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Memorial Day & ANZAC Day Down Under

Memorial Day and ANZAC Day

This post is in honor of all our brave men and women in uniform, including nurses and WACS, WAVES, and WASPS, who served in our country’s military, in war, and often gave their lives, as did my uncle, First Lt. Frank Ebner Gartz.

It will also be about a “Memorial Day,” virtually no Americans have heard of.

Navigator for B-17s World War II

Lt. Frank Ebner Gartz, B-17 Navigator, World War II

Frank first served as a B-17 navigator, navigating his crew of ten men safely to and from twenty successful missions from January 20, 1945-May 8, 1945, and then navigated generals, senators, and other VIPs around the Mediterranean Theatre as they rebuilt Europe after World War II.

He was twenty-one, serving our country and simultaneously having the time of his life, a handsome, sweet, good-humored young man in uniform during the summer of 1945. While waiting for a flight home in late September 1945, he somehow contracted infantile paralysis, polio infecting the spinal cord. He died on October 12, 1945, just a week after being admitted to a Naples hospital and a week before my family back in Chicago even knew he was sick! It was devastating news, affecting our family’s lives forever.


I’d like to also honor another Memorial Day that I had never heard of, and I doubt few Americans have. It’s call ANZAC Day, April 25th, and it’s a big holiday, celebrated in Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). My husband, Bill, and I happened to be in Australia on April 25th this year and got a crash course in the sacrifices of these two allies during World War I.

Many of you probably remember the movie, Gallipoli (1981), directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee. It’s perhaps the only way any of us learned about the role of our Down Under allies in a World War I battle. The Australians and New Zealanders have never forgotten. Like we do on Memorial Day and July 4th, the Aussies and Kiwis  hold parades, get the day off work and school, and have ceremonies to honor their fallen heroes’ sacrifices.

The Gallipoli peninsula is that narrow strip of land, just west of Turkey, pointed out by the bold printing,

A very brief overview of the Gallipoli campaign

Gallipoli is a peninsula in what was then the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). The idea of an invasion onto this peninsula was to allow Allied ships to pass through the Dardanelles (a narrow strait between what is now-Turkey and the Gallipoli Peninsula. It’s the last narrow waterway starting at the Black Sea and leading eventually into the Aegean Sea, so it’s very strategic). The ultimate goal was to capture Constantinople and force Ottoman Turkey out of the war.


At the time, Australia and New Zealand were part of the British Empire, so when Britain was at war, these two countries were at war too.


As in so many wars, what was thought would be a quick and easy victory turned out to be a stalemate. The Ottoman forces were heavily armed and fought back fiercely. By the end of 1915, with the campaign having dragged on for eight months, the Allied forces were evacuated. Allied deaths totaled over 56,000, including 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand. They’ve never forgotten the sacrifice, and we were fortunate enough to be in Australia to see their parades and memorials.

Here’s a link to a more detailed (but. not overly detailed) discussion of the battle for Gallipoli.

Entrance to “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War” at the Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ

“The Scale of Our War” Sir Peter Jackson’s homage to ANZAC fighters

Sir Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings series (and a native New Zealander), created an immersive, sensual (sounds, smells, sights), and emotional experience at the Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum in Wellington, New Zealand. (Wellington is the capital of New Zeland and is located at the southern end of the Northern Island).

A medic, whose story and letters are included it the exhibit, kneels over a fallen solder.

It’s almost overwhelming to be surrounded by gigantic figures, each created in exquisite detail, down to the hair on the men’s arms, the sweat on their brows, the flies on their food, and the dirt on their tattered clothing. It brings the horrors of war and the struggles, heroism, and sacrifice of the New Zealanders (also recognizing Australians) with larger-than-life-size sculptures of specific participants. They were created by Peter Jackson’s creative artisans at the Weta Workshop. It was a magnificent, but also very sad experience.

See for yourself

This excellent video shows the enormous size and detail of the sculptures, the process of creating them, and what the exhibit seeks to communicate. As one guide put it, “To empathize and understand the experience, we need to bring it down to the level of the individual.”
And that’s exactly what I took away from winding through the extensive exhibit, and immersing myself in stories of individual soldiers, medics, and nurses.

So on this Memorial Day, I want to honor all our soldiers in all our wars, as well as those of our allies, including the ones we virtually never think about, the brave fighters of ANZAC. I hope you get there one day.

For more, there’s a 2005 documentary film, also called Gallipoli.

Watch for a future post about what we learned about Australia, the Aborigines (“First Peoples,” the oldest continuous culture on earth), and the “upside-down” world Down Under.

Audiobook of  Redlined coming early to mid-June! Watch for it!

For a former Memorial Day post with details about my uncle, Frank Ebner’s bombing missions click here.

Redlined tells a first-hand story about a West Side Chicago family’s personal struggles and dreams intersecting with the racial upheavals of the 1960s.


May 27th, 2019|Chicago: A View Over Time, family history, Letters of a WWII Airman, memoir, World War II

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Marian H. Kurz
Marian H. Kurz
3 years ago


Always on the mark, thanks for many lives were lost, but they were brave and felt that was their duty, God Bless Them all…

2023-05-29T09:44:36-05:00May 26th, 2023|Chicago: A View Over Time, Uncategorized|
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