ANZAC DAY in Warsaw - Poland - 98th Anniversary 2013

Early Spring in the beautiful Saxony Gardens in Warsaw on the fringes of which in Pilsudski Square the Anzac Day Ceremony takes place each year
Click on images to enlarge

Many Australians would find it surprising perhaps to discover that an Anzac Day ceremony has taken place here in Warsaw for some years. It is held in Pilsudski Square at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I have always felt that the broad notion of 'allies betrayed' has bound Poles, Australians and New Zealanders together in spirit however complex and many-sided the actual historical truth. In fact during World War II Poles and New Zealanders fought side by side at the appalling Battle of Monte Cassino. The Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade fought alongside Australian troops at the Siege of Tobruk. Three surviving members of the brigade took part in last year's ceremony (2012) but only one today.  The number diminishes with the passing of years but not the memory. A small number of bemused Poles and wide-eyed school-children always assemble to watch this puzzling (for them) ceremony.

Portrait of Captain Nikolai Theodor Svensen of the 15th Battalion wearing the Queen’s South Africa (Boer War) Medal and 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

It is always a very moving moment for me in voluntary exile far away from home. The husband of my great-aunt Lilian (the sister of the subject of my present biographical project Edward Cahill  - also a fine pianist) was Lieutenant Nikolai Theodore Svensen ('Theo' to the family). Originally from Norway (Larvik), he emigrated to Australia and completed his schooling in Brisbane and became a survey draughtsman. He first served in the Boer War with the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry and had over ten years service with the Queensland Rifles Regiment. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted in A Company 15th Battalion AIF on 30 September 1914. His unit embarked from Melbourne on board the Transport A 40 Ceramic on 22 December 1914. He was wounded in the face and chest at Gallipoli on 10 May 1915.   Evacuated from the peninsula in November 1915 with enteric fever he was repatriated to Australia in 1916. Svensen retired with the rank of Major.

When landing at Anzac Cove he kept a detailed diary (which I treasure) of the formidable event even during the very moments it was taking place. 'A bullet has just landed eight inches from my foot.' he cooly scribbled with the grace under pressure of a Nelson. An extraordinary document. He was an obsessional and perfectionist professional soldier. He played exciting table-top war games of Napoleonic and Great War battles with me lasting weeks. We used detailed painted battalions of paper soldiers moving according to a throw of dice with small cannons that fired tiny wooden pellets. He told me blood-curdling stories late into the night of 'Johnny Turk' (as the soldiers referred to the enemy) when I stayed with he and Lilian as a child over a period of years whilst my father was studying medicine at Queensland University.

This year (2013) the Warsaw service began with an Introduction that explained the connection between Polish and Australian forces during the Great War. This was followed by an address by Jean Dunn, the Ambassador of Australia who read a most moving poem The Last to Leave by Leon Gellert which concludes:

The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great batallions by the shore. 

The Ambassador Designate of New Zealand Wendy Hinton then spoke of the close connections and respect felt between Polish, New Zealand and Australian armed forces in both wars especially at Monte Cassino.

There was then a wreath-laying ceremony and a signing of the Remembrance Book. The Last Post, a minute's silence, the concluding trumpet 'Reveille'...No, their unimaginable sacrifice in the Dardanelles shall never be forgotten...

The present day and the past. Soldiers renewing acquaintance before the ceremony 2012
During the ceremony - note the flags of three nations beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Three elderly  members of the Polish Independent Carpathian Brigade in black berets salute the memory of comrades fallen in the Great War and the terrible war that followed  2012
The laying of wreaths 2012
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Warsaw situated in all that remains of the collonade of the great Saxon Palace of Kings Alexander II and Alexander III that once stood on this site destroyed by the Nazis in the systematic destruction of Warsaw  2012

A noble member of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade remembers War   2012


Polish Officers at the Anzac ceremony Warsaw  2013

He who has seen all in age and she protected in her youth   2013

The Australian Ambassador Jean Dunn signing the Book of Remembrance  2013

The Last Post  2013

One of the last surviving members of the historic and heroic Polish Carpathian Rifle Brigade who fought with distinction alongside Australians at the Siege of Tobruk 2013

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