Anzac Day

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.  We who lag a day behind will observe it on Monday.  It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations,  engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:

We are the ANZAC Army

The A.N.Z.A.C.

We cannot shoot, we don’t salute

What bloody good are we ?

And when we get to Ber – Lin

The Kaiser, he will say

Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !

What a bloody odd lot

to get six bob a day.

By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs.  At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price.  Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II.   American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.

Don the kiwi, one of our commenters, has allowed me to share with our readers some of the experiences of his family in World War I.  Out of a population of less than a million, New Zealand had 18,000 soldiers and sailors killed in World War I, which would be the equivalent of over five million US dead in a war today.  10 percent of the New Zealand population served in World War I, which would be the equivalent of 30 million Americans serving in a war.

 I have several relatives who were involved in WW1, which always spurs my interest in the various conflicts around the world that our little group of islands deep in the South Pacific were voluntarily and influentially involved in.

My maternal grandfather, Don Piper, born in Cornwall in 1890, emigrated to NZ in 1910. He volunteered in the army at the outbreak of war in 1914, and was in the first wave of landings on Gallipoli peninsular. He survived the whole period of that phase of the war and hated the defeat they suffered. He spent the next year or two in the trenches in France, and after being wounded was repatriated – after a period of convalescence in England – to NZ. He entered the army as a private, and came home a 2nd Lieutenant.

During this time, he met his future brother in law, my great uncle Eustace Nicholson who was also on Gallipoli. He also survived this mayhem, and continued his service in action on the Western front – then a Sergeant Major, and on leave in England, met his future wife – a Parissienne who was working as an au pair in England. After the war, he left NZ, went back to England, sought her out, and married her in Paris, then came back to NZ. I have very fond memories of my dear Aunt Jeanne – during my high school days I would visit her and practice my French with her.

 

My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle George, also served in WW 1. He missed Gallipoli, but served for a couple of years in the trenches in France. In 1917 he was gassed, and returned to NZ as an invalid, having only one lung – the gas having destroyed the other. He was sent to a convalescent home just out of Auckland to fully recover. 

Uncle Hori (as we called him – the Maori name for George) was a real character, always had a twinkle in his eye, and was a great man for the ladies. Within three days of arriving at the convalescent home, he seduced the matron of the establishment. Not bad for one lung and in poor health. He continued to play rugby football in Rotorua until 1926, when he married Aunty May (Mabel Smith) and moved to Auckland where he lived for most of his life, dying back in Rotorua at a retirement home at the ripe old age of 96. Amazing.

Interestingly, my grandfather’s younger brother, Nigel Piper who remained in England, was a foundation member of the Royal Flying Corps, and flew fighters – such as they were – in WW 1. He accounted for a few German planes in combat and was shot down on one occasion, and was a guest of the German Luftwaffe, who wined and dined him in a French Chateau, and was not kept under guard. He decided one night to walk away, and walked, virtually unchallenged back to allied lines. He was a personal friend of Frank Whittle – the british jet engine designer , and until he was around 80, lectured at the RAF training academy on Aeronautical Thermodynamics. He died at the ripe old age of 101 years.

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

9 Responses to Anzac Day

  • Donald,

    Very nice post. Cheers and God bless to our Aussie and Kiwi compatriots.

  • Thank you Dminor!

  • Thanks for this excellent post Don.
    When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by the stories Pop Piper would tell us. I recall one such story listeneing spellbound as he recounted, in his soft Cornish accent, of his appointed task on Gallipoli.
    His officer said, “Piper, you’re a Cornishman aren’t you?”
    “Yes sir” replied grandad.
    “Well Piper, Cornwall has a lot of mines, so you can be a tunneller.” Now Pop Piper never worked in a mine – his family were seafarers, from the port of Fowey on the Cornish coast. Nevertheless, he was a tunneller. He told how they would dig tunnels under the Turkish lines. “Then, when you could hear the Turk above us talking away, we would stuff the tunnell full of explosives, set the fuse, and get out of there real quick.”
    Pop Piper had a bad heart, caused by the stress and poor diet during the 8 months on Galipoli and a couple of years in the trenches. He died in 1958, a week before his 68th.Birthday. My family always said I am very like him. I am 68 next month – I hope history doesn’t repeat itself ;-)
    As you rightly observed Don, its Monday here, and just gone 8 am., so I’ve gotta get off to work.
    Will call back later.
    Regards to all.
    Don Beckett.

    They shall not grow old as we grow old.
    Age will not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the setting of the sun, and in the morning,
    We Will Remember Them.

  • Thank you Don for allowing me to use your family history in this post. Such remarkable stories should never be forgotten.

  • I just posted this erroneously on *last* year’s ANZAC day post, so I bring part of it forward (with one addtion):

    I remember reading that “we are the Anzac army’ was a marching song, sung to the tune of Aurelia (which to those unfamiliar with that name, is same tune as the famous anglican hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”)

    It’s easy to blame Gallipoli on WC, and it all but ruined his political career for a generation, but the whole British administration backed the plan … Kichener, Fisher, Asquith … that is, until they didn’t or got cold feet.

    Too many Anzacs …and Britsh … soldiers and sailors paid with their lives for inept combined tactics. W.C., however, was not responsible for Kichner’s unwillingness to combine landings with the naval assault on the Narrows, nor for the Navy’s unwillingness to press the battleship attack against the Narrows batteries when victory was at hand, nor the abysmal British generalship when the landings finally did take place – particularly at Sulva Bay.

    Sic transit mundi.

    Had it worked, the Ottoman Empire would have been out of the war … and likely no Bolshevik revolution, no Arabian revolt, and, perhaps, no World War 2. Who knows. The sacrifice of those who died on that terrible peninsula, who were maimed or wounded, though, is honored by all who admire duty, loyalty and courage. May they rest in peace and honor.

    O happy ones and holy!
    Lord, give us grace that we
    Like them, the meek and lowly,
    On high may dwell with Thee:
    There, past the border mountains,
    Where in sweet vales the Bride
    With Thee by living fountains
    Forever shall abide!

  • In regard to the Anzac song tryptic67, you are quite correct that it was sung to the tune of The Church’s One Foundation. There were a lot of variants and this one was popular with the British infantry:

    We are Fred Karno’s army,
    Fred Karno’s infantry;
    We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
    So what damn good are we?
    But when we get to Berlin
    The Kaiser he will say
    Hoch, hoch, mein Gott
    Vot a bloody fine lot
    Fred Karno’s infantry

    Fred Karno was of course a British comedian of the time, the traditional self-deprecating humor of the British Tommies being one of their many fine features.

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/27/messages/792.html

  • The reference to the six bob a day in the Anzac song was the amount that the private soldiers were paid. The Anzac troops often referred to themselves as six bob a day tourists.

  • Fascinating stuff, Donald – thank you for sharing it.

    I saw the movie “Gallipoli” as a young teen – what a devastating ending.

    One of the best treatmnets of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign (at least that I’ve seen) is in “Castles of Steel” by Robert K. Massie – the sequel, if you will, to one his real masterpieces: “Dreadnought”.

  • I have Castles of Steel in my library, one of many, many books I have not gotten around to yet, alas. Gallipoli was one missed opportunity after another by the Allies. The courage of the troops, and the courage was amazing, could not redeem the blunders of the generals and admirals. The idea of forcing the Dardanelles was sound; the execution of the idea pathetic.

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