There Is No Difference Between The Johnnies And The Mehmets

Historians can parse wars and write papers, but it’s the poetry and prose of the time that captures the emotions. And the humanism. And the tears. That is why there will never be ‘compassion fatigue’ about Anzac Day.

I bring three beautiful human moments to your attention.

Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, was commander of the 19th Division of the Turkish Fifth Army. He was on hand to fight the Allied Forces at Gallipoli, and witnessed the massive defeat of our young ANZACs in 1915. He later became the first president of the Republic of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, October 1923

In Canberra, Australia’s capital city, there is an inscription often attributed to Ataturk in 1934. He paid tribute to those ANZACs killed:

“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 now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.”

John McCrae was a Canadian physician and pathologist who fought and died in WWI. A friend was killed in battle, and his burial inspired McCrae to write ‘In Flanders Fields’ on May 3rd, 1915. The poem was subsequently published in Punch magazine:

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, born Guelph Ontario Canada 1872, died Boulogne-sur-Mer France 1918


“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 wearing of poppies in the days leading up to ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand continues. The poppy as a symbol of Remembrance Day is popular in the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa.
Laurence Binyon wrote ‘For The Fallen’ while working at the British Museum, and it was published in The Times in 1914. A couple of stanzas are recited in Anzac Day ceremonies, and also in other commonwealth countries on Remembrance Day:

Laurence Binyon, 1901

“With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children England mourns for her dead across the sea,

Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation And glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow,

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again,

They sit no more at familiar tables of home, They have no lot in our labour of the daytime, They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires and hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the night.

As the stars shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are stary in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.”

Lest We Forget

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