April 25, 2018

ANZAC Day Songs

The Remembrance poppy symbolises ANZAC Day.

ANZAC Day, 25th April, is the most recognised secular day of remembrance in Australia and probably New Zealand (home of the “Kiwis”). Hearing snippets of war songs at parades or on television on Anzac Day has made me want to dig deeper as a mark of respect and remembrance. The particular power of war songs, or anti-war songs, are in their strength and diversity of emotion: sorrow, action, anger, remembrance, fear, mateship, loneliness, love, generosity, authority and protest.

The songs start with the most recent wars then end with World War I. On casualties alone that latter war has the most meaning and I’ll show it has meaning in my family’s history.

Australia's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have generated few songs but here is Please Remember Me (originally Dante's Prayer by Loreena McKennitt).

I Was Only 19 is without doubt the most famous and realistic Australian song of the Vietnam War. It was written and sung by John Schumann when he led the far left and undervalued Australian group Redgum.

From World War II the poem High Flight was eventually published. Here’s the John Denver rendition.

Band of Brothers was a superb series with a memorable theme tune but the lyrics are too American, for my taste anyway.

Its a Long Way to Tipperary was cheekily sung by the captain and crew song of Das Boot the greatest submarine movie. Adolf would have forbidden such a song.

Politicians and the commercial media perpetuate the assumption that true Anzacs were and are all front line infantry. Other occupations were more dangerous than infantry. Pilots and aircrew often suffered the highest casualties and shortest life expectancy of any service. Sailors, in particular submariners, were often in great danger both from the enemy and also from accidents while encased in their high risk vessels. Here is the Navy Hymn for Submariners.

Religion is an undoubted comfort to many soldiers while fighting and years later to those who returned alive. The hymn Abide With Me is sung by Hayley Westernra from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Anzac Day remembers Aussies and Kiwis who served in all the wars to which their countries were committed, yet it still centres on World War I, Australia's worst, most wasteful, war. It is often forgotten that in that war more Australians died (53,000) on the battlefields of France and Belgium than at Gallipoli (8,709 deaths).

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is by Scottish-Australian singer and songwriter Eric Bogle who, like Redgum, has produced lasting songs of meaning. The song is about a digger who is wounded at Gallipoli, treated in hospital, then returns to Australia.

What happened to "those brave wounded heroes of Suvla” in the song? Following up the reality led me to my, now late, grandfather. In 1915 on the Mediterranean island of Lemnos, this photo is of my Grandfather, Staff Sergeant Leo Coates, in his unit, the No. 1 Australian Stationary Hospital. He helped to develop one of the first field X-ray machines and then operated it (as pictured) to save lives. On November 4, 1915 he moved with the hospital to Gallipoli. Sergeant Coates later rose to Colonel serving in World War II India and Britain. His son (my Dad) would fight in Vietnam (1970-71).

I think Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields of France or No Man’s Land is the most memorable anti-war song ever written. As a haunting poem, march, song of love and injustice it is a fitting anthem to remember the men and women, living and dead, who are our Anzacs.



Ztev Konrad said...

The Red poppy was first adopted by the veterans organisation US Legion after WW1 and followed by British and Commonwealth groups.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this and all the links. I recall one night , Taps began, even though I had heard it hundreds of times, this particular evening, I could see a line of soldiers from every army that came forward to be recognized for their sacrifice. How do we make it up to them ? I suppose through remembering them with song and flowers etc, but is that truly enough ?

Anonymous said...

Pete. The Ambonese have a song about William Doolan of Gull Force, who single handed held up the Japanese advance. Gull Force soldiers brought the tune 'The Rose in her Hair' to the Ambonese, who put new lyrics to it. The tune is still popular in Newfoundland, check out the Youtube version sung by the group Simani. Below is a link to an English translation of the Ambon Malay lyrics. There are many versions, demonstrating just how popular it used to be. I first heard it from en ex PNG Kiap who'd learned it in Ambon after the war, where he'd been sent to investigate Japanese war crimes. fwiw Anzac Day coincides with the anniversary of the RMS. There's a memorial to Doolan at the war graves in Tantui that thankfully survived the civil war. A great song long overdue for revival.


Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [at 28/4/18 3:20 PM]

Thanks so much. I've found "The Rose In Her Hair" by the group Simani at Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltbASDoBmxU Uploaded by "oldirishladdie" on Jan 31, 2009, "This video is featured with lyrics, MIDI, and chords at GEST Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador..."

I'll do an article on this, especially on the heroic "Driver" Tom Doolan, later this week.