How and why have Australians commemorated the ANZAC experience?
The Gallipoli campaign which commenced on 25 April 1915 and ended eight months later saw the loss of 8,700 Australian lives.1 Although our nation was to accomplish success in subsequent battles, it is the ANZAC day landing which Australia commemorates. In military terms, Gallipoli was a tragic defeat, due to poor organisation, communication and leadership as discussed in Appendix I. Nevertheless, it is seen as a victory in the sense of creating a national psyche, encompassing values such as "reckless valour … enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance" thus breaking the "colonial cringe" that formally bound Australians as inferior to the British.2 No doubt, some decades have witnessed controversy in regards to its commemoration and interpretation, however, for the majority of Australians their involvement in the ANZAC experience holds significance.
Although the ANZAC experience has seen Australians united, it has evoked mixed feelings in many. Speaking of myself, one of the overwhelming impressions that I was struck with upon visiting Devonport’s war memorial recently was, not only the number of names listed of those who had died for our country, but also the fact that they were all so young. As I read their ages - 17, 18, 21 - I realised that I could only begin to appreciate the profound impact military conflict and subsequent bloodshed, particularly of WWI, must have had on Australians. For example, following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1914, out of a total male population of just 2,500,000 almost 360,000 enthusiastically but rather naively enlisted to support the ‘mother country’, and because of the opportunities they thought the war offered for adventure.3 By 1918 Australia suffered just less than 60,000 dead, an enormous casualty rate from a relatively small country.4 Those who survived came home to a hero’s greeting however many returned from their ‘Great Adventure’- physically and psychologically scared. To add further disappointment, in the 1920’s/30’s the soldiers were not allocated the benefits promised to them. In this sense WWI changed the opinions of Australians to commemorate war rather than celebrate it.
Nevertheless, the ANZAC experience of WWI resulted in a positive and everlasting effect on the Australian identity and because of this - throughout WWII - when, for the first time, we were met with a substantial threat on our own doorstep - a ‘new breed’ of ANZACs was able to continue a legend. In the years 1939-1945 some 20,000 Australians, such as the courageous George Medal recipient Sister Nell Savage, sacrificed the relative security of their homes to defend freedom and "for my pal" as one soldier put it, displaying mateship.5 This response was in great part due to the gallantry of those who stormed Gallipoli. Thus the ANZACs fought with the same determination as their predecessors and again our nation suffered terribly - 33, 826 Australians killed.6 Many who survived endured harsh conditions yet the "ANZAC Spirit" continued to manifest itself. The POWs at Stalag383, even went as far as to commemorate ANZAC day. As a diary entry of a prisoner recorded: "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".7 Later, in 1945, when WWII finally came to a conclusion there was a rise in ANZAC Day attendances, mourning the dead and welcoming home our new ‘ANZAC heroes’.
Unfortunately, the enthusiastic public demonstration of gratitude the Australian troops of WWI received was in stark contrast to the treatment of the Vietnam soldiers of the 1960s/70s who, despite demonstrating the ‘ANZAC Spirit’ in its every form such as self-sacrificing courage - evident in the fact that 496 were killed in action and 2398 physically wounded - "came home not to national acclaim but to indifference, and often, hostility".8 This controversy in relation to whether Australian armed forces should have participated in the Vietnam War and resultant disrespect towards the military was reflected in the ANZAC Day commemorations of the time. Northwest Tasmania’s ‘The Advocate’ 1965 described Devonport’s turnout of the public to the 50th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landing as "below expectations".9 Many people said ANZAC Day was just a reason for war veterans to get drunk. Meanwhile other Australians expressed opinions in favour of abandoning ANZAC day altogether. However, despite this misinterpretation and apparent scornfulness others remained loyal to the ANZAC tradition. In 1975 at Devonport’s ANZAC Day service, A. Richmond stated that "Australians were dishonoring their obligations to those who fell in wartime".10 Later, in 1977, Tasmania’s Army Chaplain, Fr Sheedy, told an ANZAC Day gathering at Smithton "We cannot forget the fallen of all campaigns in our defence of liberty and justice".11 Australia was divided. Yet the tide inevitably turned and once again the legend of ANZAC was to be commemorated by popular opinion. In 1988, Australia’s bicentenary, ANZAC Day attendance’s began to fluctuate. ‘The Advocate" reported that year "The biggest crowd seen in many years attended Devonport’s service … The roll-up of Vietnam veterans also was significantly greater and for the second time since their return, they led the morning march".12
Perhaps one of the most overwhelming public responses to ANZAC commemoration, occurred in May 2002 with the passing of Alec Campbell. At the age of 103 he was the last recognised survivor of the Gallipoli campaign, not only in Australia but in the world. Campbell who enlisted in June 1915 at 16, no older than myself, served on the Gallipoli Peninsula in November and December 1915 with the 15th Battalion and through "love, endeavor, challenge and service … embodied the ANZAC spirit" in his youth and on the battlefield.13 At the State Funeral service held at Cathedral Church of St. David in Hobart, Prime Minister J. Howard expressed the sentiments of a nation: "The spirit bequeathed by Alec and his generation though born of war’s adversity, still slumbers within our people, ready to rise and draw new breath when disaster strikes or danger threatens. An essence that continues to define our nation’s identity and the standards by which we judge ourselves."14
In conclusion, the ANZAC experience is part of what and who we are as Australians and its commemoration has become the source of never-ending sap which Australians have drawn strength and inspiration from, in the past, present and certainly in years to come. Few would argue the opinion that the ANZACs should never again be tried in war. Be that as it may, as discussed in Appendix II, the ‘ANZAC spirit’ has been embraced by many Australians during peacetime resulting in positive effects in our society. I hope that I endeavour with the same courage, initiative, determination and mateship in everything I do as the ANZACs did. May I also add, from the bottom of a grateful generation’s heart to think of our loss if opinions during the turbulent years of Vietnam to abandon ANZAC Day had materialised. It is a great relief to see that on 25 April it is alive and well as crowds increase. In the words of Prime Minister J.Howard. "ANZAC Day has remained the story of an aspiring nation’s courage. It has remained relevant not to glorify war or to paint some romantic picture of our history but to draw upon a great example of unity and common purpose."15 This is why we remember them.
The Australian New Zealand Army Corps’ first major military role, the Gallipoli Campaign, which tried to free a southern supply route through the Black Sea, was from the beginning, pestered with errors. The ANZACs landed north of the mapped landing site and because of the terrain could progress little inland. The Turks were mindful of this ‘secret’ appearance and the ANZACs found themselves under heavy fire. The ANZACs had discharged rifles and were stranded on the shores. Two-thousand died of the 16, 000 men landed on the first day, some due to bullet wounds and drowning.16 These are just a few examples of the numerous things that went bad due to poor communication, leadership and organisation resulting in the deaths of many ANZAC soldiers.
During peacetime countless Australians have embraced the ‘Anzac spirit’ and expanded, developed and confirmed the values it beholds throughout their life. This in turn has resulted in countless contributions of great significance to our society. For example, the people who form groups such as Care Australia, The Salvation Army, Canteen and other smaller charity groups in the local area such as the Women’s Health Auxiliary, exhibit the same ‘others before self’ heroism that the famous ANZAC legend John Simpson Kirkpatrick had at Gallipoli. Just as Simpson and Duffy had carried wounded men down Monash and Sharpnel Valley to safety, it is the constant desire to help others in need that drives these volunteers to give up so much of their time in the aim creating a better life for those that are less fortunate. The fact that they go about contributing to the lives of others without ever expecting any sort of recognition further accentuates the Anzac spirit that these ‘heroes’ in their own right behold.
1. Figures from Hoepper et al., Outcomes Section 3: Ch. 24 & 25 (1980) p. 190.
2. Bean, Anzac to Amiens (1961) p. 181.
3. Figures from Hoepper et al., op. cit.
4. Figures from ibid.
5. Figures from Adam-Smith, The ANZACs (1991) p. 475.
6. Figures from ibid., p. 476.
7. Nelson, POW: Australia Under Nippon (1990) p. 144.
8. Rowe, Vietnam: The Australian Experience (1987) p. 162.
9. Editorial, "Contrast in NW Anzac Day Attendance", The Advocate (1965) p. 7.
10. Editorial, "Day About People", The Advocate (1975) p. 3.
11. Editorial, "Need for Anzac Day Stressed", The Advocate (1977) p. 5.
12. Editorial, "Big Coastal Attendance: Ceremonies rekindle the Anzac spirit", The Advocate (1988) p. 1.
13. Transcript: The Hon John Howard, Address at the state funeral service of Alec William Campbell (2002)
15. Transcript: The Hon John Howard, Address at Anzac Day commemorations (2002).
16. Figures from Carlyon, Gallipoli (2001) p. 422.
Adam-Smith, P. (1991) The ANZACs, Penguin Books, Victoria. Useful for gaining information on WWI and ideas for further research.
Bean, C.E.W. (1961) Anzac to Amiens, Halstead Press, New South Wales. Gives insight into how Bean regarded the ANZAC Spirit. This book was often quoted in other literature.
Carlyon, L. (2001) Gallipoli, Pan Macmillan, New South Wales. Provides intricately detailed accounts of those who fought in Gallipoli as well as providing an insight into the politics war.
Cornes, G. "Tribute to Some Unsung Heroes"’, The Advertiser, 14 August (1999).
Editorial "Big Coastal Attendance: Ceremonies rekindle the Anzac spirit", The Advocate, 26 April (1988).
Editorial "Contrast in NW Anzac Day attendance", The Advocate, 26 April (1965).
Editorial "Day About People", The Advocate, 26 April (1975).
Editorial "Need for Anzac Day Stressed", The Advocate, 26 April (1977).
Hoepper, B. Bland, P. Cowie, R. Hendy, A. (1980) Outcomes Section 3: Ch. 24 & 25, Thomas Nelson, Victoria. Provides statistical data.
Inglis, K.S. (1998) ANZAC Remembered, The History Department of The University of Melbourne, Victoria. Gives useful information on how the ANZACs and the ANZAC spirit is interpreted today.
Nelson, H. (1990) POW: Australia Under Nippon, ABC Books, Victoria. Useful insight into the haunting realities of WWII.
Robson, L.L. (1969) Australia and the Great War, Macmillan, Victoria. Discusses the initial effect WWI had on Australia.
Rowe, J. (1987) Vietnam: The Australian Experience, Time Life Books, New South Wales. Useful insight into the controversy that shrouded the Vietnam War.
Thomson, A. (1994) Anzac Memories, Oxford University Press, New York. Explores the creation of the ANZAC spirit and its impact on our national identity.
Transcript: The Hon John Howard MP , Address at Anzac Day commemorations (25 April 2002) [http://www.pm.gov.au/news/media%5Freleases/2002/media%5Frelease1617.html].
Transcript: The Hon John Howard MP , Address at the state funeral service of Alec William Campbell (24 May 2002) The Cathedral Church of St. David, Hobart. [http://www.pm.gov.au/news/speeches/2002/speech1665.htm].
Tudball, L. (1991) Australian Perspectives, Jacaranda Press, Queensland.
"World War II", World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, Ivid Communications (1999). Provides general information on WWII such as timelines and statistical data.
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