Wednesday, 23 April 2014

In the footsteps of war

Given the devastation and loss of life they have witnessed, it's curious to think how some battlefields and sites of wartime atrocities become magnets for tourists decades later.

Of course, this is the more sombre and thought-provoking side of tourism; where people reflect on what occurred, honour the sacrifices made, and hope lessons have been learnt for the future.

I am particularly fascinated by World War I and World War II for many reasons.  WWI strikes me as an especially brutal war, where unsuspecting young men faced gas and trench warfare for the first time.   WWII had its own form of horrors and left a legacy that shaped the course of countries like Australia and that continues to influence global politics.

Even tucked away in the Pacific, Australia wasn't untouched by these wars.  There doesn't seem to be a town in Australia that doesn't have a war memorial of some kind, hinting at the sheer impact these wars had on every community.

As Anzac Day approaches, it is important to remember.   But not from a jingoistic viewpoint, but quietly and respectfully, with consideration for how we can avoid future conflicts.

On my travels, I've had the opportunity to visit a number of important war-related sites:

1.  Anzac Cove, Turkey
It's a place every Australian school student has heard about, but it was only when I was standing at Anzac Cove that I really appreciated the unforgiving topography.  While a military disaster, I respect the determination of those who tried to capture the peninsula.  Apart from the graves and the remains of trenches, I was particularly struck by the words by Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk etched on a memorial.  Read more...

Anzac Cove

2.  Flanders' Fields
The number of cemeteries that lie around the small Belgian town of Ypres speaks of the hundreds of thousands of people, from both sides, who lost their lives in this relatively small area during WWI.  Even today, remnants of the gritty trench warfare, complete with tear gas and heavy shelling, can be seen.  Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's famous In Flanders Fields poem was also born here.  Read more...

Tyne Cot Cemetery

3.  Hellfire Pass, Thailand
This stretch of the Thai-Burma Railway, dubbed the Death Railway, is a particularly difficult rock cutting created by Allied POWs and other forced labour, who chipped away in brutal conditions without proper construction tools.   The cemeteries in the nearby town of Kanchanaburi is the resting place for many who died while working on the project.  Read more...

Hellfire Pass

4.  Pearl Harbour, Hawaii
The bombing of Pearl Harbour heralded the entry of the United States into World War II. Today, you can still see the submerged hull of the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk by the Japanese bombing.  

Submerged USS Arizona
Memorial wall

5.  Anne Frank's House, The Netherlands
It's a small and unassuming multi-storey warehouse along one of Amsterdam's many canals, but it was here that a young Jewish girl and her family hid from Nazi persecution in the Netherlands during World War II.  Anne Frank's diary remains one of the most touching individual accounts of wartime civilian life and of the Holocuast.  Read more...

Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam

6.  Auschwitz, Poland
While just one of the 1,200 camps and subcamps believed to have been set up by Nazi Germany, Auschwitz, and neighbouring Birkenau, encapsulates the horrors of Hitler's Final Solution.  The prisoner huts, gas chamber, torture post, firing squad wall, and hordes of stolen belongings speak of the systematic brutality.  Read more...

Auschwitz's gates

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