I have to get myself to school today. Mum has to work; she is a nurse. I’ve just watched the morning news. Australian troops are to lead a peace keeping force in troubled East Timor. As I watched the men and women in their slouch hats and uniforms I was reminded of ANZAC Day. A day when we are taken back to 1915. A year when people like John Simpson Kirkpatrick demonstrated qualities of courage, mateship, determination and sacrifice; in fighting for Australia, in caring for their mates and in recording a history never to be forgotten.
To a large extent, the story of Simpson is the story of all stretcher bearers. Without the perceived glamour of the soldier’s rifle, the Red Cross flag his only protection, he constantly exposed his own mortality to rescue his injured mates. Like the blood of his compatriots flowing through the trenches, Simpson’s courage and self sacrifice has permeated the consciousness of Australians for generations to come.
The ANZAC spirit was born on the shores of Gallipoli, 25th April 1915 – a spirit which inspired Australians who had to leave, some for as long as four years, some who would never return – every one a volunteer, prepared to save a nation at the cost of their own lives – Courage. Australians who left behind young families and bright futures, only to be killed in action defending Australia and the Empire – Sacrifice. Australians who willingly enlisted despite being underage, only to be subjected to shocking conditions and carnage – Determination. And Australians whose battalion became their family. Pride in their unit, the love of their country and their will to stay in Gallipoli, rather than leave their dead mates behind – Mateship.
Australian soldiers like Captain Albert Jacka who personified this ANZAC spirit in his stirring diary account, from 19th May 1915;
‘Great battle at 3am. Turks captured large portion of our trench… into the front line. Lieut. Hamilton shot dead. I …recaptured the trench. I bayoneted two Turks, shot five, took three prisoners and cleared the whole trench. I held the trench alone for 15 minutes against a heavy attack. Lieut. Crabbe informed me that I would be recommended.’(1)
For this action, Albert Jacka became the first Australian to receive the Victoria Cross; the highest award for individual gallantry. For his ongoing sacrifices he earned the respect of his fellow Australians.
Australian First Aid workers, like Sister Alice Kitchen, were typical of the tough, well-trained nurses accepted for service and sent to the front. They were remarkable women. Skill, efficiency and resilience were just some of their outstanding qualities. Despite the risk of contagious disease and constant danger, they stood by their every patient, determined to see them recover.
Historian C.E.W. Bean watched the first men arrive from all corners of the Commonwealth to enlist. He was with them on the first convoy and in the first camps. He landed with them at Gallipoli, and left only when they did. He observed every trench, every battlefield, recording the mens’ experiences, jokes and heartaches. After the war he returned to Gallipoli and the Somme, gathering the material that later became the heart of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. From the bodies of fallen diggers Bean gathered personal belongings to be returned to their families back home. Towns where only a few men enlisted were sent mementos. Bean risked his own life to ensure the lives of others were recognised and never forgotten.
On the home front the emancipation of women saw wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends thrust into the workforce. Individually they provided economic support for their family. Collectively they did so for their country. Despite the difficulties, they endured – so did the children who lost fathers, uncles and brother’s, often gaining shells of men who were emotionally and physically scarred for life; men who ‘lived’ the rest of their lives in wheelchairs, tyres replacing their absent legs. Able-bodied Australian men, considered too old to enlist, were frustrated at having to stay at home while their sons left to fight.
But through it all the ANZAC spirit shone, galvanising Australians during another world war. It shone again in Europe and North Africa where the Nazi menace could not dim its light. When our very shores were threatened, neither the mud of Kokoda, nor the Japanese cruelty of Changi, could extinguish its flame. A flame that Australians took with them to wars in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and the Gulf.
Its symbol burns brightly on Legacy badges and the walls of our R.S.L. Clubs. We are reminded of it every time we donate to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, or any natural disaster appeal. Recently we have seen it reflected in the faces of Kosovan refugees seeking haven in our country. Often our victorious sportsmen and women cite mateship as their inspiration. It is this mateship that provides the fuel for this ANZAC flame, first lit in the trenches of Gallipoli.
The reputation of the Australian men and women during wartime, their endurance and sense of humour encompassed those around them with an aura, creating a legend and heritage for future generations to emulate. Our history is not only captured in memorial stones and noble statues, but in the faces of Australians, preserved in memories and courageous hearts.
Mum picked me up from school this afternoon. She’d had a hard day. A middle aged patient she was caring for is dying. While a liver transplant is possible, the patient maintains she has enjoyed her life and organ donations should be spared for those younger than herself. Her selflessness reminded me of the ANZAC spirit forged at Gallipoli 84 years ago through the heroism of Australians like John Simpson Kirkpatrick, and soon to be rekindled in the jungles of East Timor.
A spirit to take us into a new millennium.
As written by General Sir Ian Hamilton, ‘Before the war who had ever heard of ANZAC? Hereafter who will ever forget it?’(2)
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