ANZAC Day and the Poppy flowers
The way we learn history in France (or I am sure it is the same in the other countries) has a strange way to leave aside some facts that are of great deal for other countries.
We studied a lot the first and second world war through all our schools years until high school. I had always been sure that the only countries involved in those two wars were always almost the same: France, Belgium, Germany, England, The United States, Russia, Spain, Italy and some countries in Eastern Europe that got under the power of Russia. Japan also for World War Two.
I knew that Canada had fought for England on our beaches in Normandy for the D-Day but not all French people know that. I know it because I went to those beaches enough to wonder why there was a Canadian flag on Juno beach. More over, I went to Canada where I talked about that with some people. I also went to the natural park called Pacific Rim with a dear friend of mine on the Ouest coast of Canada and we saw the beaches where USA and Canada trained for the D-Day.
Pacific Rim Beach
Though, I never though once that Australia or New Zealand could be involved in WWI or WWII. They always seemed to me so far away and on the opposite side of the world that it never crossed my mind they could come to fight.
Canadian and Quebec flags designed by Kiwis
What a surprise when we arrived in Wellington and we could see a lot of board celebrating the 100th anniversary of WWI. We wanted to go to the museum to know more but we wanted to wait for the rain (that still hadn’t come!). I have to admit it piqued my curiosity. Why would New Zealand celebrate WWI? Did they have their own war here? Against whom?
As the 25th of April approached, we could see more and more things inside the city about a commemoration on that day. We could see a lot of people walking around with a red flower pinned to their jackets.
I recognized them instantly because I have the same one in my bedroom in France. I took it back from Montreal where I got it. Quebecers have the same symbol for Remembrance Day that happens on the same day as in France: November 11th. We don’t have those flowers in France but we have a day off and many celebrations for militaries on that day. For those who don’t remember, on November 11th, the Armistice was signed to end WWI in 1918. Yes, it is for WWI and not WWII. The end of WWII, when Japan capitulated is on September, 2nd.
I always wondered why they would have poppies pinned on their clothes for Remembrance or ANZAC Day. I thought it was because it grew were their fighters went but I never tried to know with more details. Though, we met another French guy in the hotel we are staying in and he had the same question as I did: Why do they have this flower for remembering? Where does it come from? We tried to look on the internet but nothing explained it very well.
Two days ago, we were walking to go visit a flat with Alexis and we passed by the Parliament place. We passed a guy very well dressed that had the flower on him. I couldn’t resist and we stopped to ask him what was the meaning of the flower.
To tell us the story, he had to explained to us the origins of ANZAC Day. That is what I will do too.
First things first:
ANZAC, what does it mean?
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It was set on the 25th of April each year to commemorate all those who served and died in all the fights Australia and New Zealand were involved into.
Though, it was not exactly what it intended to commemorate at first. In facts, it was originally made to remember the battle of Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during WWI. The Ottoman Empire was the countries around Turkey at that time (to sum up).
What happened during the Gallipoli battle?
The Gallipoli battle was a real disaster for New Zealand and Australia. They were sent there by England who wanted to take back the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to be able to control the Back Sea and let Allied ships reach Constantinople without being attacked on their way.
The ‘ANZAC’ forces that were sent there, were Australians and New Zealanders that were training in Egypt before being sent to France to fight.
They were told they would land on a beach but they did not see the Ottoman Empire ready to fire. What was supposed to be a great victory ended to be a great disaster. The battle for Gallipoli went on for eight months and ended by the Allies evacuated because of the too many casualties. Gallipoli battle also became one of the greatest victory of the Ottoman Empire during WWI. Australians and New Zealanders lost a lot of they fighters on that April 25th. Almost 10 000 for Australia and 3 000 for New Zealand, which was a lot considering how many people there are in their Army.
The ground was so messy with the bombings and the corpses that poppies started to grow. They also grew on the battle fields in Belgium and in France that year, like in Flanders where there was a big battle. That is why poppies where used to commemorate all the fallen during the war. To push a little further, in classical mythology, poppies were a symbol of resurrection after death because of the bright red they are coloured to. Poppies are used in many countries to remember and commemorate the loss during all wars.
Nowadays, Poppies and ANZAC day are commemorating all the people that died during all the fights Australia and New Zealand were involved to. Not only WWI.
And now you wonder what you have been learning at school right? Well, maybe we learned it but just didn’t care enough at the time to remember.
Lest we forget (ANZAC). Je me souviens (QUEBEC).
What happens on that day?
First of all, it is a day off. Nobody is supposed to work on ANZAC Day. That means, a lot of people go on a three day week ends just like in France.
There are also commemorations and talks during the day.
The most crazy thing happens in Wellington (I have no idea about the other towns): There is a dawn service at 5:30AM… And believe or not, apparently there were 20 000 people yesterday at 5:30AM and last year there were even more: 40 000 people! We didn’t know! When we learned there was a service at 5:30AM we didn’t even think about going because there would be nobody so we went at 11AM. We were so wrong!
There is also a light show on the War Memorial they opened last year in Wellington. It’s a ten minute show going on and on at night from 6PM to 10PM.
We were told all the shops and restaurants would be closed but I found that some of them were but most of the food shops and restaurants were opened. Not like in France at all!
This is why I love travelling. You discover new cultures, new habits, new history. You start to realize that you are not alone in this planet. There are so many other people that we don’t know. So many traditions that we don’t know. I could never get tired of learning all of them.