The Simpson Essay Competition

"A Spirit of Peace"

"The events at Gallipoli in 1915 and subsequent conflicts have all contributed to the creation of the ANZAC tradition and spirit in Australia. This is commemorated every year on ANZAC Day. How did the events at Gallipoli or subsequent conflicts shape the ANZAC tradition and spirit? What does the ANZAC tradition and spirit mean to Australians today?"

Eleanor Claire Jenkin
C.C.E.G.G.S
Australian Capital Territory

The tradition of ANZAC is paramount in Australian culture and history. It represents our national and cultural identity, and our society’s values. The ANZAC spirit is really twofold. It is a spirit of dedication, bravery and resourcefulness in battle. It is also a tradition of strength of character, of personal and national pride and of transcending one’s circumstances. The term ‘ANZAC spirit’ could well be applied to Australian conduct during many conflicts. However, there is no better example of the true ANZACs spirit than Gallipoli, the WW1 battle referred to as Australia’s "baptism of fire".

During the eight-month battle for Gallipoli, the ANZACs distinguished themselves as men of unprecedented courage, tenacity and honor in battle, despite their lack of experience. Field-Marshal Viscount Slim even went as far as to say "In my life I have fought with and against many kinds of soldiers, but I have never seen any who carried themselves more nobly in battle, more daringly or more stout-heatedly, than those men of ANZAC." A tremendous example of this ANZAC nobility and bravery on Gallipoli was Private Albert Jacka, the first Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross. A party of nine Turks was holding a bay they had taken in the Australian trench line, despite Australian attempts to expel them. Albert Jacka coolly crossed into the bay whilst his mates distracted the Turks. Jacka overcame the Turks and retook position. John Laffin commented "It was a one-man feat not only of bravery, but of clear thinking", the sort of courage ANZACs became famous for.

Another factor that has contributed to the shaping of the ANZAC spirit is the ANZAC history of camaraderie, mateship and devotion to duty outside of battle. The perfect example of this are the stretcher-bearers on Gallipoli. John Laffin has suggested their motto should have been "we never refuse a call", and then goes on to say "The stretcher-bearers of Gallipoli, by their remarkable gallantry and devotion to duty, set an imposing tradition for their successors." However, the sort of self-sacrifice demonstrated by the stretcher-bearers were not unique to those given the task of saving lives. Major A.W Murdoch of the 29th Battalion took the initiative in disobeying orders from the highest levels to rescue those injured and stranded in front of his division’s line. Improvising the Red Cross flag, he crossed No Man’s Land and offered himself as a hostage whilst the injured were collected. Even without the protection of a truce, small parties of ANZACs and even individuals would venture out to collect the injured, such was their devotion to the cause and to the men they fought alongside.

The ANZACs have always been admired for their courageous ability to rise above the circumstances of war through mateship, humour and cheeky ingenuity. Brigadier-General Sir John Monash wrote to his wife "The men have been living for five weeks in squalor and dirt in rain and shine, and most of them in rags; yet they are laughing and singing and joking and indulging in chaff and horse play" . The ANZAC soldiers mischievously learned to catch the enemy grenades and throw them back before they exploded, and they also learned some typically cheeky war cries. In response to the Turks’ frenzied cries of "Allah! Allah!", the Australians would cry "Eggsacook! Eggsacook!" or "Saida baksheesh!".

The great ANZAC tradition is commemorated every year on April 25th, the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. The Australian people come out in force to attend marches and services around the country. However, ANZAC Day is about more than just paying respect to those who have fought and sacrificed to protect our nation and way of life. Jane Ross observed "why should our national hero be a soldier? The armed forces have never been of obvious, continuous importance in the day-to-day struggle for existence. Indeed….only once, during World War II, has the country been under unequivocal threat of invasion." Rather, the ANZAC day marches are about acknowledging those who gave us our identity.

The ANZAC spirit and tradition is the spirit of Australia, and as such will always be relevant to Australians. It is the spirit that marked the moment Australians finally had a common history, giving the nation a defined identity and a reason to be proud. A poem written at Gallipoli sums up the important role the campaign played in shaping the nation’s new mentality:

Bury the dead
By whose dying, splendidly,
In that harsh dawn, volley-litten
Was our new war-saga written –
We who ‘had no history’

Perhaps the ANZAC spirit and tradition is not as obvious today as it was in the years following World War I, but it is woven into the fabric of society as deeply as ever. As Jane Ross surmises "In Australia, military tradition is of particular importance because of the unique place which the myth of the digger has occupied in the building of a national identity." In today’s difficult economic climate, the ANZAC values also serve to unite Australians as the face of the nation changes due to multiculturalism. The ANZAC tradition gives Australians a value system we can all be part of, and a history, we can be proud of.

The events and conduct of ANZAC troops at Gallipoli were the beginning of the creation of the ANZAC spirit and tradition. This spirit and tradition has gone on to become an integral part of our cultural identity, as well as a major part of our national history. The spirit of ANZAC means a great deal to Australia today not only because of its place in our hearts, but also because of the relevance of its values to Australian society.

Bibliography:

Falls, Cyril (1969) Great Military Battles, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd Middlesex, England (orig.ed 1964)

Laffin, John (1965) ANZACs at War, Abelard Schuman Ltd, London

Laffin, John (1986) Digger: The Legend of the Australian Soldier, The Macmillan Publishing Company of Australia Pty Ltd, Melbourne (orig.ed. 1959)

Moorehead, Alan (1956), Gallipoli, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London

Ross, Jane (1986) The Myth of the Digger, Hale & Iremonger Pty Ltd Sydney