Most people would agree that Gallipoli was the birth of the ANZAC spirit. It was the first time Australians went to war as a nation. The way that people band together when they are in conditions akin to hell is a miracle of humanity. This is the ANZAC spirit. The things that people saw in Gallipoli are unimaginable to the peace loving youth of the nineties. History is important because we learn from it, and there is certainly a lot to learn about Gallipoli.
Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick is the personification of the ANZAC spirit. He was known as the "man with the donkey". He was a field ambulance stretcher bearer, and only the strongest men were chosen for this job. Soon after the landing there were not enough stretchers to handle all the injured. The stretcher bearers were having to carry the wounded over their shoulders. On the second day Simpson saw some donkeys that had been brought ashore to carry water for the troops. He put a wounded man on the donkey, and from then on he used donkeys to carry wounded troops. He put himself in great danger, because in several places along the trail he was fully exposed to the gun fire. Stretcher bearers could bend down below the waist high shelters but Simpson was forced to stand so he could hold the injured person on the donkey. He could make twelve to fifteen trips to the make-shift medical shelter per day, whereas the stretcher bearers could only make six trips at the most. He saved hundreds of lives and in the end he gave his own. On May the 19th he died of a gun shot wound to the chest. He was just twenty three years old.1
The Australia had never been to war as a separate nation before, and we were considered the under-dog of the allied nations. By the time the ANZACs pulled out of Gallipoli they had a new found respect because of people like Simpson. They were renowned for their comradeship, initiative and courage. Even the Turks held the ANZACs in high respect. Even a man with the best skills can not always handle the death of his comrades. The Australians' strong spirit was a hidden weapon and it helped them get through the horrendous days of death and disaster.
Gallipoli was by no means a wonderful military achievement. The Australians may have been well spirited but they got off to a bad start when those in charge landed them in the wrong place. This tactical blunder cost many Australian lives.2 The fact that the ANZACs fought with such ferocity, against the impossible odds is a testament to their strength.
One must ask, what happened at Gallipoli to evoke such strong feelings in the people of Australia? Approximately ten thousand ANZACs died while in service at Gallipoli. On April 25th 1915, as dawn was breaking thousands of ANZACs stormed through the water and landed on the beach, which was later named Anzac Cove.3 Bullets rained down and hundreds of men died before reaching dry land. The men who survived dug trenches and sustained their position for eight months. They watched the death of their comrades and many of them suffered shrapnel wounds. All the time they faced the seemingly inevitable occurrence of their own death.
How did they endure these terrible conditions? The emotional hardship would be enough to make any reasonable person go mad. It was the love of their country, their comrades, their families, their knowledge and their pride that kept these tired soldiers sane over the long eight months in the trenches. It is a combination of these things that make up the ANZAC spirit. Then there is something else, something that can not be put into words that feeds the ANZAC spirit. In cramped conditions. man, turns against man, but this did not happen in the trenches of Gallipoli. Again and again they relied on each other, saved each other, cared for each other when wounded. The terrible conditions brought them together in a way which we can only imagine.
The comradeship at Gallipoli was outstanding. This was particularly apparent during the attack of Lone Pine. As the soldiers lined up, ready to surge over the Turkish lines one soldier said "Can you find room for me beside Jim here? Him and me are mates an' we're going over together".4 This man and his friend were in the first wave of attack. There is a high possibility that both men died, falling to the unrelenting gun fire from the Turkish ranks. They did not flinch from the prospect though, accepting death and finding courage in each other. The ANZACs did succeed in taking over Lone Pine, and seven Victoria Crosses were won.4 The trenches were littered with two thousand dead Australians and five thousand dead Turks.3 These gruesome figures outline the bravery and comradeship of the ANZACs.
The ANZAC spirit is not a relic from the past. It is still alive today and we are reminded of it every Anzac Day. The children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of the ANZACs march proudly remembering the sacrificial courage of their fathers and mothers. The strength of the ANZACs is still alive in their children and grandchildren, who have heard stories of heroic deeds in the far off world of death and sacrifice. Today, the spirit of the ANZACs is a spirit of peace, an understanding that war is hell. A prayer that the young people of our country will never have to go to war again.
Tom Curran, Not only a hero; Anzac day commemoration committee Brisbane 1998
Neil Wenborn, Pictorial History of the 20th Century: Chancellor press, London 1997, pages 66-67
Russle Ward, Australia since the corning of man: Mead & Beckett publishing Melbourne 1965, pages 166-167
Frank Crowley, A New History of Australia: Griffin Press, Melbourne 1974, pages 322-323