From the Honest History vault for Anzac Day in the time of Coronavirus: Peter Stanley on Norfolk Island 2015

In April 2015, the then president of the then Honest History association, Professor Peter Stanley was so determined to get away from the centenary commemoration in extremis of Anzac Day that he went to Norfolk Island for a holiday. Here, he joined an Anzac service at Emily Bay and wrote about it here.

But this was a community ceremony and at its emotional heart was, as always, the Last Post, the recitation of Lawrence Binyon’s Ode and the minute’s silence. Those present around me joined in the ‘Lest we forget’ and ‘We will remember them’ with quiet assurance. Regardless of the tired and historically dubious official rhetoric, the squabbles over symbolism and the intrusion of media and marketing in larger ceremonies, this service reflected the desire – perhaps even the need – for a community to remember.

Norfolk Island 2015 had a quiet Dawn Service; there should be more such services at Anzac Day and for Australian commemoration generally, not just in this year of the virus but into the future.

The Honest History website contains over 600 posts tagged ‘Anzac analysed’. There’s a handy 2016 collection here. We welcome comments on any of these pieces or on the current ‘From the Honest History vault in the time of Coronavirus’ post. See also, two more excavations from the vault: Anzackery and Anzac; Wallendbeen 2014.

Update 23 April 2020: Picking up the theme of a quieter Anzac Day in the time of coronavirus are Andrew Hamilton on Eureka Street and Douglas Newton on Pearls and Irritations.

This year the celebration of Anzac Day will be muted. No marches, no large reunions, few speeches at war memorials. The soldiers and others who lost their lives in war will be remembered, however, as they should be. Indeed, the celebration will perhaps speak more eloquently because of its simplicity. (Hamilton)

Anzac Day dawns. We acknowledge the heavy costs endured – the loss of life, the broken bodies and broken minds. We reflect, remember, and respect. There will be no big public gatherings this year – mercifully perhaps. Because these sometimes include elements of naivety that make us cringe. (Newton)

Update 24 April 2020: Griffith Review retrieves selected articles from classic edition 48 Enduring Legacies (Anzac Day 2015); William Briggs, Greg Lockhart, Henry Reynolds, David Stephens, Noel Turnbull in Pearls and Irritations. Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on the differences between wars and pandemics, including how this difference emerged in the history of the Great War and its immediate aftermath.

David Stephens

21 April 2020 updated

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