ANZAC Day 2015 - 100th Anniversary

The 25 of April 2015 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Anzac Landings in Turkey. The Landing and its Centennial are important milestones in the history of our nation. I tried to write something for Devotion News that month, but the appropriate words never came. They probably still haven’t and never will, but we should mark this important occasion and will “give it a go”.

It’s July and the dust has settled. After April, many will not think of the men who fought at ANZAC cove, nor those who continue to fight as “ANZACS”, until April 2016 or until the next injury or death. But I often do. And there seems to be some type of Masonic Symmetry to write on the Centennial of ANZAC in the 100th edition of Devotion News.

On the whole, I’m pleased to say April 2015 marked a commemoration and not a celebration of the Campaign. More than a “military failure”, there was an immense human cost on both sides. World War 1 was a horrendous affair and a prelude to the terrible total war of WW2. In WW2, in Russia alone, 20 million perished; twice the total losses of WW1. We should never forget the astounding and lasting pain of such conflicts. For me, ANZAC Day is about remembering that and particularly the men who have worn the uniform of Australia.

Media, particularly the television coverage, focused on marvelling at heroism of the men, from both sides, but it also contextualized and personalized it. Yes, they used words and phrases like “Australia’s sons” and “warriors” but focused more on the fact they were people in a terrible situation who sometimes did truly astounding things. Our commemoration focused on our Nation and may have been patriotic but it was not nationalistic. “The Enemy”, “the Turk” were also humanized and acknowledged with respect as human beings. However even with this more balanced approach, one could be forgiven for thinking there were predominately Australians in the Dardanelles in 1915, supported perhaps by a few English and French, and directed by incompetent British leaders. There might be some truth to the famous quote “lions led by donkeys” but the quote (from a German on the Western Front) reflects more the tactics of the day than commanders. Ironically we landed in the Dardanelles to escape trench warfare only to get bogged down in it again. Three years later the Australian Lt General Monash, who was also at Gallipoli, planed and launched The Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918) and combined infantry, tank, plane with a new approach. “All the Allies' objectives were achieved in 93 minutes, just three minutes more than Monash's calculated battle time of 90 minutes. Using conventional tactics, the fighting could have lasted for weeks or months, with much higher casualty rates.” It changed modern warfare. Generally only military history buffs have heard of it.

Some Australians need to be reminded that Gallipoli was not a wholly “ANZAC” campaign. (Indeed a post Federated Australia had troops deployed to China’s Boxer Rebellion and the Second Boer War in South Africa so Gallipoli was not our Nation’s first war or battle. Indeed the first shot of the war was Point Nepean, south-east of Melbourne, across the bow of a German cargo ship as a warning, far away from Europe or Turkey. The ship surrendered without any loss of life).... Yes, at Gallipoli we suffered a terrible loss for a small nation with 8,709 dead, New Zealand lost 2,721. Yes its important in the psychology of our nation. Yes Australians fought well. However the French lost 9,798 and the UK 34,072. The 1,368 Indian dead almost never get a mention; did you know there were Indian troops there? We selectively pick “facts” to create our own narrative. Yes, Wikipedia records 56,643 allied dead, but we must remember the 107,007 Ottomens killed when Australia invaded Turkey. Yes, the “landing” was indeed an invasion but we rarely used the word “invasion”. It doesn’t fit our story. Our perception of Gallipoli as a Australian endeavor is not correct, but certainly in battles like Lone Pine, the diversion which turned into a bloody victory were Australian affairs – but in the context of a much larger coalition. The battle of Lone Pine will likewise have its Centenary on the 6 and 10 August 2015, just a few weeks away, I wonder if will get more than a passing mention on the news.

A focus on the Somme (850,00 to 1.2 million dead depending on how you count them) in ANZAC Day 2015’s coverage helped people understand the terrible attrition of WW1 and recognize the Gallipoli campaign as important in our national psyche – but not the most important event nor the most harrowing. It’s good to see the Somme and other battles being acknowledged as being more significant in (ending) the war.

The 100 day offensive at the end of WW1 saw a staggering 1.4 million dead but many Australian’s military knowledge of WW1 does not extend to such “detail” of 1.4 million dead but only to the first day at Gallipoli, with just a vague understanding of the western front – mainly the conditions of the trenches, artillery barrages, gas, “going over the top”, and men clashing in terribly bloody conflicts, often flesh against wire and machine gun. Perhaps that is enough to know.. However despite all the large numbers of dead, for mothers, fathers, wives and children, “1” was too many.. To make the Gallipoli Campaign, its first 48 hours, the Neck or Lone Pine the sum of our thought of WW1 is to sell short the true horror of war just as representing Long Tan as the sum of the Australian experience in Vietnam is wrong.

To my mind, we should remember those terrible 8 months in 1915 and the years that followed – as a dreadful human experience but also as just one of so in the many wars in history. In our minds, there was the new nation of Australia and on the other side those from a dying empire, that likewise would emerge in a new nation on October 29, 1923, with Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) as its first president. Ataturk is being subjected to some revisionist history in the Islamic world, while other readers of Devotion News of Greek descent have a very negative view of the man. However, like Churchill, he was certainly a man of his time leading a nation under incredible pressure and saw them through.

For me, the creation of the “ANZAC Spirit” at Gallipoli is significant. Loyalty to friends and enduring hardship with humour and a sense of duty is something seen often in the trenches of WW1, and in places like on the Kokoda track in 1942 and also sometimes in the daily grind of civilian life. Above all, our modern remembrance of Gallipoli should be about aspiring to hold the ANZAC spirit, remembrance of all who fought there and in other theatres of war, including the 41 who have died in Afghanistan, and the cost of such conflicts and the amazing reconciliation between the invading Australians and the defending Turkish Nation. A group of diggers returning to ANZAC Cove after the War were met by their Turkish counterparts and the Australians extended their arms to shake hands. The Turks pushed these aside to hug their old foes in embraces showing that even from War, humans have a great capacity for forgiveness and fellowship. That we fittingly have a memorial to Ataturk, commander of the Turkish 19th Infantry Division that successfully halted the Australians advance speaks volumes to our attitude. It was built in response to the Turkish Government recognising the name ANZAC Cove, and the memorial records Ataturk’s 1934 tribute to the Australians and the importance of peace between our two (all) nations. The below inscription appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Anzac Parade, Canberra

"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."We must remember – but beyond just the narrow account of 25 April 1914 at Gallipoli.