Powell, Damian X.: Remembrance Day

Powell, Damian X.

‘Remembrance Day: memories and values in Australia since 1918’, Paper (edited text) read to the Royal Historical Society of Victoria on 18 November 2003 (later published as ‘Remembrance Day: memories and values in Australia since 1918’, Victorian Historical Journal, 75, no. 2, 2004, pp.165-188

Copy provided by the author: Armistice Day Paper for VHJ. The author asks:

How do we, as Australians, remember our wars?  Bound by common cause to our allies, what makes our memories different from those of other nations?  How have we grafted our national, and individual memories of the Armistice which ended the ‘war to end wars’, onto the subsequent military conflicts?  And what hold does Remembrance Day still have upon a nation in which the last Great War veterans, and their personal memories of war, are all but extinguished? (p. 1)

The paper addresses the relationships between memory and history in war remembrance, and between public ritual and political interests (noting particularly the early role of the RSL), comparisons between Remembrance Day and Anzac Day (an issue also looked at by Scott MacInnes), links between early Remembrance Day observance and loyalty to the Empire, the perceived need to build on the sacrifice of servicemen, poppies, Legacy, and the impact of World War II and later wars on attitudes to Anzac and Remembrance Days.

The author concludes:

For many Australians, the Anzac legend says less about the values which bind us to our wartime allies – including the New Zealanders with whom we share the Anzac name – and more about what we admire about ourselves in distinction to them.  To me, such distinction has combined, at times, a narrow, ungenerous patriotic sentiment with a seeming amnesia concerning broader wartime contributions and losses… (p. 17)

Remembrance Day stands to remind Australia of the courageous sacrifices made in war, and of the destructive forces of war across nations. Our dead soldiers share the soil of Flanders Field with those of New Zealand (with whom we share the Anzac memory), Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland and Canada, and with the dead of colonial levies drawn from across the globe. In our minds, very often, our Australian fallen stand alone in their sacrifice.  It is not to dishonour them to place their sacrifice in context. (p. 19)

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