Robert Lusby AM Colonel Rtd. RAAMC, Emeritus Professor University of Sydney
At dawn, one hundred and eight years ago the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZAC’s) landed on the shores of Gallipoli, an event written large in the history of both countries.
This is a day of commemoration and reflection on what ANZAC day has come to stand for since that fateful morning of April 15 in the Dardanelles at Gallipoli.
The first ANZAC day commemorations were held just one year later in 1916 with ceremonies across Australia, in London and the Australian Camp guarding the Suez Canal in Egypt.
Two of the most notable Australian commanders were in Egypt at the time – General Henry Chauvel and General John Monash. Here Monash gave to Chauvel a red ribbon to wear on his chest, one of many he had distributed to his troops in memory of their colleagues who had died.
Today we wear a red rose, a tradition that reflects the roses of Flanders Fields where so many more ANZAC’s were to later die.
The origin of the Dawn service has been lost in time; some saw it as being in memory of that time of day when the landing at Gallipoli occurred. It is the traditional time for soldiers to “stand to” in the half- light of dawn in case of an enemy attack. It also became a time when returned veterans sought solitude and comfort with their mates in the years after the war.
It can also be seen as representing the dawn of Australia as a nation. In 1901 the states combined to form the Nation of Australia. The first Australians included all the members of the states and territories at that time.
Herbert Moran, the first captain of the Wallabies and who served in the Medical Corps commentated on the makeup of Australians at the time of Federation. Gone were the convict class, many never married and they just died out. The biggest migrant influx apart from the British, could be seen in cosmopolitan Sydney and it came from the gold rushes. It would be the sons of these settler’s that volunteered and whose parents felt moved to support, when the time came, just 13 years later.
Charles Bean, the Australian War historian, says it was in part about the challenge to the young men of the new Australian Federation. “they had come at last to the ancient test; and in the mind of each man was the question- how would they react to it”
Indeed, every engagement that the young men of Australia and New Zealand, have been involved with has posed the same question to each individual.
War is sometimes seen as collective victories and losses but at the heart of it are the many individuals who fight and many who die in the act of war.
Uniquely in Australia we did not choose to celebrate a victorious event such as Waterloo, the storming of the Bastille, or American Independence Day, rather we chose Gallipoli which was in fact a military defeat.
It was, however, a coming of age for our young nation-participating alongside the great Democracies in the fight against oppressive enemies.
For Australia it was a victory of individual courage, of mateship, loyalty to each other and love of country.
No one can ever really be prepared for the trauma of war. The sights, the injuries, the noise and the smell of dead bodies piled up to put it mildly are only a small part of being in the front line.
Many of the soldiers who volunteered came from small country towns as can be seen by the memorials all across the country. They had not travelled very much, and certainly not experienced anything like they came to. They were however quite self-assured, often experienced bushmen, good horsemen and good shots with a streak of independence.
It was their style, strength and bravery that stood out.
Knowing the demands of fighting from his Boer war experience Sir Neville Howse, VC, the Senior Medical Officer at ANZAC Cove had insisted on only strong healthy recruits be accepted for service and engaged the troops in physical exercises on the ship voyage to Egypt to build their strength.
Mateship grew out of necessity for these young men. Thrown together without much worldly experience they come to rely on each other for both physical and mental support.
Indeed, mateship can be seen as being key to dealing with the stress of war. There are often long periods of inactivity where the ability to share feelings and experiences is key to survival. “Getting it of your chest” as it were. It is the bond of shared traumatic experiences that persist through the years and often cannot be shared with others.
“He never spoke of the war”. A common experience of families.
Leaving their experienced in their kit bag, however, has led to many Veterans developing what we now know as having Post Traumetic Stress Disorder.
Not recognised for many years this is one of the major issues facing our current day Veterans. Broadcaster Patrick Lindsay AM recently pointed out that during 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan 41 men lost their lives but during the same time period 1400 veterans took their own lives.
Major-General Sir Neville Howes VC became Director of Medical services for the ADF. In the lead up to the Gallipoli landing he recognised the inadequacy of the medical support services They were totally unprepared for the 5000 wounded and dead on the first day.
Howes talks about the tensions between the warrior class and those in support. The drive of the warrior class is needed to win battles but often at the expense of those who serve. It has always been so…
More recently the ongoing care of Veterans after discharge has come into focus but this needs constant reminders to government of their duty of care that is long-term.
Often forgotten is the key role of families in support of our military. There are very few families that do not have a story to tell about loss, failed relationships as a result of physical and mental trauma.
The high price of war can never be underestimated.
Our young ANZAC’s sailing of to the Middle East would not have given a minute’s thought to the aftermath of war. For Australia it was just the beginning and along the way there have been many battles fought and lessons learnt.
Love of country was an important driver to the Australians of our new Federation who served at Gallipoli and it is important to return that love by commemorating their service today.
LEST WE FORGET.