A Song for Saturday – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Today’s Anzac Day, and the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. It is perhaps Australia and New Zealand’s most important national commemoration – similar to our Remembrance Day. More than 11,400 Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) troops died during the campaign.

The BBC has a good piece outlining what will be happening today to commemorate this important occasion.

Gallipoli, like many other failed campaigns, has perhaps inspired more successful and richer responses in art than military successes tend to. It’s probably unsurprising that artists respond better to concepts of suffering, pain, failure and death. There was an excellent 1981 film, made by Peter Weir (also director of Dead Poets Society), which was unflinchingly harrowing in its portrayal of wasted young lives. It was also one of Mel Gibson’s best performances.

But I have always been moved particularly by the song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, by Eric Bogle. Written in 1971, it tells the story of an anonymous “rover” who is conscripted by the Australian government. It is a powerful indictment not only of war, but of attempts to glorify or romanticise it, even directly addressing Anzac Day itself: “The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question”.

Perhaps the best version is by the Pogues, although there are many others.

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