'And the band played "Waltzing Matilda", As we stopped to bury the slain. And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs; And it started all over again.'
ANZAC Day, the 25th of April, is a very special day in Australian (and New Zealand) history. ANZAC stands for the Australia New Zealand Army Corps and the reason that it is so important is that on the 25th of April, 1915 Australia went into battle for the first time as an independent nation. We had only became a country in 1901 - before that we were a loose collection of colonies - and this was our "baptism of fire" on the shores of Gallipoli.
Our troops landed on beaches (now called ANZAC cove) on the Turkish peninsular at dawn in this fateful day. They suffered a terrible defeat but our men fought with great bravery and would have succeeded if not for one man - Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk. Although it was a disaster it brought out some great characteristics of mateship and sacrifice for this little island continent of ours. We talk about the "Anzac Spirit" which was born that day and use the term as a mark of the greatest respect. We use this day to remember those who fought, and especially those who fell, in this war and all subsequent wars.
Drawing by Mike Chapell. From the website "ANZAC Memories" (below)
In 1915 Australia along with its Allies (Britain, France and Russia, Italy, and Japan) was at war, fighting the Central Powers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire aka Turkey, and Austria-Hungary). When most people think of WW1 they think of fighting Germans in the trenches across France however Russia was also under attack from the Turks in the Caucasus. To aid their plight the Allies hatched a plan to distract Turkey by attacking the Gallipoli Peninsula, on Turkey's Aegean coast. Once the peninsula was taken the Allies would be able to take control of a strait of water called the Dardanelles and lay siege to Turkey's main city, Istanbul (then Constantinople).
Australian and New Zealand troops then training in Egypt were tasked to participate in the attack. On April 25, 1915, the Australian troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula on what they had been told was a nice friendly flat beach. Instead, they found that they had been landed at the incorrect position and faced steep cliffs and constant barrages of enemy fire and shelling. Around 20,000 soldiers landed on the beach over the next two days to face a well organised, well armed, large Turkish force determined to defend their country - and led by Mustafa Kemal, who later became Ataturk, the leader of modern Turkey. It is said that Ataturk just happened to be holidaying in the area and took control of the Turkish forces right at the last moment. Thousands of Australian men died in the hours that followed the landing at the beach that would eventually come to be known as Anzac Cove.
What followed was basically a disaster. The Aussies hung in for several months however could make little headway against the Turks. They had nowhere to go and no real hope however they dug in tenaciously and absorbed whatever the Turks threw at them. Many thousands of Aussie and Kiwi soldiers died, not only from the battle but from disease brought about by the poor living conditions. However from this disaster was born the image of the Aussie Digger, a brave and laconic battler, betrayed by the mother country but facing impossible odds with humour, courage and mateship.
Eventually the ANZAC troops were withdrawn from the peninsula having accomplished nothing. Those that survived went on to fight on other fronts but it was at Gallipoli that the legend was born.
They shall not grow old,
From the poem by Laurence Binyon
These words attributed to Ataturk are inscribed on a memorial at ANZAC Cove (see picture below).
"Those heroes that shed their blood
I have stood at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli, Turkey, and seen the monuments to that
inglorious battle. I have been moved by the words of Ataturk who commanded the Turkish forces against us on that fateful day. All who are buried
there, he said, the Johnnies and the Mehmets, although enemies in life are
brothers in death.
I remember all of these things on ANZAC Day.
[For more about my military career visit my Flying Doc page.]
There is much more to the ANZAC legend including lots of poetry and stories. If you are interested, please read on:
About the Battle:
About the day:
Related Military Links:
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