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The Anzacs

We Will Remember Them

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Sydney's Anzac Memorial at Hyde Park

Sydney's Anzac Memorial at Hyde Park

Copyright 2005 Larry Rivera

  • World War I, also known as the Great War, was fought between the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia, aided by the US, Belgium, Japan, and others) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary, aided by Turkey and Bulgaria) from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918.

  • As part of the British Empire, Australia and New Zealand were drawn into the crucible of the Great War as men from both nations went in their thousands to fight side by side with Britain and its allies. The Australian were all volunteers; the New Zealanders were part of the conscripted armed forces.

  • By December 1914, the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, then stationed in Egypt, were brought together under the command of British Lt General William Birdwood and became the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The story of the Anzacs, born in the flames of war, was firmly forged on April 25, 1915, with the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in what is now known as Turkey.

Russia was being battered by the Turks in the Caucasus, and the Allies decided to begin a campaign aimed at distracting Turkey from attacking Russia.

The campaign would involve taking the Gallipoli Peninsula on Turkey's Aegean Coast, taking control of the Dardanelles, and laying siege to Constantinople (today's Istanbul) on the Bosporus.

Tragic mistake

Over the next two days from April 15, 1915, around 20,000 soldiers from the British contingent, which included the Anzacs as well as their other alllies, landed on the Gallipoli beach in the area now known as Anzac Cove.

If the campaign strategists thought the British contingent would take the Gallipoli Peninsula swiftly, they were tragically mistaken.

The Turks, led by Mustafa Kemal (who later became Ataturk, the leader of modern Turkey), defended their land fiercely, mowing down the British and the Anzacs and killing them in the thousands.

Massive loss of lives

In Britain, the country's leaders squabbled over the Gallipoli disaster. It took eight months from the Gallipoli landing, as the Gallipoli casualty toll mounted, before the British and their allies were withdrawn on December 20, 1915, from the blood-soaked peninsula and returned to the Middle East and the Western Front where they were involved in other battles.

All in all, more than 8700 Australians and more than 2700 New Zealanders were killed in the ill-conceived Gallipoli Campaign. In relation to the two countries' population at the time, this was a horrendously massive loss of lives.

Gallipoli casualties, including the dead and injured, were 26,000 Australians and 7500 New Zealanders.

An estimated 61,522 Australians lost their lives in the Great War, the largest number of deaths of all the conflicts Australia has been involved with. Close to 417,000 Australians had enlisted for service in that war. The Australian casualty rate, including the wounded, sick and missing, came close to 65 per cent.

The birth of a legend

Out of the chaos and tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign emerged the legend of the Anzacs: a story of steadfast courage under impossible odds and the forging of the spirit of mateship that somehow saw triumph in disastrous defeat.

Turkish tribute

In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who led the fighting Turks at Gallipoli and became founder of the Turkish Republic in 1923, paid tribute to the Anzacs:

    Those heroes that shed their blood And lost their lives...
    You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
    Therefore, rest in peace.
    There is no difference between the Johnnies
    And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
    Here in this country of ours.
    You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries...
    Wipe away your tears.
    Your sons are now lying in our bosom
    And are in peace.
    After having lost their lives on this land, they have
    Become our sons as well.

Anzac Day

Today, the "great defeat" at Gallipoli is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand on Anzac Day, April 25 each year, anniversary of the landing on that Turkish shore, as the Anzacs are remembered.

As the poet Laurence Binyon says:

    They shall grow not old,
    As we that are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them,
    Nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun,
    And in the morning,
    We will remember them.

These words have become indelibly part of the Anzac story.

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