"Gallipoli was a turning point in Australia's history"
"I went away a boy, and I came back a man . I'm proud to say 'I am an ANZAC'" These words came from the mouth of Ted Matthews, an original ANZAC, who was one of the first men on the beach in 1915. This statement applies very aptly to many of the Australians who went to war. These young men fought to shape a fledgling nation, changing forever the course that Australia's history would take.
On the 25th of April 1915, 16 000 soldiers, many under the age of 20, charged up the beach at what is now known as ANZAC Cove. These courageous men were part of a campaign to seize control of Turkish vantage points, allowing Allied warships to penetrate the Dardanelles, a narrow strait, allowing them to bombard what is now called Istanbul (then Constantinople). Unfortunately for the ANZACs things went wrong from the beginning. Bad steering meant they were forced to land in a rugged scrub covered cove, 1.5km off course. Then the Turkish reinforcements arrived, raining machine gun fire on the soldiers. The situation was grim, but the commanders ashore who recommended immediate evacuation were overruled by the British General Sir Ian Hamilton, who was aboard the battleship Queen Elizabeth, well out to sea. So the ANZACs, the nameless and faceless as well as those whose names we know, battled for eight months.
They were sent to fight, as my great-grandfather, Henry Joseph Oakley, an original ANZAC, would say, "some other bugger's war". Sixteen thousand ANZACs landed on that fateful day in April. By the end of that day, 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers were dead. How has the sacrifice those men made shaped this nation and how has that same sacrifice changed Australia's history, making this great nation what it is?
In the early 1900's, prior to World War One, Australia was still very much a colonial country, following the path Britain carved out, doing as were told by the Mother Country. But somewhere during the Great War, Australia realised that just because Britain said jump didn't mean our feet had to leave the ground. Our boys went to war and came back men, fired up about their country, ready to help Australia follow their own path, ready to break away a little from the country which had, in Gallipoli, led from the safety of their battleship out in the Aegean Sea.
Before World War 1, Australians had never fought as Australians, but always as Britons. In the 1890's when they fought in the Boer War, they were considered adequate, if eccentric soldiers. Even then the "never say die" attitude of the Australians was becoming apparent. But after eight months in Gallipoli - eight months of machine gun fire falling like rain - eight months of pointless waste of life, the ANZAC tradition was well established. Those 250 000 soldiers had forged a now vital part of Australia's national identity - the ANZAC spirit.
But what is the ANZAC spirit? Is it something that can be defined with words?
In the mentioning of ANZAC, most of us think of courage, patriotism, camaraderie,
being there for your mate and standing up for what's right. Is this what the
ANZAC spirit is? Or is it all of these and something more, making soldiers "Mates",
brothers, only closer". Is it something combining these
elements, but not really definable; meaning something the same, but subtly different,
to each and every one of us?
"No other event in Australia's history has done more to mould the Australian psyche." Since the Gallipoli campaign, Australia's national identity has become much more defined. We now view ourselves more as an independent nation, not just members of the British Empire. We are Australians and "on one day each year, Australians across the country to gather for a commemoration and celebration of their national pride and identity". "Irrespective of individual ethnic origins, it's a day when Australians come together with a genuine sense of pride" . ANZAC day is the day we celebrate the ANZAC spirit, coming together to thank our soldiers, the men and women who made possible the quality of life we now have, the veterans of yesterday and troops of today. They all march together with some of the youth who will shape the future. These young people will carry on the tradition. "When we're all gone we expect the young ones to carry on" says Vietnam Veteran and former Army Padre, Father John Tinkler. So the battles our soldiers fought, the traditions they established will be carried on. The changes Australia went through after those fateful eight months in 1915 have remained and will remain for generations to come.
"The ANZAC tradition is something we should all foster because it embodies our national spirit, the qualities that make this the great country that it is" . The ANZAC spirit unites us as Australians, and we should all strive to maintain this. Our ANZAC's gave their all to shape this nation, even giving their lives, and that is what has changed Australia's history. Their courage and willingness to fight has gone a long way to change us from that nation who depended on the motherland to the independent Australia we are today. When my great-grandfather was asked, "In the war, did you kill anyone?" he answered, "I hope not, but I did what I had to do". This is very much what the ANZAC spirit is - doing what we have to do; standing and fighting even when the situation seems hopeless, persevering against all odds. Let's just hope that in the future, we have the courage to do this, as did the ANZACs of 1915.
Pugsley Chris The Anzacs at Gallipoli Port Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian Pty Ltd, 2000
Stannard Bruce, "Anzac Spirit" Australian Geographic No 50 April-June 1998 pp 44-63
Winter D 25 April 1915 St Lucia: University of Queensland Press 1994
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