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A Century of Anzac Days

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   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.

The last of the Allied troops were withdrawn from Gallipoli on January 8, 1916.  The first observations of Anzac Day occurred in Australia and New Zealand on April 25 of that year.  In Australia and New Zealand were largely organized by troops recovering from wounds, schoolchildren and the families of men who had fallen in the Dardanelles.  2000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through London, the papers designating them Knights of Gallipoli.  Front line units of Anzac troops in France did their best to solemnize the day.

This reaction was truly remarkable.  It is not unusual to recall fondly a battle where a nation wins.  Doing so for a campaign which was an utter failure is truly remarkable.  However, the peoples of New Zealand and Australia show wisdom in having this commemoration each year.  Wars and battles, come and go as the years pass, and the issues surrounding them become the province of historians when the veterans of the conflict are no longer in this Vale of Tears.  However, the legacy of their courage, ingenuity and good cheer in adversity remain to the descendants of those who fought.  It is an old truism that war brings out the very worst and the very best in men.  On Anzac Day two nations recall the very best that their men a century ago had to give, and that is something worth remembering.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

14 Comments

  1. From an Aussie thanks for this great tribute .All of my wife’s great uncles ,on both sides ,were ANZACS-the original meant being at Gallipoli-.One of them kept photos of his time form Gallipoli through to the Armistice.Pictures inside Ameins Cathedral ,showed the devastation that civillians suffer. The bloke who wrote AND THE BAND PLAYED WALTZING MATILDA,got one thing wrong-the First Australian Imperial Force was all volunteer,never conscripted.Reflected on war memorials with the words “offered the supreme sacrifice”
    Thanks once again mate .LEST WE FORGET

  2. Thank you Wayne!

    “The bloke who wrote AND THE BAND PLAYED WALTZING MATILDA,got one thing wrong-the First Australian Imperial Force was all volunteer,never conscripted.Reflected on war memorials with the words “offered the supreme sacrifice””

    Another things that Scottish leftist pacifist who wrote the song in 1971 is that the people of Australia and New Zealand never turned their backs on their World War I veterans. Quite the reverse.

    He also didn’t know much about the fighting at Suvla Bay. During the landings there was one Australian unit involved, a bridging unit, that built piers. God knows why the song writer did not mention instead Anzac Cove.

  3. Talking about things that Eric Bogle got wrong – the Suvla Bay landing never occurred till August 1915. It was a move designed to break the deadlock at Anzac Cove and Gaba Tepe and the surrounding areas.
    My Grandfather, Don Piper landed at Gaba Tepe in the afternoon of the April 25th , with his future brother in law, Eustace ‘Nick” Nicholson. Uncle Nick was wounded and evacuated in – I think _ October, but “Pop” Piper , although lightly wounded, fought on till the evacuation in January.
    They both went on to the Somme, then Paschendale . Uncle Nick stayed there till the armistice, but Pop Piper was wounded late in 1917 and repatriated to NZ.
    I have many relatives, including my father and uncles and cousins who fought in WW I and WW II, a cousin in Korea, a couple of mates in the SAS who saw action during the Indonesian Confrontation, and in Vietnam.
    I hate these useless protesters – and if they get the chance, they would hate me too – useless bludgers !!

  4. I think the song expresses well the futility of warring on behalf of an empire ruling over you from half way across the globe, in a cause that did not merit one dead Australian, under the blundering leadership of a clueless aristocratic British officer class, blundering in this case leading to 187,000 casualties for zero military gain. No wonder the Irish in Dublin could sing about preferring to die for the cause of Irish freedom rather than for England’s war “at Suvla or Sud-el-Bar.” The Irish suffered particularly heavy losses in the campaign.

    (Lord Kitchener, the genius who came up with the idea, had also been notable in that other glorious Imperial war, the Boer War for burning farms and rounding up Boers into concentration camps where more than 20000 died. Ironically, he personally signed the execution warrant for Aussie Harry Morant for the offense of executing Boer prisoners, which very likely had been done under standing orders.)

    I’m sure heroics and sacrifice are always meritorious, and no nation wants to demerit its war dead, but one does not need to be a hippy leftist pacifist or whatever other sobriquet can be thrown up to remember the stupidity and unjustness of WWI, its horrible consequences to the remains of Christian order in Europe, and its contribution to the rise of Nazism and Communism.

    Some wars are more noble than others. Some wars are entirely ignoble.

  5. “I think the song expresses well the futility of warring on behalf of an empire ruling over you from half way across the globe, in a cause that did not merit one dead Australian,”
    As the composition year of 1971 indicates Tom, the author, Eric Bogle, regarded it as an anti-Vietnam War song. Bogle, as his mistakes of fact indicate, knew little about the war effort of Australia in World War I. World War I was considered a just war overwhelmingly by the Anzac troops that fought it, and the populations of Australia and New Zealand at the time. That you and Bogle disagree matters not a whit in regard to that historical fact.
    “No wonder the Irish in Dublin could sing about preferring to die for the cause of Irish freedom rather than for England’s war “at Suvla or Sud-el-Bar.” The Irish suffered particularly heavy losses in the campaign.”
    Completely different historical realities Tom. Irish Catholics had for centuries sought to throw off the British Empire. The Australians and the New Zealanders, by and large, had a completely different view of the British Empire. Of course the song about the Irish Easter Rising was written by a Catholic priest after World War I in 1919. During the War, the only Irishmen who fought in it were volunteers, conscription not occurring in Ireland. When an attempt was made to implement conscription in 1918 massive protests in Catholic areas in Ireland caused the British government to back down. Some 200,000 Irish, Protestant and Catholic, fought in the War as volunteers, an astonishing amount from a population of about four million. About 49,000 of them were killed in the War, some 3400 of that total at Gallipoli, largely from the 10th Division led by General Bryan Mahon, an Irish Catholic, who was elected to the short lived Irish Senate after Irish independence.

    “Lord Kitchener, the genius who came up with the idea,”

    Kitchener was secretary of war at the time. The Gallipoli campaign was actually the project of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. Although Kitchener came around to supporting it, he had little involvement in the campaign, Kitchener being focused on raising his New Armies to fight in France. His main involvement in the Gallipoli campaign was to recommend it be ended after an inspection tour by him in November 1915.

    “one does not need to be a hippy leftist pacifist or whatever other sobriquet can be thrown up to remember the stupidity and unjustness of WWI, its horrible consequences to the remains of Christian order in Europe, and its contribution to the rise of Nazism and Communism.”

    Prussian militarism was not bed of roses Tom as the people of Belgium and occupied France during WW I could attest. I agree with G.K. Chesterton, who opposed the Boer War, that World War I was a completely just war for the British and the Anzacs to fight. Of course my opinion, a hundred years later, matters little. From a moral standpoint what matters is that those participants at the time overwhelmingly believed they were fighting a just war.

  6. Americans dumped their “British-ness” with the American War of Independence – a truly just struggle. Australia and NZ were very different. Many of the residents of NZ and Oz back then had recently emigrated to the “New and Distant Shores”, so many of our people then still considered themselves British. Even my grandmother, Kathleen Nicholson – sister of Uncle Nick – talked of England as the “home country” or “old country” – and she was born in NZ in 1894, as was her mother (Mary Ann Pickford) who was born in NZ in 1856. But they still considered themselves British.
    And so when the call went out from England, many Kiwis and Ockers answered the call – even though Oz was settled in a very different way to NZ – but still considered themselves British in a swashbuckling and even rebellious sense – a trait still strong in the Aussies today.
    Finally, although all war is evil, and the events and causes of WW I certainly fit that description, it is a bounden duty of all good men to fight against all forms of oppression – true oppression – not the crap that progressives today hand out as oppression.
    “A greater love no man has, that he give up his life for his friend”. I dare say that one abdicates their moral duty to fail to resist, and as last resort, fight – even in war – to confront evil of all forms, all the work of Satan.
    St. Michael, defend us in the hour of battle………

  7. The brave Aussies fought with us against communist expansion in Vietnam. Until the current Afghanistan War, Vietnam was Australia’s longest war. From Wikipedia, “Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the war; 521 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.” Digger combat operations ended in January 1973 (started with 30 advisers in 1962). They deployed troops in April 1975 to safely evacuate the Australian Embassy when the US Viet Congress allowed the NV to break the Paris Peace Accords and conquer South Vietnam.
    .
    Lest We Forget.
    .
    Yesterday, I saw two pics on Facebook. One, was of four young men on the beach with a surfboard in 1966. The second was of the same four (old) men on the same beach nearly 50 years later. Shortly after the first pic, the men had deployed to Vietnam with Uncle Sam’s Mischievous Children. Thank God, they came home. Many did not.

  8. While it’s true that Churchill had a large and disastrous role in the *naval* portion of the Gallipoli campaign, it was Kitchener who signed off on ground operations and decided how many and which troops to commit to the invasion.

    It’s of no concern to me that the author of the song was thinking of Vietnam, which is actually an example of a noble war for a just cause.

    WWI however, was an unjust war for a ridiculous cause, and was, as Benedict XV noted, the “suicide of Europe.” That some Aussies at the time thought it was their patriotic duty to participate… well, good for them, I hope they learned a lesson about the cost of “patriotism” as subjects of the Empire, As often happens in earlier wars, domestic opposition to a war is squelched by the government and media. Vietnam was noteworthy for breaking that template. There was questioning of the war in Australia, especially around the issue of conscription.

    It is not denigrating the Aussies, who are incredible fighters and incredible allies, to point out that lots of young colonial lives were lost in the cause of an insane and needless war, which caused over 17 million deaths, ushered in Communism in Russia and Nazism in Germany, and wiped away the last remnants of Catholic continental identity, substituting it for a shabby nationalism that placed nation over religion.

    But if anyone wants to defend WWI as a glorious war for a noble cause, have at it. One can acknowledge that soldiers fight valiantly and nobly without having to endorse the cause for which they fight. I personally do that in this case, or when I acknowledge the heroism of Yankee arms during the war of Northern Aggression; others do it when they acknowledge the heroism of Confederate arms, while denouncing the Confederate cause.

  9. “While it’s true that Churchill had a large and disastrous role in the *naval* portion of the Gallipoli campaign, it was Kitchener who signed off on ground operations and decided how many and which troops to commit to the invasion.”

    That is not quite correct. Churchill was the guiding force in reference to the Gallipoli campaign. Kitchener agreed to it against his better judgment under constant prodding from Churchill. Throughout the campaign Churchill constantly interfered with the land operations. Kitchener early realized that without mammoth reinforcements the whole operation was likely to be a fiasco, and he was unwilling to divert more troops to what he regarded very much as a sideshow when he desperately was building up the British Army in France. The main culprit as to the uninspired tactics used was General Hamilton, the commander on the ground.

    “It’s of no concern to me that the author of the song was thinking of Vietnam, which is actually an example of a noble war for a just cause.”

    The fact that Bogle knew bupkis about the Australian WWI war effort in regard to his anti-Vietnam War song is of significance when the song is cited in the thread to an Anzac Day post.

    “As often happens in earlier wars, domestic opposition to a war is squelched by the government and media.”

    There was remarkably little anti-war sentiment in either Australia or New Zealand during World War I Tom. This was a popularly supported war in those two nations.

    “It is not denigrating the Aussies, who are incredible fighters and incredible allies, to point out that lots of young colonial lives were lost in the cause of an insane and needless war,”

    How was it insane and needless Tom? If you had been prime minister of Great Britain in 1914 would you have simply idly stood by as Imperial Germany conquered Belgium and France and became the dominant global power? Contrary to your implication, Great Britain did not start the War. This was not a war of choice for them but rather a war brought on by German hubris in giving Austria-Hungary a blank check against Serbia. Otto von Bismarck, first German Chancellor, predicted back in 1888 that when the great European war came it would be over some “damn foolish thing in the Balkans”. Too bad his successors did not remember his words in 1914.

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