The Rising Sun Badge – Third Pattern, May 1904, carried a scroll inscribed with the words ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ and was worn throughout both World Wars by the First and Second AIF. Although there were a number of variations, one of which was the Commonwealth Horse, this badge pattern formed the template for all subsequent General Service badges. Source: http://www.army.gov.au
For Australia, fighting in the ‘Great War’ began with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landing at Rabaul on 11 September 1914, ultimately taking possession of German New Guinea and islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. On 14 November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden. Our legend, however, starts six months later . . .
Around 4.30am, on 25th April 1915, about 1500 men of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, comprising battalions from Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, together with the 3rd Field Ambulance, landed on Gallipoli near Ari Burnu point. A second wave of 2500 men followed shortly after. They were the first of the many thousands of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to land and fight in Gallipoli. Although the Gallipoli invasion failed to reach its objectives, and perhaps the most successful campaign was the evacuation of 41,000 troops in mid December 1915 – at a time when the horrors of the Western Front were still to be discovered – the tradition of the ANZAC was born. Even today, the area near their landing point is referred to as ANZAC Cove.
Australia was a young nation, only federated in 1901. The First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) was formed on 15 August 1914, in response to Britain declaring war on Germany. The AIF was, and remained for the duration of WWI, a volunteer force, and Australians volunteered in their thousands. What drove them to it? The chance to fight as Australians, not as part of the colonial forces of the British Army was a part of it. In 1914, however, Australia was still very tied to the “mother country”. Duty and loyalty to the British Empire was a big factor, and men and women wanted to “do their bit” for King and Country. Australia is also a long way from Europe, and the idea that they were going off to a grand adventure was a big lure. In thinking the fighting would be all over by Christmas, many young men feared they wouldn’t reach Europe in time. They were eager to enlist as soon as possible. Later, after the casualty lists of Gallipoli were published, men enlisted to support their mates, or to avoid being thought a coward, or handed a white feather. Then there was the pay; Aussies were sometimes referred to as the “six bob a day tourists”. For the 1000 or so Aboriginal recruits, it was the first time they had received equal pay. Their contribution is particularly remarkable when it is recalled that Australian society at the time did not consider them citizens, and most did not have the right to vote, nor were they counted in the census.
The 25th April is thought of by many as the day we truly became a nation, at least in the sense of the foundation of our military history, and it was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916. Its observance is not a celebratory party, however, but more of a dignified and solemn remembrance of all that Australia lost in the Great War – the ‘war to end all wars’. As well, we commemorate service in all those wars and peacekeeping missions which have followed, including our current representation in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mood of the crowd is reflective and sad, we mourn those who died, and those who were injured, and there is an undercurrent that ultimately, all war is futile.
It is traditional to hold a dawn remembrance and wreath laying service. Dawn signifies an acknowledgement of how those young men of the 1st AIF must have felt as they assembled on the ships in the early hours of the morning, and were towed in lifeboats, launches and cutters towards the Gallipoli beaches in the pre-dawn gloom, enveloped in a sea mist, and chilled because they were ordered to wear their tunics with sleeves rolled to the elbow, so that their white skin would allow for easier identification during the confusion of assault. The Turks had first spotted them a couple of hours earlier, and were assembling ready and waiting to defend their land. . . (If you can’t see anything in the photos below, then you have some idea of their experience).
Later in the day, depending on the size of the town, there may also be a street march, usually ending at the local cenotaph or shrine of remembrance.
This year, we travelled to Bogan Gate, a small country town we last visited in 2010. (https://garrulousgwendoline.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/exploring-nsw-forbes-to-dubbo/)
Bogan Gate in 1914 was a prosperous sheep farming area, with many families related through marriage and mate-ship. Like many country towns, its population is declining, and is currently around 200, but for this extra special one hundred year anniversary, the attendance swelled to around 500. Descendants had come from all over, with several of the more senior members being the last surviving children of those original ANZACs.
One of the poignant stories of those who enlisted from country towns all over Australia is that they were a hardy farming lot, and accomplished horsemen. Many joined the Light Horse Brigade – mounted troops who were organised more along cavalry rather than infantry lines. They took their beloved horses with them to war, but when it came to Gallipoli, the decision was made to send the Light Horse Brigades in as pure infantry, and, although they were later used in other campaigns, for this fight the horses were left behind in Egypt, or not disembarked from the transport ships. Australia sent 136,000 horses overseas, predominantly Walers, a mixed breed horse, suited to tough and dry Australian conditions, a good match for the harsh climate of the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. When the war finished, however, cost and quarantine considerations meant that only one horse was ever returned to Australia – ‘Sandy’ who belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges, who was killed at Gallipoli. . . .
Authorities are good at finding the money to go to war, funding peace is a harder concept.
Amongst the many who enlisted from Bogan Gate was Staff Nurse Grace Linda Tomlinson of the Australian Army Nursing Service. 26 year old Nurse Tomlinson enlisted in mid 1917, served in Bombay, India, returned at the beginning of 1920 and was discharged unfit a year later.
There were also three Magill brothers, distant relatives of my cousins. They were all Light Horsemen, and it was fitting the remembrance service was supported by the Trundle Light Horse Re-Enactment Troop.
Inside the memorial hall, remembrance plaques had been hung on the walls. Imagine how Mrs Magill felt when her three sons went off to war, one after the other:
Eric died in a Malta war hospital of septicaemia as a result of wounds incurred on Gallipoli. On the 19th July he wrote to his mother. After thanking the local ladies for their support of Belgian refugees, and politely requesting care packages and old magazines for his group in Gallipoli, he goes on to tell of how another local boy was wounded:
“Now I will give you a bit of an account of how poor Cooper was hit. There were sixteen of us sent out as a screen, in charge of a sergeant. We were made into patrols of four, three men and an N.C.O. in charge. I was in charge of King, Cooper and Boswell. We had orders to retire to shelter (about 30 yards) if we were shelled. The Turks’ trenches were 150 yards in front of us, and we were covered by low scrub, about knee high, through which we crawled, though the Turks on our right, 1000 yards away, could see us if they were watching at all. We were out about 20 minutes, when the Turks opened fire on us with shrapnel. I was slightly in advance of the other three, and ordered them to retire, when King sang out to me that Cooper was hit. King, Sgt. Hewitt and I ran to him, and started to carry him in, I took his feet, Hewitt his head, and King in between. When we stood up we were exposed from the knee up, and the Turks opened on us with rifles. We carried him a few yards, till King exclaimed, “My God! My poor old leg is gone,” and dropped. Hewitt and I carried Cooper on to our trench, and then went back for King. We carried him to the trench, and found his leg was broken above the knee, and Cooper was hit in the thigh, the shrapnel bullet coming out through his stomach. Corp. Bolton, on my left, had Gibbons hit in the leg, and Kennedy in the hand, both flesh wounds. I then crept out, and got Gibbons’ rifle, and we retired with all the honours of war, bringing in our arms and wounded. This happened on the 10th July.” (source: Forbes Advocate Friday 10 September 1915 p6)
A few months later, in October, another neighbour’s son serving in Gallipoli wrote home to his mother with the news that Eric had been hit by a shell on the eve of being transferred to hospital for jaundice. Before the month was out, the family was gutted with the news that Eric had died five days later. He was just 22 years old.
In the meantime, their (first-born) son Frank had enlisted, and had been sent overseas just two weeks before Eric’s wounding. He served his four years in the Middle East mostly with the 12th Light Horse, and would have been part of the contingent who charged Beersheba on 31 October 1917, and probably part of that which entered Damascus the next year. Their third son, Jack, also enlisted in the 12th Light Horse, and spent the final year of the war in the Middle East. Mrs Magill no doubt breathed a sigh of relief that the war was finished before her fourth son was old enough to enlist.
After the mounted bugler sounded the Last Post, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McCDWYgVyps) and we bowed our heads in a minute’s silence, I reflected on the huge toll that WWI took on Australia.
From a population of approx 4.9 million, around 420,000 Australians enlisted for service, representing 38.7 per cent of the male population aged between 18 and 44. Over 60,000 were killed, and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. At 64.8 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war. The New Zealanders fared just as badly, or even a little worse.
Statistics are one side of the picture, but they hide the human story of the pain and worry about the loved ones who you may never see again, or who return home never again to be the person who left. Amongst the memorabilia on display in the local hall, was a simply bound photocopied catalogue of all the names of those who died. Each one a single line of name, number, unit, and date, location and cause of death. There was Eric Magill, and there was Private Alexander Richardson Kyle – my aunt’s father – killed in action at Hargicourt, near Bullecourt in France on 18th September 1918. Two year old Aunty Nan never knew another father. There, also, was Oscar Walker, one of the real life people in the book I am reading at the moment: The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker. Nineteen year old Oscar enlisted in October 1916, and was killed in France on 4th September 1918. The cause of death column has many acronyms: KIA, DOW. Oscar’s is one simple, inescapable word: gassed.
And within twenty years of this world-wide tragedy, as a consequence of the outbreak of WWII, the sons of the two returned Magill brothers would find it their turn to fight for “King and Country”. As would the descendants of the Walker brothers who did survive.
This article is compiled from historical knowledge and understanding, with fact checking to several sources, e.g: