LEST WE FORGET – THE ANZAC DAY CENTENARY

rising-sunThe 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 . . .

The drip feed rifle was implemented during the evacuation of Gallipoli, to confuse the Turks into thinking Anzac Cove was still being defended. When enough water had dripped into a jam tin, the weight caused a string to pull the trigger.

The drip feed rifle was implemented during the evacuation of Gallipoli. A string was connected from a jam tin to the rifle trigger. Water from an overhead container dripped into the tin. At a certain weight, the rifle would fire. Sporadic firing left the Turks with the impression that Anzac Cove was still being defended. (picture source: http://www.firearmstalk.com)

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.

Sounding the Last Post

Sounding the Last Post

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:

http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/bgrnd.html

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/aborigines/indigenous/

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/horses/sandy/

https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/44/page54_bou/

http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/anzac-timeline/events-of-the-gallipoli-campaign/april-1915.php

http://rslnsw.org.au/commemoration/heritage/the-first-world-war

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waler_horse

 

33 thoughts on “LEST WE FORGET – THE ANZAC DAY CENTENARY

  1. Pingback: NSW Trainlink Outback Explorer from Sydney to Broken Hill | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. I’m so behind in blogging that I’m only now getting around to reading this. So glad I’ve finally had the privilege. This is a great history lesson – and I love history. Gwendoline, I know so little about Australian history; this is fascinating. I hope you’ll soon write more articles on your country’s history.

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  3. Dear Gwen Just had time this morn to read your post it was truly wonderful. you have a gift for pulling it together – so much info out there but the way you presented it was great. love Fran

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  4. Great post. Although I disagree with ‘…there is an undercurrent that ultimately, all war is futile…’. At least for school aged and up to 30 year olds, where there seems to be a tendency to glorify, which I find worrying.

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    • I’ve been thinking about this a bit. My remark was more in respect of the mood at the dawn services, but on reflection, perhaps my life is now more with an older crowd who have either had first hand experience or lost people, so we see it differently. I guess experience is the key there. Maybe some of the vets returning from Afghanistan should be encouraged to do school talks?

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      • Maybe.You’re absolutely right, it has to do with age: when you’re young you think you’ll live forever …. Where I grew up the whole history and war stories were never a positive thing anyway -naturally- so I’m finding this whole subject difficult enough, certainly nothing glorious about it.

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        • HI Andrea. I realise I didn’t respond to your last comment. I understand what you are saying. I didn’t come across your predicament until I read “The Reader”. (Der Vorleser) I know we have spoken about this in person before. . . hopefully in time, these things will matter less and less.

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  5. That’s one helluva post Gwen, makes this old £10 Pom feel proud, proud that I served in the Australian Army (a nasho & CMF 1953-56) in the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse this Regiment was founded in 1948 but it descended from the 4th Light Horse which was the only Australian Regiment to see service on all three fronts, Gallipoli, France and Palestine and led the charge at the Battle of Beersheba.

    A splendid post Gwen thank you.

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    • I am glad you appreciated it. I was worried it was too long. The Light Horse experience is fascinating. I took a look at Frank Magill’s service record trying to figure out exactly which battles he took part in, but didn’t have enough knowledge to interpret it. He was in the 4th reinforcement of the 12th LH, but there also seems to have been a transfer to the 4th LH as well. In the process, I did a quick reminder to myself of Bersheeba. As you say, the 4th went “through” first, with the 12th following. Some say the horses were so thirsty, that they pushed on willingly, crazy for the smell of water in the town. Not sure if that one is an urban legend.

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  6. Very interesting yet poignant post. It’s difficult to write about events such as Gallipoli 100 years on and get away from battle tactics and grand personages and give voice to the ordinary fallen and their families.

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    • Thanks Agnes, very thoughtful. For many of my generation, the effects of WWI are always in the periphery. My aunt kept a family photo of her father in uniform, with her mum and the two children. It was always beside her bed. At the Bogan Gate memorial, the last remaining child of Frank Magill was there, as were many grandchildren. So we are never far from the personal. However, I have two half-sisters, born of postwar Italian migrants. They don’t share my feeling. And yet their mother (my stepmum) recalls how it was growing up with a father who had also served (in the Italian army). He had lifelong health problems.

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      • Looking at the textbook history Italy had a somewhat complicated WW1 which is perhaps reflected in the responses of the survivors, relatives and future generations. It would be interesting to know what Italian youngsters in Italy are taught about their history compared to WW1 history lessons in Australia and New Zealand and over here in the UK. I’ve recently been reading translations of Italian novels and it’s been intriguing to see Italy through Italian eyes rather than the rose-tinted spectacles of visiting Brits.

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        • That is a VERY interesting question. Although my sisters spent some time in Italy and went to school there, they were born and high schooled in Australia. Perhaps it was not referred to around the dinner table, as their parents were the immigrants (I didn’t grow up with them). However, I am interested to know what happens in Italy, so I have just fired your question off to my Italian cousin with a “Your Mission – if you choose to accept it -” theme. Let’s see what comes back.

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          • That’s great – I hope she replies, direct authentic experience carries so much more weight than reports mediated by outsiders. Also, in general, women’s voices and experiences about war should be made louder and heard too.

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          • Yes, I totally agree with that last sentence. We have had a few stand out publications over the last twenty years, but in the main, we are only just now starting to acknowledge the women of WWI, which is why I was so particular to mention the nurse in my post. ANZAC girls plugged a gap – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3078602/, and the book I am reading at the moment is also very much from a woman’s point of view. You might like to take a look at it. Available in the UK, e.g: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-at-Wedding-Shirley-Walker-ebook/dp/B00AMH19CY. There are a number of reviews on Goodreads. I found it interesting that the harshest criticisms were the tense switches – which I haven’t even noticed. But my publisher “strongly suggested” that I rewrite two chapters of my book from present tense vignettes to past tense narrative. I hated doing it, but I guess from reading those reviews, the publisher knew that style would lose the reader.

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          • Writing in the present tense can sometimes be awkward for a reader to get their head round, but I think it depends on the target readership and the genre for which you are writing. I think it is wise to take advice from your publisher because they will have an instinct for what style your potential readers are expecting.

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          • I took advice from a friend who was an editor with Hodder & Stoughton in years gone by. It went along the lines of “I am now ready to sell my beloved home. I’ve called in the real estate agent, and I have to be prepared to take his advice and present my home in such a way that it will appeal to potential buyers”. Kind of puts it in perspective, don’t you think?

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          • Yes, I do think so, but the creative part of me thinks your home when sold will no longer be part of your present existence, however your published writing will be. All a bit of a minefield and I suppose compromise is inevitable, and there’s no doubt about it history is littered with great writing that was only published after extensive editing! Just keep going.

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          • You are so on the money with that comment! It is still all my writing, and still all my story – but there are places where I would have expressed it differently if left completely to myself. On the other hand, I might have a different turn of phrase from one day to the next. And there is no point standing on your band-waggon if no one has the slightest understanding of what you are banging on about. I have twenty versions of the manuscript on my laptop, plus whatever has emerged since we have been working off the master held by the publisher. So, even I wasn’t always sure how I wanted to structure the book. The ultimate edit was done by a woman born since the women’s movement of the late 60s/early 70s. It was obvious that she interpreted some of my narrative in a way I had not foreseen, so there were a few places (not many) where I had to express myself more clearly. Also, once I knew the book was going to be published, I had to ask myself – even though that comment is true – am I comfortable with it living in perpetuity? The editor did recommend I cut a phrase which I had once shared with you in a much earlier blog comment exchange. I stood my ground on that. I was very confident in the knowledge that you and I knew what we were referring to, and so would other women of our era. The younger ones will either skim over it, or catch up. By the way, I keep saying “comment” as if my book is an analysis of social history. It is not. I edited out the soap-box moments, and any parts where I stepped back and “commented” on what was happening from a later perspective. So it is written like a novel, and I hope the reader stays in the moment, most of the time. That’s just how it grew up. However, it does reflect a certain time in history and social conditions. It has a very Australian voice, but I hope women in other countries who have been subject to stigma as a single mother, will respond to some of the themes. If it hits Ireland, I am curious to hear what those women who were sent to the church homes will think of it. Not that I attempt to tell their story . . .

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          • Don’t worry about justifying your interpretation from your generational viewpoint or geographical position either, that is what gives your writing authenticity. Also it is a personal, autobiographical account and not an academic paper – you set the tone and style you want.
            Regarding comment about your editor’s interpretations – there does appear to be some difference between women’s responses to the stigma of single mothers post second wave feminism, but I think it’s also that some of the younger women have not yet had their second child which is the point at which they personally experience (often for the first time) genuine inequality between the sexes.

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          • Hi Agnes, with apologies for the delay in putting this up, here is the response I received from my Italian cousin about their reaction to WWI history lessons:
            “I have been asking around about World War 1 and this is the only information I have been able to glean….students study WW1 in third year of junior high school when they are about 13 to 14 yrs old and then again in the last year of senior high at around 18 yrs old but only if that senior high is a secondary school that specialise in classical and scientific studies.

            Someone I spoke to told me about Gabriele D’Annunzio a famous poet, novelist and World War 1 hero. He is very well known and remembered for his dramatic exploits during the war which won him national and international acclaim.

            Another well known fact about WW1 is the Bersaglieri…they were light and fast moving infantry troops, highly trained and specialised who became bicycle mounted infantry. The single most noticeable aspect of the Bersaglieri was their unique headgear; a broad-brimmed moretto hat decorated with a flowing bunch of black feathers hanging down from the right side. They were and still are today the elite corps.

            The above information is what Italians remember about WW1, well, at least the ones I spoke to….not one of them remembers the why and how the war started.”

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    • It wasn’t too hard in fact. I knew most of it in general terms, but needed to make sure I got it right. There is so much out there. All the service records are digitised, and the newspapers are on line too. Papers routinely published letters from the front, and every town had one. They were the Facebook of the day. And wasn’t that a beautiful version of the Last Post. So hard to play the bugle correctly.

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  7. A beautifully written and important story. The overall picture and the human detail are well balanced. We, who have managed to turn Dunkirk into a victory, are mostly ignorant of the Gallipoli evacuation. I certainly was. The use of those under-exposed pictures is a brilliant touch. Well done Gwendoline

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