I have been pressed a bit to write another article like my previous ANZAC Day efforts on Gallipoli, Beersheba and the sinking of HMAS Sydney that are on our website. ANZAC Day this year slipped past me, probably because we changed our meeting night to earlier in the month. I do not find that an easy task but it is easier when the events are well past.
As a career soldier and not just a veteran who mourns, it is in my nature to not just commemorate the noble deeds of our combatants, loss of life and injury but to also seek to analyse the operations so that mistakes are not repeated. I have never used random criteria for review but invariably drawn on Clausewitz’s renowned Principles of War. Perhaps this rational methodology is beyond the grasp of some.
Those that approach our national days of commemoration, especially ceremonies, with almost a religious fever will often see any comment to avert a recurrence as some sort of heresy. Faith can obscure objectivity. Bereavement can often be prompted by a sense of not having done enough themselves and some of our veterans have good reason to feel that way. It is like the remorse that can be felt on the death of a neglected parent or loved one. However, my actions have always been prompted by the recurring thoughts of death and injury that I have caused in combat and seen suffered by my men. Some of our zealots have fortunately never personally experienced these horrors.
I therefore proposed the topic for my next article: “Things that I should have asked my Grandfather.” Who could object to this?
He was a RAN officer in WW1 and served at the Gallipoli campaign. He was on the first Sydney when it sunk the German battleship Emden. I could have asked him about that or the naval operation at the Dardanelles prior to the landing and its contribution together with the assembly of troops in Egypt to the loss of strategic surprise - (dear, dear – is this more heresy?). I could have asked him how the navy could have landed the troops at the wrong place that led to the vital ground not being seized – (here I go again, just think about the dead!). And so on.
The most interesting story I could have asked him about is when the Straits were eventually opened my Grandfather’s ship was deployed up the Don River in Russia to meet the leader of the White Russians, General Krasnoff, and to determine the level of support to the Allies. There is a photograph in the War Memorial of the meeting (http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/EN0253K/ ). General Krasnoff and his troops fought loyally for the Allies for the remainder of the war after which he was repatriated by the British to Russia which promptly executed him. Nothing like such loyalty!
I could have asked him about the Russian strategic interest in the ice-free access from the Mediterranean to their Black Sea ports and the importance of to them of the port at Vladivostok that was not secured until after WW2. However, I would not have been able to have asked him about Russian interest in a western Pacific port that led them to support the Viet Cong and with advisors in North Vietnam and a supply of weapons during the war. (Would I offend some apologist again?)
Just as important, I should have asked him about Freemasonry – he was a Past Grand Standard Bearer in this Constitution before WW2. He never mentioned it to me.