An Anzac Day Reflection – Lindsay Gould

1918. The year the Great War, the War to end all Wars, ended one hundred years ago this coming November 11th , the day the guns fell silent after four years of bitter conflict.

This Anzac Day 2018, marks 104 years since the Anzacs landed on Gallipoli and fought their way inland through scrub, ravines and ridges to establish a foothold against furious fire from the defending Turkish forces.

We can now reflect on those events through the prism of the intervening years and ask “Was it all worth it?”

On Anzac Day 1918, the War still had another eight months to run. The grinding battles of the Second Battle of the Somme, Cambrai, and the Hindenburg Line were yet to come. Australian forces would enter Damascus on the 1st of October.

Many of those who fought in the Great War and their families, if we could ask them now, would probably say “No, it was not worth it.”

The concept of Australian citizenship or nationality was not defined until 1948 with the passing of the Nationality and Citizenship Act. Natural born Australians continued to be British subjects until 1984 when the citizenship laws were again amended and they became Australian citizens. It is highly likely that in the years 1914/18, Great Britain was regarded as “Home” by the majority of Australians. That view is reinforced by the statement attributed to the Prime Minister at the outbreak of hostilities, that “Australia will defend Great Britain to the last man and last shilling.”

Even though the idea of a homeland thousands of kilometres across the sea was prevalent in the minds of many Australians, most had not set foot there. So why did young men flock to enlist in a war which had broken out because of events in a country far away?

Was it duty to the homeland?

Was it fear of missing out? – “the war will be over by Christmas so I had better sign up as soon as possible”.

Was it for adventure, to see foreign lands?

Was it to earn a decent wage, or was it because of the appeal to arms of the recruiting campaigns? Slogans and posters such as “Join up with your cobbers”, “We need you, are you coming? “ were common.

It was possibly because of all, some, or none of those things. We do not know.

Over the course of the Great War thirty-two men from Farina, enlisted. Of those, twenty-seven returned to their homes and loved ones. Five did not. Of those who

did not, two are known to have served at Gallipoli. Those who returned home had served in France on the Western front, in Egypt, and Palestine, Six had been wounded.

The names of those who did not return are commemorated in a special area of the War Memorial at Farina.

They were ordinary men going about their lives. They were not professional soldiers.

Their occupations included stockman, drover, pastoralist, bank clerk, miner, teamster, bookkeeper, and many others which were needed to support the times and society in which they lived. They were fathers, husbands and sons.

Just the sort of men you would expect to find in the Australian Outback at the time.

It is often said that Australia came of age as a nation the day the Australian troops landed at Gallipoli. It was only a few years earlier that Australia as we know it, was still a collection of colonies of Great Britain, on the other side of the earth from the rest of the World.

The landing by ANZAC forces at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 has been commemorated for many years and no doubt will be for many more. The gallantry and tenacity of the troops there has cemented this date in the psyche of Australia as the coming of age of the new nation.

Much has been written of the Gallipoli campaign. In his book “Gallipoli”, Les Carlyon writes:-

On the 8th of May 1915 the Australian newspapers carried a story by Ellis Ashmead –Bartlett, a British War Correspondent representing the London papers and who had observed the landing at Gallipoli. He wrote as follows.

“The Australians who were about to go into action for the first time in trying circumstances were cheerful, quiet and confident. There was no sign of “nerves”, nor of excitement… They did not wait for orders, or for the boats to reach the beach, but sprung into the sea, and, forming a sort of rough line, rushed the enemy’s trenches.

Their magazines were not charged, so they just went in with cold steel… I have never seen anything like these wounded Australians in war before. Though many were shot to bits, without hope of recovery, their cheers resounded through the night…. They were happy because they knew they had been tried for the first time and not felt wanting… There has been no finer feat of war than this sudden landing in the dark and storming the heights, and, above all, holding on while the reinforcements were landing. These raw Colonial troops, in these desperate hours, proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle. Early on the morning of 26 April the Turks repeatedly tried to drive the colonials from their position. The latter made local counter attacks, and drove the enemy off with the bayonet, which the enemy would never face… The scene at the height of the engagement was, sombre, magnificent and unique.

Ashmead –Bartlett had started the Anzac legend

Carlyon dryly comments at p. 183 – “The dying Australians had not cheered too much, it is very hard to do so when half your face has been shot away and your stomach torn open by shrapnel”.

By September 1915, Ashmead-Bartlett’s view of the campaign had changed. In despair, on the 8th September he wrote to the British Prime Minister. He arranged for his letter to be smuggled past the High Command at Gallipoli and the Military Censors. He wrote of the disastrous nature of the campaign and recommended immediate evacuation.  His letter shocked the British Government, and was one of the most important factors in the decision to evacuate the Gallipoli Peninsula.

In spite of poor early decisions by the High Command on the Peninsula, casualties, wounds, heat, cold, disease, poor rations, and a tenacious foe defending his homeland, the Anzacs fought on, until the eventual successful evacuation.

We can ask again “was it all worth it?”

In terms of the loss of a generation of the new nation’s young manhood, the sorrow of the bereaved families, the men who returned home broken in body and spirit, the divisions in society over the issue of conscription, the answer would have to be “No.”

However, the values which emerged at Gallipoli from the trenches, dugouts, stretcher bearers and work parties along tracks through the ridges and ravines often under fire, to the beaches– namely courage, gallantry, endurance in the face of adversity, determination to finish the task in spite of the odds, devotion to duty, and that peculiarly Australian concept of mateship, remain with us and have served us well.

Yes, those values now engendered in our nation, were worth it.

The reality throughout the ages, has been that the price of peace is conflict.

Conflict in war is not the romanticised version of Ashmead-Barton’s early despatches, nor is it the grand adventure that many of the young men who stormed the heights of the Gallipoli Peninsula thought they were embarking upon.

They returned home changed men, to a changed nation emerging from its colonial past.

The gallantry and sacrifices of the Anzacs at Gallipoli were the beginnings of those changes, and their actions will long remain in our memories.


©Lindsay Gould