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Anzac Morning - 25 April 2020

Anzac Morning - 25 April 2020


Anzac Day is Australia's 'one day of the year', in many ways. This year's was really quite extraordinary, culturally, and personally as well.

Australia's primary annual celebration of nationhood has as its focus a military failure. At dawn each 25 April, conveniently timed for 06:00, commemorative services are held across the country for the hundreds of members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), who died in a 1915 dawn assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula, 300km south-west of Istanbul.

The British Navy landed them on the wrong beach, 2km too far north (or possibly a late decision was made to change bays). Either way, they had to scale a very forbidding and unstable cliff-face, under fire. Across the 9 awful months of the campaign, the death-toll was nearly 9,000 Australians and 3,000 Kiwis, among a total of 44,000 Allied and 86,000 Ottoman deaths. Considering the carnage, it's remarkable how high the regard is between Australians and Turks, on both sides.

The centrepieces of the event have been for many years the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra, and, 7 hours later, another at Anzac Cove in Turkey. But every city, major suburb, regional centre, and even small towns and villages, run events, often both at dawn, and then again later in the day, with a 'march' featuring a procession of bands, (ever-dwindling) war-veterans' groups, and uniformed services organisations.

Our shots of the Cove and the Sphinx, from 2010, and Encyclopaedia Britannica's schematic.


But 2020 was very different.

A coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, swept the world during the first 5 months of the year. Transmission was through air droplets over a range of 1-2m, vaporised droplets over 4-5m, and via surfaces onto people's hands and thence faces, and into their lungs.

COVID-19 threatened to be the most impactful pandemic since the 'Spanish Flu' a century earlier, at the end of World War I. It certainly had a very large and widespread economic impact, with most countries' borders sealed, domestic travel suspended, workplaces closed, people infected with it pushed firmly into a fortnight's quarantine, a fortnight's isolation for suspects who'd returned from overseas or been in close proximity to people infected by it, and social (spatial) distancing of 1.5-2.0 metres promoted. Serious problems arose with tightly-packed institutions (hospitals, dormitory-accommodation, prisons, cruise ships).

The virus was remarkably selective in its impact on different categories of people. Children were mostly both unaffected and non-contagious, and the large majority of under-60s who were infected were either unaware of it ('asympotomatic') or only briefly and fairly mildly affected. Those who succumbed to the virus were predominantly over 70s, especially with relevant prior conditions (bronchial, coronary and immune-system). So higher levels of precautions were vital for retirement villages and independent over-70s alike.

Of direct relevance to ANZAC commemorations, the few remaining WWII veterans were at least in their early 90s, Korean War returned servicemen at least in their early 80s, and those who served in the Malayan insurgency and Vietnam War vets in at least their late 60s. Units that once marched proudly behind their own banners had been down-sizing and amalgamating over the decades in any case. Marching together in 2020 would have thinned the ranks far more rapidly than ever before.

Processions have been held since 1916, although they were suspended during the height of WWII, c. 1942-44. But in 2020, all marches were called off.

Added to that, the major dawn services at the Australian War Memorial, and in every capital city, and at Anzac Cove, were reduced to skeleton staff. Events at overseas venues were cancelled, not only at Anzac Cove, but also Villers-Bretonneux (where Australians were actually instrumental in a victory, on 24-25 April 1918) and Bullecourt in France, Hellfire Pass in Thailand and Sandakan in Malaysia.

The AWM's architecture had the advantage of lending itself to a theatrical production. Regional centres, country towns and even villages were denied their 'one day of the year' - although it's unclear how that could have possibly been policed.

The news report on the AWM service is here:



Calls went out for small events to be held in suburban streets, initiated by what's these days called the Returned and Services League (RSL) Queensland Branch. The result was scatters of micro-events, with small groups of neighbours on footpaths, flags flying, candles burning, and great-grandpas' medals and war-time memorabilia on display. The TV news-teams scattered around the country, maintaining spatial separation of course, finding and filming such events, and collating heart-warming stories of Anzac commemoration in the time of COVID-19.

One such was at 28 Andamooka St, Fisher ACT. It's a low-traffic crescent, has a well-developed degree of social cohesion and fraternity, and has lent itself to frequent street-parties in the past. One of that fraternity is Michael Kelly, who is a Military Historian at the Australian War Memorial. He arranged for the gathering to be at one of the focal points for young children's gatherings in the crescent, at Kasia and Brendan Bail's place.

From 05:30 on Saturday, 25 April 2020, the small party gathered, a mini-shrine came together, the ABC TV news-team arrived, and remembrances took place. As in many other places around the country, a bugler played The Last Post (Reveille optional).

Andamooka's bugler caught the ABC's attention, because the trumpet isn't 11-year-old Troy Bail's main instrument, so he had to work hard on the higher notes. But the tune was more than merely recognisable, and the ABC featured him. At the end of the bulletin, they also blended images and sounds to produce a composite rendition of the nation's most unusual Anzac morning, with Troy shown seemingly playing the last note.

Videos of the two segments are here:



Personal Footnote:

Kasia Bail is my daughter, and Troy my grandson. It took me until the age of 27 to achieve exposure on ABC TV. In the age of serial '10 seconds of fame', Troy got there at 11, with his 7-year-old sister Misha standing alongside him. 

Troy took significant pride in wearing the Boer War and WWI medals of his great-great-grandfather Herbert Bail, of the South Australian Light Horse. Misha carred a framed picture of Herbert. Missing were mementos from their great-great-great-uncle, Frank Page, of the 43rd Hindmarsh Battalion, also from South Australia. He somehow survived WWI despite being a Lewis gunner.

Troy also wore an Australian Mark II Brodie Helmet (from 1942) just like the one that belonged to his great uncle Reg Bail. Reg served in the AAMC 7th Division in Syria, New Guinea and Borneo. 



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Created: 25 April 2020 - Last Amended: 5 May 2020 by Roger Clarke
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