Anzac Day promises to be very different this year. With public gatherings cancelled across the nation, some Australians have pledged to take the dawn service to their driveways as a mark of respect to those who have served.
It’s not the first time Anzac Day has been scaled back due to a worldwide pandemic. According to UNSW Canberra Historian Professor Peter Stanley, the Spanish Flu in 1919 kept the first year of Anzac Day commemorations to a minimum.
“In a sense we’re seeing history repeating 101 years on,” Professor Stanley said.
“Of course, in 1919, there were very few ‘Anzac Day’ services, because the day hadn't become a formal commemoration, as it became in the early 1920s, but undoubtedly, with the 'flu raging in April 1919, services and ceremonies were curtailed.”
How Anzac Day 2020 should be commemorated has been strongly debated. It’s a conversation that UNSW Canberra researcher Dr Christina Spittel said has been fascinating to watch on Twitter.
“Should we all stand out on our driveways for a dawn service? It’s really interesting to see just how diverse the range of responses to this suggestion was,” Dr Spittel said.
“This confirms something scholars have been saying for some time now: there is far less agreement among Australians about Anzac Day than many might assume.”
Professor Stanley, believes it is important to remember the sacrifices Australians have made in wartime, but he also thinks we should keep remembrance in perspective.
He said the money put into war remembrance in Australia has become excessive, especially with recent bushfires and the current COVID-19 crisis.
“Yes, war has been an important part of Australia's national experience; but less so since 1945 and there are now other important things to think about,” Professor Stanley said.
“My suspicion is that the present crisis will expose the hollowness of many claims made about the 'Anzac spirit'.”
Regardless of where you stand on Anzac Day, there are many ways we can honour those who lost their lives.
Dr Spittel said, “it is worth recalling that even during the Great War centenary, when we saw record numbers attend Anzac Day services around Australia, the majority of Australians did not go.”
Dr Spittel, who is interested in the intersections between literature, history, memory, and politics, said there have always been other ways to remember.
“Through family history, for example, or commemorative albums, which some bereaved compiled in the wake of losing loved ones, pasting together newspaper clippings, sometimes stolen from a public reading room, poetry and photographs,” she said.
“You’ll find in-memoriam columns recalling the Great War dead in many Australian papers long after the Second War. Others remember through fiction: by picking up a novel, or by watching a film. And of course, the thick, red volumes of Charles Bean’s Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 were conceived as a war memorial.”
Professor Stanley said while some Australians attend the dawn service with good reasons, usually relating to family history, Anzac Day has always changed and will continue to change.
He believes after the expenses around the Great War centenary and the War Memorial expansion, 2020 may be the year we see “a ‘market correction’ that gives Anzac a more balanced place”.