foes.”
Engel, who is an Australian of German descent, highlighted Australia’s capacity to forge partnerships with its former enemies. In addition to Australia and New Zealand nationals, personnel from various diplomatic missions to Mexico attended the event, including from those of Australia’s former enemies Turkey and Germany. Nalan Aktan, fromTurkey’s diplomatic mission in Mexico, read a poem written by Kemal Ataturk, a Turkish general in World War I who later became the first president of post-Ottoman Turkey. The poem, which is inscribed at a memorial in Gallipoli, expresses respect towards the ANZAC on the part of Turkey.
“For Australia, Turkey is both a friend and partner in both G20 and MIKTA, a group of countries that also contains our host country, Mexico,” said Engel. “I’m sure [Ataturk] would be immensely gratified that our three countries [New Zealand, Australia and Turkey] now work so closely together to make a better world than it was in 1915.”
The service ended in what Engel called an “unconventional” way: a choral arrangement of “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” an anti-war song by Scottish-Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle. The song, which Bogle wrote in the 1970s as what he called an “oblique comment on the Vietnam War,” is narrated by a fictional ANZAC veteran who, after having lost both legs at Gallipoli, reflects on the futility of war.
Although the holiday recognizes the bravery and military achievements of the ANZAC forces, the Mexico City service sought to equally highlight the horror of the Gallipoli Campaign and of war in general.
“Above all, ANZAC Day reminds us of the tragedy of war, and of the fortitude of all who have had to endure it,” said Engel. “It reminds us that not even the hatred of war can in the end triumph over the better spirits of humanity.”