"It was better to die going forward than going back." – Alfred Derham
Some people will claim that Australia’s true history as a nation was first shown to the world during the First World War, and in particular by the ANZACs, by ordinary people going off to war where they accomplished extraordinary feats. My research focused on old boys from my school, Camberwell Grammar. One old Grammarian was Francis Plumley Derham; Francis has a house named after him at Camberwell Grammar. However, his younger brother Alfred Plumley Derham, (who attended both Camberwell Grammar and Scotch College) was in fact an original Anzac. To show the extent to which his qualities exemplified the Anzac Spirit, several key areas which characterise the Anzac Spirit must be reviewed. These include; how the Anzacs were volunteers, how they were "Down to Earth", their resilience, their leadership, their mateship, their courage and self-sacrifice.
The Anzac Spirit originated from ordinary people who volunteered to join the armed forces in the time of war. In 1914 Alfred Derham was studying in his fifth year medical course at the University of Melbourne, but despite having already achieving high scores there, such as a first-class honours in his first year, and being recommended to have a years leave due to ill health, he abandoned his studies to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force. He served first at Gallipoli from the landing to the evacuation, and then in France until October 1916.
Modesty, a "Down to Earth" approach and a good sense of humour typified the Anzac Spirit. Alfred Derham’s greatest example of modesty and understatement was in the letter he wrote to his parents, recounting the days after the 25th April 1915 when the Australians first landed at Gallipoli. After being wounded in six places he continued to stay on duty for a further five days without receiving treatment. This section of his letter recounts his experience to his anxious parents waiting at home;-
"I was pinked in the thigh and shoulder on the first morning – both non stop clean wounds, the thigh one about ten inches long just missing the bone. So slight was its result that it did not even knock me over and I had no time to look at it till Thursday morning early – nearly 5 days – when I came out of the firing line for the first time."
Also in that letter, Alfred Derham shows his great humour by thanking the fact that he was a slender person, or else the Turkish bullets would have struck him properly, rather than just skimming him. This letter also shows how he did not wish his parents to worry about the danger he was in.
"…wounded in three places and hit six times and never stopped running. Lucky I am pretty narrow!"
The Anzacs had a strong sense of mateship and this helped them to be resilient, because they gave each other the support they required. Alfred Derham showed this mateship sometime on the night of the 25th April 1915 whilst retiring over Lone Pine to the main line on the 400 Plateau. He, and another wounded soldier, both able to walk, carried a Turkish machine gun together, except when they found an Australian with a broken leg, they dropped the machine gun, and although wounded themselves, carried him back. Alfred Derham also proved himself to be resilient during the World War II, when he was part of the 8th division in Singapore, and became a Prisoner of War to the Japanese. He spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war in Singapore and Malaya.
The leadership and independence shown by the Anzacs in the face of danger was nothing short of extraordinary. On the 25th April 1915, Alfred Derham was a Lieutenant, commanding his own platoon;-
"Derham found that the bullets were now whipping in between the men. Having no orders or clear conception as to where he was to go, he slowed down the company and sent forward two scouts. He knew that it was against all the rules of tactics and prudence to move over the skyline ahead of his own scouts. But he held no authority to act otherwise. He therefore led his company on again, and then, on his own responsibility, halted it immediately behind the crest. He sent N.C.O. back to Major Saker to explain the position, while he himself proceeded to the crest to reconnoitre the battle which they were about to enter."
This account shows Derham’s ability to make calm, well considered decisions in the heat of the battle; it also shows us his leadership by the way he reconnoitres himself rather than ordering someone else to do it for him.
By far the most distinguished quality demonstrated by the Anzacs was that of courage and determination. Alfred Derham showed this countless times while at Gallipoli. He was in fact, one of the first Australian soldiers to receive the Military Cross at Gallipoli. On another occasion, on that same day (25th April 1915), Derham had lost contact with Major Saker, so in order to obtain new orders; he attempted to make his way to Saker;-
"…by short rushes. Every time he rose, a Turkish machine-gun fired at him; twice it followed him closely; the third time it caught him. A bullet struck him in the thigh and spun him round; he rolled a few yards down hill and lay there bleeding heavily and fainting.
When the shock passed, Derham found that, though dizzy from loss of blood and paralysed in the left leg, he could crawl."
Alfred Derham also showed his courage later that day, after a younger officer had stupidly given the command to attack when the young officer had noticed soldiers moving in the scrubs about 30 metres in front. Unknown to that officer, the soldiers were Australians. Derham tried in vain to prevent the advance, but being unsuccessful was forced to limp after them;-
"The line, going over the crest, at once attracted every Turkish rifle or machine-gun within range…Derham had to hobble many hundreds of yards before he came on a fragment of them, under Lieutenant Levy, lying on the southern slope of Lone Pine.
While the two lay together talking, Derham, already seriously wounded, was hit by three more bullets; one struck his shoulder strap, a second the revolver on which he lay, the third went through his shoulder without striking the bone...[They]…decided that their party was bound to be "cut up", whether it advanced or retired. It was better to die going forward than going back. The word was therefore given to advance, and the line went forward in one long rush down the 200 yards of slope."
These two excerpts show Derham’s incredible character; even when he was seriously wounded, he was still prepared to attack for his country.
The Anzacs, such as Alfred Derham possessed all the important qualities that Australians value; eg. resilience, courage, determination and self-sacrifice. We can look at the Anzacs and all other Australians in War and draw inspiration from them as we continue to strive for our country in whatever field we may. The Anzacs began as ordinary people, and then became extraordinary people who did extraordinary things for the benefit of us all.
LEST WE FORGET
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