I had the great pleasure of MC’ing Chilean Naval Glories Day festivities at the residence of the Chilean Ambassador to Australia Daniel Carvallo last week. It’s always a great day, as much for the empanadas and pisco sour as for the company. Of all the countries in South America, Chile is the one most like Australia for a number of reasons.
My good friend Captain Raul Zamorano spoke at the function and explained to the crowd why May 21 is such a significant day for Chile and in particular for the Chilean navy. As he spoke, it occurred to me that our two countries are so very similar in the way that we consider our military past. Other nations have a tendency to airbrush their military history. They focus exclusively on triumph and victory.
For our two nations the Gallipoli landing of 1915 and the Battle of Iquique of 1879 were unmitigated military disasters. On both occasions the enemy got the upper hand resulting in many deaths on our side. The ANZAC landing, although it resulted in many more casualties than the Battle of Iquique was arguably slightly more successful but the loss of troops was far too great to imagine it as a triumph.
The Battle of Iquique was a resounding defeat for the Chilean Navy. The Esmerelda was sunk and Chile lost one of it’s most courageous seamen in Captain Arturo Prat. Captain Prat’s courage in the face of adversity inspired the nation of Chile. His bravery in standing firm against the odds convinced thousands of young Chileno’s put their hand up to fight for their nation and ultimately assisted in winning the war for Chile. At Gallipoli and at Iquique, victory was not possible, but surrender was unimaginable.
Australia and Chile share a special bond for a number of reasons and this is definitely one of them. Both nations are mature enough to commemorate great military defeats and to respectfully honour those who bravely fell under the flags of both countries. As nations and as individuals we learn much more about ourselves in defeat than we do in victory.