Lest we forget

Kranji Cemetery, Singapore, 25 April 2005

I made my annual pilgrimage to the ANZAC Day dawn service on Monday morning, my second here in Singapore. Some of the pomp and ceremony makes me feel a little ill at ease, especially the religious aspects of it — or the institutionalised religious aspects do, at least. The words used by these people always seem so hollow and insincere. I also baulk at the singing of the national anthem. Not that I’m unpatriotic, it’s just that some people look upon this as a nationalist symbol, which is a little ironic given that nationalism has been the source of so many wars. Anyway, these personal hang-ups aside, ANZAC Day is always a special day for me, and this year was no exception. It was a very moving occasion, and the highlight was the halt in proceedings when, after all the dignatories had laid their wreaths, an old digger came forward to place his bunch of flowers in memory of his mates. This is commonplace in Australia, of course, but not in Singapore. Having read The Naked Island (by Russell Braddon) recently, I imagined to myself he might have been one of the inmates at Changi during the last war.

Another highlight was the short speech from the Turkish Ambassador who read out the words attributed to Ataturk, inscribed on a memorial at ANZAC Cove. These words had a deal more resonance than those read aloud in ‘automatic pilot’ mode by the priest in attendance.

Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well.