25 April - ANZAC Day. The day The ANZAC Legend was born.
ANZAC day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZACs … a name they wore with the greatest of pride. A name that, to this day, is spoken and remembered with the greatest of pride by a nation.
When war broke out in 1914, Australia was a very, very young federal commonwealth and the new national government was eager to establish its reputation among the other nations of the world. In 1915 ANZAC soldiers were amongst the allied forces that were sent to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. They landed on Gallipoli on 25 April and were met with fierce resistance from Turkish forces. A stalemate ensued and the campaign lasted for eight long months. Both sides suffered extremely heavy casualties and endured the greatest of hardships. By the time the Gallipoli Campaign ended, over 120,000 men had died. More than 80,000 Turkish soldiers and 44,000 British and French soldiers, including over 8,500 Australians and nearly 3,000 New Zealanders.
Although the military objectives of the Gallipoli campaign were not met, the Australian and New Zealand actions during the campaign left us all a powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as The ANZAC Legend became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways we viewed both our past and our future.
ANZAC day is a day of national remembrance. A day when Australians reflect on our past and of the sacrifice that the many have made for our small but great country.
But it is a day when we not only reflect with sadness on the lives lost; but also we feel within our hearts great pride and joy for the unconditional love so many had for their country.
One story known to Aussies is that of Simpson and his donkey. Simpson landed in Gallipoli on 25 April and from that very first night he would lead his donkey, which he variously called Duffy or Murphy, up Shrapnel Gully and then Monash Valley carrying water on the way up and the wounded on the way back. Simpson and his donkey did this for nearly four weeks with very little regard for the danger they were in. One morning, while carrying a wounded soldier, Simpson was killed by machine gun fire. His donkey, though, continued on down the well-worn track that he had trod over and over the past four weeks, obediently carrying the wounded soldier to those that would tend him.
But The ANZAC Legend isn’t any one story. It is more of a feeling. It’s a feeling of great pride in the mateship and bonds that our Aussie diggers have with one another; gratitude for their courage and their selflessness; respect for their “just get in there and do it” and “give it a go” attitude; and perhaps more than anything, it’s the spirit we know they possessed ... the qualities an Aussie digger shows on the battlefields of war … endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, larrikinism and, above all else, mateship.
Lest we forget.
The Tomb of Lt. John Learmonth, A.I.F.
“At the end on Crete he took to the hills, and said he’d fight it out with only a revolver. He was a great soldier.”
One of his men in a letter.
This is not sorrow, this is work: I build
A cairn of words over a silent man,
My friend John Learmonth whom the Germans killed.
There was no word of hero in his plan;
Verse should have been his love and peace his trade,
But history turned him to a partisan.
Far from the battle as his bones are laid
Crete will remember him. Remember well,
Mountains of Crete, the Second Field Brigade!
Say Crete, and there is little more to tell
Of muddle tall as treachery, despair
And black defeat resounding like a bell;
But bring the magnifying focus near
And in contempt of muddle and defeat
The old heroic virtues still appear.
Australian blood where hot and icy meet
(James Hogg and Lermontov were of his kin)
Lie still and fertilise the fields of Crete.
* * * * * * * * *
Schoolboy, I watched his ballading begin:
Billy and bullock and billabong,
Our properties of childhood, all were in.
I heard the air though not the undersong,
The fierceness and resolve; but all the same
They’re the tradition, and tradition’s strong.
Swagman and bush ranger die hard, die game,
Die fighting, like that wild colonial boy –
Jack Dowling, says the ballad, was his name.
He also spun his pistol like a toy,
Turned to the hills like wolf or kangaroo,
And faced destruction with a bitter joy.
His freedom gave him nothing else to do
But set his back against his family tree
And fight the better for the fact he knew
He was as good as dead. Because the sea
Was closed and the air dark and the land lost,
“They’ll never capture me alive,” said he.
* * * * * * * * *
That’s courage chemically pure, uncrossed
With sacrifice or duty or career,
Which counts and pays in ready coin the cost
Of holding course. Armies are not its sphere
Where all’s contrived to achieve its counterfeit;
It swears with discipline, it’s volunteer.
I could as hardly make a moral fit
Around it as around a lightning flash.
There is no moral, that’s the point of it,
No moral. But I’m glad of this panache
That sparkles, as from flint, from us and steel,
True to no crown nor presidential sash
Nor flag nor fame. Let others mourn and feel
He died for nothing: nothings have their place.
While thus the kind and civilized conceal
This spring of unsuspected inward grace
And look on death as equals, I am filled
With queer affection for the human race.
~ John Manifold
Australian Poetry Since 1788 (Edited by Geoffrey Lehmann & Robert Gray)