The Gallipoli campaign form 25 April 1915 to 8 January 1916 saw 8,700 Australians die. Although Australians were to achieve greater success in World War 1, it's the Anzac day landing which Australia has chosen to commemorate. Gallipoli was a miserable failure, opinions of its importance vary, but that's a fact. Nonetheless for most Australians, Anzac day has significance. Gallipoli changed Australia; it became less British and more distrustful of authority. Historians and politicians have promoted Gallipoli as our "baptism of fire", when Australian truly became a nation and "to Australia's earlier tradition of social progress was now added one of great military glory in the fashion of countries of the old world. No event in her history has been more widely commemorated, and every town, church, school or club has its memorial and roll of honour to remind not only the present but future generations of the sacrifices made in the war". A legend has been created.
Anzac Day was almost immediately after the campaign in 1916 when "Australian troops stationed in England marched to a special service at Westminster Abbey in London". "In Australia on the same date memorial services and churches of the nation to those Anzacs " Since then on 25 April Australians remember. However since 1916 views on Anzac Day have varied. After the war, Australians saw their young men return home limbless, sightless or crippled; many never returned. There was no glory in this. A growing number of people were willing to voice their criticism of the war, to question its validity. In the 1920's and 30's the soldiers weren't given the benefits promised and this resulted in disappointment.
However during World War 2 and the 1950's, the Anzac spirit was reinforced. Even World War 2 prisoners of war at Stalag383, commemorated the day. "We commenced the day with an open air day service, conducted by Clp (Padre) T Oakley (2/11 Bn), and attended about 200 men. An innovation to this unique ceremony, whereby all young soldiers pay respects to the last war veterans in our midst, adds a new and beautiful significance to Anzac Day observance" noted a prisoner. A new generation of Australians had proved to themselves and the world that they were courageous and resilient in battle. World War two veterans now swelled the ranks of marchers.
In the 1960's/70's, because of Vietnam and conscription, opinions varied. Some said Anzac Day was just an excuse for war veterans to get together, get drunk and make fools of themselves. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in anti-war protests. For the Vietnam veterans there was no heroes welcome home, the country was divided.
Despite this, Launceston's 'The Examiner' 1965, reported positively on that year's Anzac Day stating "the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing became a truly national day for the first time. Crowds attending remembrance services were bigger than ever." Perhaps the anniversary helped increase the numbers. The Examiner 1972 reported "be-medalled ex-servicemen and women broke into spontaneous applause when an 18-year-old school student made a passionate declaration against war at Burnie's Anzac Day service." "In 1977 Anzac Cove saw no celebration. A few busloads of tourists, mainly Australian were there at the time of the Anzac landing and wandered the site. Late that day our consul was to lay a wreath. Nothing else took place." During the seventies, many Australians didn't understand commemorating war efforts or want to be a part of it. Anzac day and marches still took place but not with the fervour of today.
By 1988, our bicentenary year, numbers began to swell. The Examiner reported "in the crowd of more than 500, at Launceston's Service at the Cenotaph in Launceston yesterday, could be seen the faces of young and old, all with young men whose fathers who had served in Vietnam, a grandfather at Gallipoli, a mate in New Guinea."
Perhaps the real turning point in the Anzac legend came in 1990, the 75th anniversary of Anzac day. The Gallipoli War Veterans were few in numbers and Australians realized they were rapidly losing their last tangible contact with the original Anzacs. People began to realize the significance of Anzac Day.
Anzac Day 1990 was different from past remembrances. Cities and towns all over the country honoured soldiers who lost their lives in war. In Launceston on Anzac Day, the Examiner noted, "it used to be that Anzac Day dawn service was a silent time, a small huddled crowd standing the dimness of 6am, would clutch their overcoats around them, and pay their respects to the relatives and comrades who fought at Gallipoli and quietly disperse. Yesterday was different. As early as 5.45am, a hum of conversation came from groups of veterans from World War 2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War; jovial greetings amoung chums who meet up every Anzac Day detracted from the usual sombre atmosphere. The biggest difference was the size of the attending crowd. About 400 people crowded on to the small patch of grass to hear the Anzac message of the Launceston Legacy President, Mr Byrne who said "if we pass on to the children what Anzac Day means, it will not fade away."
Henceforth more Australians began to visit Gallipoli to acknowledge the dead at their 'sacred site'. Visitors numbers still continue to increase. In 1994, the Prime Minister Paul Keating, speaking at the Australian War Memorial said "the generation we will commemorate and thank was a heroic one. They fought a war in defence of the country they loved. They were nation builders. Our freedom was their legacy. And by the same example they compel us now, not just to remember them, but to pass on the lesson to our children." In 2000 the Prime Minister John Howard visited Gallipoli. How different to 1977!
To assess the impact of the ANZAC experience since 1915 is to acknowledge how the ANZAC spirit has fluctuated throughout Australian history. Treasure this national remembrance day, it is better to acknowledge than ignore. It is clearer for the ones that went to war, they are not celebrating, they are commemorating. In the words of Sir Ian Hamilton "happen what may, the Australians who have fought at Gallipoli will bequeath a heritage of honour to their children's children."
1. Shaw AGL The Story of Australia Faber and Faber Melbourne 1972
2. Laidlaw R.W Mastering Australian History Macmillan South Melbourne 1988
3. P.O.W. (Editor Mr R.S.Maynard) Sydney 1944
4. Queenchy High School Reference Kit
5. Four Corners Video - The Fatal Shore 1988-1990
6. F.K Crowley, Modern Australia in Documents Volume 1, Wren Publishing Melbourne 1973
7. Australia Remember Kit, Department of Veterans' Affairs, Canberra 1994
8. The Examiner newspaper, Launceston 1965, 1972, 1990
9. Oral interview (Mr R. Ashman) 22/8/2000
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