On the 1st of January 1901 a new nation was born. It was called The Commonwealth of Australia. However, it was in 1915, at a place called Gallipoli, that Australia truly became a nation. A battle fought far from Australian shores brought death, suffering and great sorrow but it also forged a strength of spirit and sense of national pride that created a people who were finally and completely united.
For the Allies the Gallipoli campaign was a military disaster but it was a victory for courage and valour that became legendary. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was a combined force of Australian and New Zealand volunteer soldiers. This force of about 30 000 men took part, with other Allied Forces, in a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. However, it was the ANZACs' bravery and fierce tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds that won them the respect of both their comrades-in-arms and their enemy, the Turks. These men not only fought with great courage but with honour on the field of battle.
Many Australian men, as young as fourteen, volunteered to fight for Britain, the mother country. In ones so young there could be no real understanding of the enormity of the horrors of war, and nowhere was the terrible sacrifice and struggle of war more evident than on the beaches of Gallipoli. A total of 5833 Australian soldiers were killed in action during the eight months of the campaign; a further 1985 died of their wounds and 2721 New Zealanders were killed - so, of the original contingent of ANZACs, a third died in the Dardanelles. (Figures from World Book Encyclopedia, Vol 21, 1990)
The impact on all Australians of the tragedy of Gallipoli was profound; and while our losses there were severe, many more were to go to their deaths before World War One was over. A total of 59 258 were killed or missing in action. A further 160 000 were wounded and 80 000 contracted serious illnesses. (Figures from Outcomes, p 190, by Hoepper, Bland, Cowie and Hendy 1980) This nation was born in peace by its defining moment was the way its people met the challenge and the ravages of war. In some country towns an entire generation of their male population was decimated. Few people were unaffected. Those that survived Gallipoli and other places of blood and glory came home to a heroes' welcome but only with each other could they hope to find solace and 'mateship' - the one characteristic that, more than any other, came to define the Aussie digger.
The first commemoration of ANZAC Day in Australia was held in Brisbane in 1916. Other states soon followed and now ANZAC Day commemorates sacrifices made by New Zealand, British and other Allied forces serving in all theatres of war during the twentieth century. Thousands of veterans, their relatives and the general public take part in memorial services, marches through the streets and reunions.
It was in large part as a response to the gallantry of those that served in World War One that thousands of Australians enlisted in the armed services with the outbreak of World War Two. Once more our countrymen and women served with pride and distinction and once more our nation suffered terribly - 33 826 killed. (Figures from ibid.) This time though, as well as sending our best and brightest to Europe to fight, we were fighting for our survival as Japanese Imperial Forces attacked our coastal cities. Throughout South-East Asia, including Burma, Singapore and New Guinea, Australian soldiers fought with the same determination that the ANZACs had shown, and, like the ANZACs, they were defeated. Thousands were made prisoners-of-war and many were executed or died of illness or wounds. Those that survived endured cruel and harsh conditions. Yet even in the P.O.W camps the spirit of the ANZACs was manifest. Ultimately the Allies, in both Europe and the Pacific, were able to turn the tide of war, and once again our nation mourned our dead and welcomed home the survivors.
I am thirteen years old, just a year or two younger than some of those that went to war. I've read about Simpson and his donkey; I've read about ANZAC ingenuity and toughness of character; I've read about how the men at the front were sometimes overwhelmed with despair and a sense of futility, yet continued to fight with incredible grit and defiance; but, for all that I've read, for all the grim and awful things I've learnt from books these past weeks, I know that I cannot ever hope to truly appreciate the bravery, the heart, the fear, the boldness, the despair and the indomitable spirit of those who go to war. I can only say that I am grateful.
Australians had, in both World Wars, proven that they were a match for any fighting force in the world and as a nation we demonstrated a commitment to peace and prosperity for ourselves and our neighbours. Those that fought and died in 1915 did not die in vain. Their sacrifice, so far from the comforts of home and family, gave this nation its soul and its spirit.
Despite the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, Australians have always recognised and respected the hopes and the aspirations of the men and women who go abroad to defend the lives of others. Now in East Timor Australian and New Zealand forces are a crucial part of the United Nations peace-keeping mission and so the ANZAC spirit lives on into the new millennium.
Coupe Shenna Investigating Our Past Ch. 20 & 21
Longman Chesire Pty Limited (1986) Melbourne
Hoepper B, Bland P, Cowie R, Hendy A Outcomes Section 3, Ch. 24 & 25
Thomas Nelson Australia (1980) Melbourne
Laffin John Damn the Dardanelles!
Osprey Publishing Limited (1980) London
New World Book Encyclopedia, Vol 23, A - L (1990)
Newspaper article - The Sunday Mercury 22 April 2000
"Boys at War" by Roger de Lisle
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