An ANZAC Memorial In Edinburgh: Dan Lentell talks to Campaigner Mike Smith

“It was an idea that got me thinking, and the more I thought about it and mentioned it to others, the more convinced I was that it should happen.”

Mike Smith runs one of Edinburgh’s best loved watering-holes, the Bow Bar, located in the heart of the famous Old Town. There he manages an award-winning array of taps featuring all that’s best and brightest in the contemporary craft beer scene.

Mike is also leading the campaign to have a permanent ANZAC memorial located in his adopted home town.

Here Mike talks to Edinburgh-based writer, Dan Lentell (who helps Ken run Warrior to Worrier), about the campaign and how it will help commemorate and celebrate the heroes and heroism associated with the ANZAC banner.

What first brought you to Edinburgh and what made you stay?

Well my father is from Glasgow, so I hold a British passport. My initial plan was to spend 4 years living in Edinburgh for a change of scene and work as an artist. I was hoping to gain some inspiration for my artwork while living here and then hold a few exhibitions. I have had 2 exhibitions, including one solo, since then.

What made me stay? Other than loving the city, I met a girl. I met my lovely wife over here in 2006 and we married in 2009. We now have the house and cat, and I’m very happy.

A generation ago ANZAC Day (25 April) had somewhat fallen out of fashion Down Under. Now it’s (rightly) a big deal again. What changed?

Well there was the political protests against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and conscription, during this unrest ‘celebrating’ our troops then became very divisive. As the last of the original ANZAC Diggers became fewer and fewer, the ANZAC remembrance returned in favour, and we had that debt of gratitude to make while we still could and for the next generation.

In  15 years or so, ANZAC Day has become more of a National Day for many young Australians – you see the flag capes and Southern Cross tattoos and it’s a very patriotic festival feel in some places. National identity plays a big role Down Under when it comes to reflecting on our national day of remembrance, and I believe there has been a lot of national soul-searching recently about where to go with ANZAC Day.

What made you decide there was a need for an ANZAC memorial in the Scottish capital? Isn’t there enough room for commemoration services at the Scottish National War Memorial [located in the castle]?

The ANZAC Day and Gallipoli Service is a brilliant event and very highly represented by all the appropriate dignitaries. Every year, it is a packed out affair with people not making it inside the National War Memorial. I managed to get away from work for an hour and made it for the first time this year, and glad I was I there for it.

As important as the service is, it is extremely limited to members of the public due to size restrictions and reserved seating. But it is the fact that Edinburgh is a permanent home to many ex-pats from Australia and New Zealand, including even more as a temporary home, plus we have all the tourists passing through. A public memorial that is easily accessible would be something of a focal point for us, not only on ANZAC Day but every day of the year.

“If I don’t do it, no one will.”

The campaign is a major undertaking. What made you decide to take up this cause in particular?

It was an idea that got me thinking, and the more I thought about it and mentioned it to others, the more convinced I was that it should happen. Of course, it is one of those things, “if I don’t do it, no one will”.

My mother’s parents both served in the Royal Australian Air Force, her father was based in Darwin, and survived many bombing raids from the Japanese. Her mother’s father served with the British in the trenches of WWI and then with the Australians in North Africa during WWII against Rommel. My father’s grandfather served in the Gordon Highlanders in Belgium in WWI and his father was in the Royal Engineers.

What kind of support are you getting, or are you hoping to get, from the Australian and New Zealand governments, or the British Government and Commonwealth War Graves Commission for that matter?

I have been in touch with the Australian Defence Force and they gave some words of support, including advice on the use of the ‘Rising Sun’ emblem. To my delight, they took it upon themselves to forward my letter to the Office of Australian War Graves.

From there I was contacted by Brigadier Chris Appleton, who has written a letter of support addressed to the Edinburgh City Council explaining the importance of the memorial and most importantly the connection that the ANZAC troops had with Scotland in both World Wars. I am still hoping to get some backing from individuals and groups before ‘selling’ the idea to the council.

“We already have important international memorials representing Norway, America, Spain and soon the Polish in [Princes Street] Gardens.”

Is there a big Australian/New Zealand community in Scotland? What can they and other ANZAC supporters do to support the campaign? Where do they start?

Yes there is, and not just behind the bars either. I know many that have moved here like myself and just kind of ended up staying. I think there are more long-term ex-pats living here, compared to the ‘backpacker’ stereotype that people think of. I still get asked by locals how long have I been travelling for.

Anyone wishing to support the campaign can find us on Facebook under “Petition for Edinburgh ANZAC Memorial”. From there they will get all updates and information on the memorial as well as the chance to share it with their friends.

What would you like the memorial to look like? Where, in an ideal world, would you want it located?

The initial plan is for a stone memorial, and in this stone there will be a carving. We are still in the design ideas stage, but the focus will be on a singular stone. I have an excellent stone carver, David McGovern from Monikie Rock Art lined up for the job. There will be a plaque fixed on the stone giving a description on the memorial, with a poppy/daffodil flower arrangement around the stone. I will be applying to have it located in the Princes Street Gardens, along with many other important memorials. I think it will fit in nicely there, as we already have important international memorials representing Norway, America, Spain and soon the Polish in the Gardens. I have found a nice spot on the East end of the Gardens, but we will see what the Council says.

What ANZAC events/memorials are there already in the UK?

There are more than people would think. Of course there is the big one in London, with both the Australian and the New Zealand war memorials located in Hyde Park, and then another service in Westminster Abbey. As already mentioned, the Scottish National War Memorial is in Edinburgh Castle.

But then there are a lot of Air Base related towns, as a lot of the New Zealand Air Force were based around the country. For example the Newcastle Branch of the RAF Association arranges an ANZAC Service each year on a Sunday close to ANZAC Day. They hold a parade and wreath laying at the gravesides of the 7 New Zealand and 3 Australian airmen who were casualties of WWII.

Also places that had a war-time connection with the ANZACs such as Weymouth, where thousands of Australians and New Zealanders were sent, sick and injured, from Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front. They erected an ANZAC memorial in 2005 and hold a service there each year.

What have been the campaign milestones so far?

The ANZAC Biscuit Ale that I made with Elixir Brew Co was a great success, we sold the 2 casks all on the day, plus free ANZAC biscuits with each serving. The free biscuits were a big hit, from which I had about 10 volunteers baking for the event! Overall, we raised just under £300 on the night, it was a great night with a couple of officers from the New Zealand Air Force in, last year we had about 8 New Zealand Commandos in.

When I received the letter of support from the Office of Australian War Graves, that felt like an achievement. To get that sort of backing and approval, also knowing that it was forwarded to them by the Defence Force, it’s good to know that they also feel strongly about it.

Who would win in a fight, an emu or a cassowary? What about a robin red-breast and kookaburra?

Without a doubt, the cassowary would destroy the emu. It wouldn’t be pretty either, cassowaries are just mean and angry. The robin red-breast vs kookaburra? Well kookaburras can attack and kill snakes so I will let you decide on that one.


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