An Australian soldier, or any Australian, of today has a lot to live up to; he/she has to preserve the honor and spirit of past Anzac soldiers - soldiers who created the Anzac spirit, a spirit full of compassion, courage, endurance and fierce determination. It is a spirit that became a tradition that has lasted nearly a century; the spirit and tradition celebrated by Australians every year. This is the spirit and tradition that turned Australia into a compassionate nation, respected by the world. As Sir Keith Murdoch wrote in a letter to former Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher: "...if you could picture Anzac as I have seen it, you would find that to be an Australian is the greatest privilege the world has to offer..."1
The Gallipoli Campaign, aimed at forcing Turkey out of World War I, was, from the start, plagued with errors and problems. The first Anzac landing was three kilometers off course. The Turks, hiding in the mountains, expecting an attack, opened fire. Anzac soldiers tried to fight back, but it was hopeless. The Turks had machine guns and were entrenched in strategic sites. The Anzacs had unloaded rifles, wore heavy clothing and were stranded on the beaches. Before the first day passed 2000 Anzac soldiers were killed. Countless more were fatally wounded. This is just one example of the many things that went wrong, and caused the deaths of thousands of Anzac soldiers.
It was these events that shaped the Anzac spirit. Before the landing, the Anzac soldiers had distinguished themselves not as Australians, as a whole, but as Western Australians, South Australians etc. It wasn't until they landed, and saw the dead and wounded, that they saw the impact of war. It wasn't until the landing that they realized that they were all connected in some way. War was, as The Sydney Morning Herald put it, the Anzac's "baptism of fire".2 On that day they realized they were Australians.
The Gallipoli Campaign was supposed to have lasted only two weeks, but dragged on for months. Death, disease, famine and enemy snipers surrounded the tired soldiers. There was no escape. However the soldiers sought no escape. C.E.W. Bean, the official Australian war historian, asked, "What motive sustained them?" and answering his own question, replied, "It was in the mettle of the men themselves ... life was very dear, but life was not worth living unless they could be true to the idea of Australian manhood. Standing upon that alone ... when the world seemed to crumble ... they faced its ruin undsmayed3." To be Australian was very important to the soldiers. To support Australia was even more important to the soldiers. From this determination, came more qualities that have become a part of the Anzac spirit.
Through all the severe fighting and bad living conditions, the Anzacs learnt endurance and humour. From the impossibility of their tasks and missions, they learnt camaraderie and courage. From the deaths of their mates, they learnt sacrifice and honor. Every member of the Anzac force possessed each of these qualities, and more.
On the day of the landing, when soldiers were being killed in the hundreds, a courageous and caring soldier appeared. He, having found a donkey, picked up wounded soldiers and bought them to the beach. His efforts to help the dying were heroic, and he risked his life to save people. In him was the Anzac spirit He had compassion, to think about the dead. He had courage, to walk over the trenches to pick up the dead soldiers. He had determination, to get the wounded soldiers back. He had endurance, to do it over and over again. The person referred to is, of course, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, "the symbol of all that was pure, selfless and heroic on Gallipoli.4
The subsequent conflicts that the Anzacs were involved in strengthened the. ANZAC spirit This is seen in the continuity of the tradition at Tobruk, on the Kokoda trail, in Korea, in Malaya, in Borneo, in Vietnam and, most recently, in Kuwait.
The Anzac tradition and spirit is, today, the most meaningful part of our heritage. When the Gallipoli Campaign began, Australia was young, still looked after and cared for by the Empire. After the war Australia was noted and respected by other countries. Australia became a nation, capable of fighting for itself, capable of independence.
The Anzac spirit brought about this freedom. The spirit taught us mateship, endurance and the value of life. As Peter Weir, director and writer of the film, Gallipoli wrote "our story became more about the journey than the destination, about people rather than events.5" Thus it does not matter where the soldiers were, or who won the war. It matters, more what the soldiers did. Admirable deeds done by soldiers, such as Simpson, are simple, unselfish actions of enduring heroic significance. Deeds that justify the biblical words "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends6" are deeds that are worth glorifying and preserving.
Eighty-three years ago humble soldiers set foot on enemy shores to fight a war for their empire, the British Empire. Eight months later the soldiers, with the same humility, left having fought a war for their country, Australia. Last December, Alfred Douglas Dibley passed away. He was with the Anzacs when they first landed in Gallipoli. He was the last one to die. The Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Scott, stated at Dibley's funeral, "He was one of the ... brave men who created for this country the Anzac legend the spirit of courage, mateship and determination. These are the qualities from which we have drawn our national identity.7"
Australia owes gratitude to the Anzac soldiers. They made us a nation. They sacrificed their lives for something that they believed was right. And they have etched their beliefs into the pages of Australian history. The Anzac spirit and tradition will forever be with us, as long as we still believe...
Adam-Smith P., The Anzacs Nelson, Melbourne, 1978.
Anon., Death of Ted Matthews www.dva.gov.au/media/prers/dec97/dthtedm.htm, 1998
Anon, Shrine of Remembrance Melbourne, The National War Memorial of Victoria, The Wilson Creative Group, Melbourne, 1989.
Coulthard-Clark C.D., A Heritage of Spirit, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1979.
Denton K., Gallipoli Illustrated, Rigby, Adelaide, 1982.
Fitzpatrick G., Anzac Day, Past and Present, The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1992-
Hart D.M., Response to War, www10.pair.com/crazydv/weir/gailipoli/hart.htm, Adelaide, 1997.
Macdougall A.K., Anzacs - Australians at War, Reed, Sydney, 1991.
Mason, K.J. Experiences of Nationhood, Australia and the World since 1900, McGraw Hill, Sydney, 1992.
Nairn B. Serle G., Australian Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 9. Las-Gil, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1983.