Today is Anzac Day, Australia's National day of honour and rememberance for the Soldiers who have fought and died protecting our country. This year is the 98th Anniversary of the first battle of the first War that Australia fought under its own flag - the landing at Gallipoli (Turkey) at dawn on April 25th, 1915 at the outbreak of World War 1.




We all know the futile sacrifice that defined WW1 - the row upon row of troops that were mown down in machine gun fire running full pelt at the enemy. Gallipoli now symbolically embodies the Australian spirit - a short 5 week campaign of utter stupidity, run by incompetent British Generals who successfully ensured mass slaughter of Australian and New Zealand troops sent to fight a battle up a steep hill with no tactical purpose. After this, Australians refused to be controlled so completely by the British, and to some extent ran their battles on their own terms. Australians identify with Gallipoli for the heroism of the Diggers, the mateship and courage, the irreverent humour, and the lack of subordination to their superiors - Australians are all equal, with no ranking provided by right of birth. 




My Great-Grandfather was at Gallipoli. He was a member of the 3rd Lighthorse Brigade, who left Adelaide in late 1914 at the outbreak of the war. He was a farmer, handy with a gun and on a horse. They landed at Gallipoli on the 4th May, 1915, my Great-Grandfather was evacuated two days later with shrapnel wounds.





After his recovery, he was a part of the infamous charge of the 3rd Light Horse at The Nek, and somehow survived when most of his comrades were slaughtered. 



"Four of the finest Anzac regiments were shattered in this glorious charge, but they created an imperishable impression

"As for the boys," wrote Captain Bean, "the single-minded, loyal Australian country lads, who left their trenches in the grey light of that morning with all their simple treasures on their backs..... the shade of evening found them lying in the scrub with God's wide sky above them........of a deed of self-sacrificing bravery which has never been surpassed in military history - the Charge of the Australian Light Horse into certain death at the call of their comrades need during a crisis in the greatest battle that has ever been fought on Turkish Soil."


After the disbanding of the remains of the 3rd Lighthorse, he joined the artillery and was sent to the Front in France. Shot in the head amongst the mud and carnage at Ypres in 1917, he somehow survived again, and made it to the end of the war, returning home to his small country town, life as a farmer and the 5 year old son he had never met.





But his life story isn't that of straight forward heroism. I often feel that the Myth of the Anzac Digger has taken over in recent times.... yes, there was a lot of heroism and sacrifice, mateship and individuals that displayed immense courage, but the idealisation of the Digger has airbrushed over the reality. Like any extreme life situation, facets of personality are brought out in sharp relief. My Great-Grandfather was a very flawed individual, his War story probably one more of survival, rather than actual bravery. But who knows what he would have been like without the defining event of the War that shaped and changed the World forever - the men with promise who were lost, the men who came back irreparably damaged, the shadows this created in families for generations to come.


This week the State Library of South Australia put online photographs from their archives of troops taken before embarking on their journey to the unknown. Image upon image of young, hopeful men setting off to see some action on the other side of the world, many of whom never came home from the faraway shores where they were slain.


Lest we forget



image sources via State Library of South Australia

25 comments:

  1. I love this post and agree about the airbrushing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seemed to gather momentum as the last remaining Diggers died from old age...I remember them interviewing the last few in their final years who were almost embarrassed at the attention they were given. xx

      Delete
  2. History is forever airbrushing though...how can it be otherwise...I was reading a fascinating article this morning about how the Turks are airbrushing their version of the Gallipoli campaign, to give it a more religious meaning...when at the time, it wasn't...perhaps with more social media now influencing the reporting of events we well get less air brushing....or possibly more! Who knows, but it's a vexed and fascinating question!

    A fabulously thoughtful post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's very interesting re the Turks... was the article in the Age? Shall have to go and look it up online to see. Social Media will be very interesting in how we see wars in the future, although War is so different now, it's unlikely to need the manpower that it did even 30+ years ago. xx

      Delete
    2. Dear Heidi
      Probably the same article about Turkish airbrushing - really revisionist history - was in the Canberra Times today, written by Ruth Pollard from Eceabat, the closest town to Gallipoli.
      Agree with the other commenters - this is such a good post, so thoughtful and interesting. Particularly about the incompetent British generals who used the ANZACs as cannon fodder. The movie "Gallipoli" gave a powerful depiction of what the digggers had to go through. You may also recall that it was Winston Churchill who was the "mastermind" for the Gallipoli campaign. FD Roosevelt is supposed to have said about Churchill, "he's a man who has 100 ideas a day. Five are good." C was brilliant in his defence of Britain, holding firm and strong despite the blitz and all the losses. But he also made some terrible mistakes in his career. My Dad told us that one day Churchill decided to visit the troops where he was stationed in the Middle East. They were lined up for his jeep to drive past, but the Aussie diggers had never forgiven him for Gallipoli and turned their backs as he drove by.
      In April 1996, two weeks before ANZAC Day, I was lucky enough to visit Gallipoli, accompanying an official Australian group (we'd been in Istanbul for a conference) who went to lay a wreath and pay their respects. There were seven of us, escorted by our Ambassador and a wonderful old Turkish professor who'd made a lifelong study of the Gallipoli campaign. There was almost no-one else there, just the odd gardener tending the war graves. It really affected us all so strongly - it's such a remote place, even within Turkey, and so far from home for all the ANZAC diggers. Lonely and bare with such a sad atmosphere. Our day was sunny and bright but the on-shore wind was fierce and freezing and we could just see the poor lads, dropped at the wrong location,far from shore with all their heavy equipment, struggling through icy waves to reach the sands of the beach. The Turkish soldiers were on the heights above firing down on them. There was no cover at all, the beach and land beyond was just sand and grass and a few low shrubs.
      We walked around the ANZAC Cove cemetary, a beautiful place, well cared for graves with flowers and little shrubs growing - and bushes of rosemary. Ataturk's beautiful poem for the dead ANZACs is inscribed on the memorial. As we walked around the graveyard, the tears began falling and didn't stop. They were all so young, brave boys from country towns and coastal cities, some had lied ablout their age and were hardly more than children. The futility and the waste and the terrible loss struck us all and as the woman with the group it was OK for me to cry. Best wishes, Pamela

      Delete
    3. What an incredibly moving experience you had Pamela. I would love to one day visit Gallipoli, and I think it would be an experience best done without the crowds of Anzac Day, as you experienced.
      There is so much available on line now if you want to research someone's experience in the War - the description of the fighting at The Nek just brought me to tears. My Great-Grandfather was hit by shrapnel at Gallipoli, which killed the man beside him, all things I found online. Like many who returned he didn't speak much about the war, and the family didn't have a lot to go on.
      I had forgotten it was Churchill who was in charge of Gallipoli - I did recall that there was great scepticism as to how he would be during WW2 after his very poor performance in WW1... obviously he had learnt some hard lessons.
      Such a lovely, moving comment you wrote.... xx

      Delete
  3. Heidi, perfectly pitched post. I do need to learn more about Gallipolli. Unfortunately, there is this block of information that I haven't sifted through properly but perhaps it might be too much to digest as it is hard to understand such a thing properly.

    I must admit WW1 was as wars go - so tragic so futile that it is rather painful to revisit. Not that any war is very productive but still.

    Thank you for the pictures and the story - sometimes you need to narrow it down to a single person for the whole thing to mean something properly. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Studying WW1 always made me feel quite angry - it was so completely futile. Unfortunately a lot of the books out there on the Wars are very much factual Male type accounts, and make for quite heavy reading. You could try reading David Malouf's "Fly away Peter", which is excellent... xx

      Delete
  4. I love the images in this post Heidi (and your beautiful writing).

    I also agree that the ANZAC story (and it is one hell of a good story - most of the really good stories are the true ones I always think) has now been a little romanticised. And to be honest I am ok with that as I think it has probably contributed to the huge resurgence in support of ANZAC Day. I think it would be a sad day however if war itself was romanticised. So far I think this hasn't happened. And I agree entirely that for some people it was more a story of survival. Although I wonder if the act of survival required an element of bravery in itself. I would imagine sometimes it would have been easier to give up than continue to try.

    So many people come back from fields of conflict so damaged. I was heartened to see many of the TV interviews today based around support for returned servicemen and their families. It is an area that still has a long way to go however.

    Our little town's Dawn Service was beautiful this morning. About 150 people turned up which was lovely and showed support for the local RSL members who run the service. I love the personalness (made up word - sorry!) of a small town service. The names on the wall are local family names, the flags are raised by others you know and you stand amongst friends. The minute of silence was punctuated by laughing kookaburras and even one crowing rooster. It was very, very Australian.

    Take care Heidi.

    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The images are fantastical with their strange painted backdrops that are clearly in the Barracks at Keswick in Adelaide, rather than Egypt, Turkey, or France where they were being sent.
      I know that my Great Grandfather told my Dad that he thought he was likely going to die - there was a fatalism that meant he did things differently from how he probably would have otherwise... possibly many heroic acts are like that - or are done without much thought at all, just instinct?
      I thought the interviews today were great in focussing on the soldiers from Afghanistan - one of our friends was interviewed this morning, he was blown up over there, it killed his friend, but he survived. Lots of long term damage though, of course.
      Your dawn service sounds quite lovely, thoughtful, and very Australian. I went to the one in Melbourne a while ago, but it's frankly become a circus with too many people - you can't hear or see a thing, and it's just a crush of bodies... xx

      Delete
  5. Very moving post, Heidi. I've probably drunk way too much to be remotely eloquent, interesting or relevant on the topic, but we've had an interesting day here talking about the futility of war, PTSD and a whole heap of other stuff.
    Thanks xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are funny Ruth! Sounds like you've had a very interesting day of deep thought on the subject... xxx

      Delete
  6. This is a beautifully written post, Heidi. You've captured the ambivalence of heroism so well, while still honouring those who have fought and died.

    There was an article in the New Yorker recently, about that very wealthy Australian woman (the one who owns the mines, I can't remember her name but based on that article, she sounds rather well-known). In the article, they talk about the flatness of the social hierarchy in Australia (no rank at birth, as you say), which I was interested to learn about.

    I'm Canadian, and I often feel an affinity with Australians, though we're from quite different corners of the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we are very similar to Canadians, certainly that has been my experience when I've met Canadians, similar sense of humour and outlook, even if our accents are vastly different!
      The article must have been about Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest woman... she is widely disliked for a lot of reasons, one simply being that she is so rich, there is definite distrust amongst Australians of people with vast inherited wealth, although with all the drama in the courts with her three children fighting her for control of their trust, and her trying to bankrupt them by drawing out court proceedings forever it could be said she's possibly not the nicest person around... xx

      Delete
    2. Yes, that's who it was. The New Yorker profile was not very flattering!

      Delete
    3. speaking of war ..my Canadian mother joined the Royal Canadian airforce in 1942 right after completing school. Mum met her first Australian somewhere in Saskatchewan (where commonwealth airmen trained), apparenlty she didnt understand a word he said. No, he wasnt my father

      Delete
  7. Very touching post Heidi. Much talk of heroes, bravery and the like on this side of the ocean as well, following the events of the Boston marathon. A tragedy, but compared in scale to the thousands and thousands that died in the World Wars... ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Boston Marathon bombing is just awful, but it has crossed my mind that in a week where 30 plus died in Waco in a factory explosion, an earthquake in China killed hundreds, and a fire in Bangladesh killed hundreds trapped in the factory where they worked, the bombings received rather a lot more press... guess that's the nature of terrorism though, it demands a lot of attention. xx

      Delete
  8. I love the photos you have used- I wonder if the man in the first photo actually returned to his little boy!
    When I was studying WWI with my kids a couple of years ago it amazed me the more people died of disease than the actual fighting, all those dead bodies lying around it must have been a truly disgusting place, I never remember learning that in high school history!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The photos almost all have names attached, so it would be possible to probably find out - there were quite a few photos with family members in them.... I suppose it was so unusual to have your photo taken that they decided to do family portraits.
      It would have been quite vile in the trenches... my Great-Grandfather's hospital record shows he was seen around 26 times during the war for various ailments, some of which sent him to England for short periods of convalescence, but a common one was 'dysentry', which is no surprise with the conditions in the trenches. xx

      Delete
  9. Movies and even the War Memorial in Canberra always make war seem like something out of a Boy's Own Adventure novel, the reality I think must have been horrifically different. Love your Bean reference, I was in Bean House at school, named after his father a former Head Master. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a coincidence with Bean! I can only imagine how horrific it would have been to have watched the slaughter from behind the lines. xx

      Delete
  10. An interesting and thought provoking post Heidi, and I also have pondered the atrocities of WW1... insomuch as the horrendous trenches were concerned and the completely senseless suicidal war that it was. Imagine staggering out of the trenches to face almost certain death. I recently watched Parade's End ... an excellent portrayal of life in those times and WW1 in parts and especially the trenches. It is interesting to note the strength of character and loyalty to country that seemed to exist in those men of WW1....Enormous bravery, honour and patriotism. I wonder whether these qualities exist in such strength today? I had a grandfather who fought in Tobruk and loved to sit with him to listen to the stories he told.. Jennyxxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure amongst the current crop of Diggers in Afghanistan that it does exist... amongst the current population not so much, although I'm always thinking that these qualities are always projected onto the Australian Olympic Swimming team... which was a clear let down to the entire country last Olympics.
      Was your Grandfather a Rat of Tobruk? They had their meeting hall down the road from us in Albert Park in Melbourne. Around 5 years ago they had to sell it, as there were only 12 of them left, but the man that bought it (for nearly 2 Million) said they could stay rent free until the last one died, as they'd given so much for their Country. So lovely, the old men couldn't believe it, to be so honoured, and also to still have their place to meet as they had done for so long... Here's the newspaper article on it http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/generosity-keeps-rats-of-tobruk-in-their-albert-park-nest/2007/04/19/1176697005210.html xx

      Delete
  11. I loved hearing about your great grandfather, mine was in the 7th Lighthorse he joined at almost 40! Hishe liked fast horses and fast women. My grandfather only about 20 years younger than his father did not join up ..I have no idea how that would have played out in the family.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search This Blog

About Me

My photo
Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
Powered by Blogger.

Follow by Email

Follow this blog with bloglovin

Follow on Bloglovin

Followers

Things to read....

.