Today is ANZAC Day, the day that Australians and New Zealanders commemorate those who died in wars. One hundred years ago today Australian and New Zealand forces landed at what is now known as ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Many were volunteers who had joined up because they felt it was their duty to serve king and country or who craved travel and adventure. They were men from all walks of life and for many it would be their first time away from their home country. Some were boys of fifteen and sixteen who had lied about their age in order to enlist. In this early phase of World War One most of the troops probably believed that the campaign would be short.
Tragically they could not have been more wrong. The Turkish army was much stronger than had been anticipated and from April to December the troops lived, fought from and died in the trenches before finally being withdrawn. They were short of food, water, medical supplies and even winter clothing.
Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26 111, comprising of 1007 officers and 25 104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7 779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers in Australian units. The total New Zealand casualties were 2,779 dead and 5,212 wounded.
In military terms the Gallipoli Campaign was considered a failure so it may seem strange to some that this is the event that we choose to remember. Australia and New Zealand were young nations when World War One broke out. Australia had only become a single nation in 1901. Although the war was in far away Europe Australians and New Zealanders believed that they should support Britain “the mother country” and her allies. As the stories of what happened at Gallipoli began to be told the legend of ANZAC was born. We take this day not to celebrate or to glorify war but to remember those who did not come home.
ANZAC Day begins with the Dawn Service held in cities and towns all over our two countries. Almost every town that sent men to war has it’s memorial to those who served. Although I was unable to get to the service this year I have attended Dawn Service in the past and it is very moving. The poem “In Flanders Fields” is usually recited as is The Ode which is the fourth stanza of a poem called “For the Fallen” by the English writer Laurence Binyon. This is how it goes:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
It’s a solemn ceremony but at most RSL (Returned & Services League) clubs it is followed by a much less solemn breakfast. One of the traditions is to fortify yourself from the cold with coffee laced with rum.
Later in the morning there are commemorative marches ranging from huge ones in large cities like Sydney and Melbourne to small gatherings in little towns like Geeveston. I had never been to the Hobart ANZAC March before so this year I decided that I would go. I hadn’t been to a big march since leaving Adelaide and one thing that I noticed was that there are even fewer veterans of the world wars now. I am old enough to remember seeing the World War One veterans march but the last Gallipoli veteran, Alex Campbell, a Tasmanian, died in 2002. Now even my parents generation, the World War Two veterans are few. It’s now common for descendants of veterans to march in honour of their relative wearing their service medals on the right hand side instead of the left.
I remember that at the marches I attended in Adelaide there was an element of larrikinism present as old mates met for reunions and laughed and joked with each other. After the march was over there would be reunion lunches in hotels all over Adelaide as well as at the RSL clubs. As Aussies can’t be expected to be serious all day another ANZAC Day tradition is that it is the one day of the year when it is legal to play “Two Up”. Football is another tradition with a big AFL match always held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The Hobart March seemed a little more serious than those I remembered. The rain stayed away and a good crowd turned out to applaud the veterans and the serving men and women who marched. The crew of the HMAS Canberra were out in force. I don’t know if it was the whole ship’s complement of 500 but it looked like it.
Here are some images that I took at the march. I tried to concentrate on the veterans faces but of course I had to include the horses and dogs too.
Below I have included some links for those who like history but may not be familiar with the ANZAC tradition or who would like to know more about the military campaign. I can’t possibly explain it as well as the experts can.
https://www.awm.gov.au/ – The Australian War Memorial