Today it is ANZAC Day; commemorating the soldiers from both New Zealand and Australia who fought in World War I. The 25th of April 1915 is the day we acknowledge the sacrifice of our men who landed in Gallipoli, expecting to capture the German-allied Ottoman Empire, but the campaign proved much more difficult than had been anticipated and lasted eight months; many from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia losing their lives. Though the battle campaign had failed to reach its intended capturing of Constantinople, there was created a sense of close comradery and courage among the New Zealanders and Australians in particular. ANZAC Day has in many ways become a national day where we recognize the soldiers who fought for our freedom, but also a day in which we become unified as a country.
I was reading the Italian newspapers online this morning, and discovered that the 25th of April is also the Festa della Liberazione, the Day of Liberation, celebrated in Italy. It is the day in 1945 on which Allied forces liberated the country during World War II, and the national holiday celebrates the freedom and honours the soldiers of the Italian Resistance who fought against the Nazis and Mussolini's troops, and victims of the war during the Nazi occupation of the country.
Here is a poem that I remember learning in primary school each April, famously recited on ANZAC Day and in many other Commonwealth countries. Written by the Canadian John McCrae in 1915, it references the red poppies which grow over the graves of fallen soldiers, flowers which have come to symbolize the sacrifice of men for their countries.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppy was associated with World War I as it was one of the only plants to withstand the brutality of the front line in Flanders, and the brilliance of the red petals evoked sacrifice. The small and delicate but strong flower has long been a symbol of peace and death, for years before the World War and McCrae's poem. The Ancient Greeks and Romans commonly depicted the poppy on tombstones and gifted them to the dead; the flower's opiates and blood-red colour connotative of eternal sleep. The humble poppy has become the powerful icon of hope, recognized all over the world.