Month: May 2024

The young Anzacs

The young Anzacs

Who were the young Anzacs who gave their lives for king and country? The answer is they were the ‘everyman’ and sadly the ‘every boy.’ Together the enlisted men and boys would make up The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZACS for short.  Some were as young as fourteen, most were in their late teens or early twenties. There was no checking of birth certificates as men enlisted. The armies of Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand were eager to send as many troops as possible to help Britain defend itself and half of Europe.

These young Anzacs from the distant colonies of Mother England answered the call to duty. Fuelled by the spirit of adventure and patriotism, they enlisted early in the 1914 war, The Great War as it was first called. Most had never been overseas and so the prospect of a paid ‘holiday’ abroad with macho mates was exciting. Plus being part of a war would be something to talk about for the rest of their lives. And didn’t the young girls love a fellow in uniform!

But all too soon they found themselves on the tragic beaches of Gallipoli. After just a few months of training in Egypt, they were sent to the slaughter. Gallipoli is a peninsular not a town and is near the ancient ruins of Troy.

Not how they imagined war

The young Anzacs first deployment to active service was not how they imagined. It was not the grand glorious adventure that they enlisted for. It was a hopeless situation and many young lads expecting to be home for Christmas would never return to Australia. It was 25 April 1915. Numbering 16,000, the Australian and New Zealanders tried to disembark from the ships under a hail of munition fire from the enemy.

The young Anzacs were literally sitting ducks. Before they even made it to shore after disembarking the boats, they were mown down by the gunfire from the Turks above. Those who managed to reach the beach had no shelter still. There was little overhang from the steep cliffs, so safety was a fair distance from shore. It was 25 April 1915. Numbering 16,000, the Australian and New Zealanders tried to disembark from the ships under a hail of munition fire from the enemy.

Did the young Anzacs regret coming to war?

How many of these young Anzacs then wished they were home with their parents or still working as a jackeroo on the outback sheep station? Despite their hardiness acquired from work in the harsh environment of Australia and New Zealand, nothing could prepare them for this situation. The Turks who were meant to be unaware of the beach landings and also poorly armed with weapons were quite simply not. On the rugged steep cliffs, they were well positioned above the newcomers, and despite the rumours, had machine guns.

A plan that went terribly wrong

The plan went terribly wrong. It was both poorly thought through and poorly executed. The troop numbers were less than planned and they landed at the wrong cove where the terrain was impossibly steep. Plus, the Turks were well armed and in position waiting. There was no element of surprise as originally intended. No minor scuffle and victory.Instead it became one of the most costly campaigns of the war, in terms of men killed and reputations in tatters.

Winston Churchill had been the instigator of the plan. He foresaw establishing a sea route from the Mediterranean to Russia. This mighty empire was the third and strongest part of the allied Entente along with France and Britain. This intended sea route could only be secured if the Allies could secure the Gallipoli peninsula which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Once achieved by a brief scuffle with the Turks, The Dardanelles strait would be under Allied control and a way onwards to Russia established.

The dead are remembered

But it didn’t go that way at all. After nine months of ghastly hostilities, the Allies finally had to concede defeat and admit their loss. They withdrew in December 1915 leaving behind 70000 dead. The Turks did not fare much better with 60000 dead. Today these men lay in the cemetery at Lone Pine where a ceremony is still held each year to remember their sacrifice. Since the tragedy April 25 has been called Anzac Day and is a date of remembrance both at home in Australia and New Zealand and in Gallipoli in modern day Turkey.

The day is remembered with a dawn service in many parts of the world but certainly in Australia and Turkey. It is held at dawn because this was when the troops first tried to land on the beaches. The holiday is not a celebration of war at all. Rather it is a day to hope that never again will so many fine young men die for so little. Nothing was achieved by the costly campaign. Turkey did not get ousted from the war, neither did the British clear a ship route to Russia.

Origin of the word ANZAC

The acronym is attributed to Major General William Birdwood and dates to Cairo in 1915 before the troops sailed to Gallipoli. The last true Anzac soldier was Alexander Campbell who died in 2002 aged 103. At just 16, he joined the army straight from school. Arriving October 1915 at Gallipoli he became a stores carrier. Young and agile, he ran up and down the rugged cliffs. Invalided home after the troop evacuation, he was discharged in 1916. The Australian War Memorial website has much information on men who served. The war memorial in our capital Canberra is also an amazing and moving place to visit.

The young Anzacs were volunteers

The men and boy Anzacs were volunteers. Conscription did not exist for WWI because so many were happy to go willingly to war. There was no need. Although Billy Hughes, the prime minister, made two attempts to introduce it via referendum. Both times in 1916 and 1917 the public voted a decided ‘No’. These men and boys gave their tomorrow for our today. Snuffed out in their youth so we could be free. How few are those who appreciate this sacrifice.

Aboriginal Australians legally were barred from enlisting. However, about a thousand of them did. If light skinned their presence in the ranks was undetected. It took many years before their service became recognised.

The Anzac Biscuit

On a lighter note, is the interesting origin of the Anzac biscuit. A staple in supermarkets and a standard recipe in cookbooks, it is made with butter, oats, coconut, sugar, flour and golden syrup. The original version was less sweet, much harder and square not round. Men accidentally broke their teeth on them. An army ration, they were suitable more for making porridge or thickening stew or even fried as fritters. Later, mums and sisters back home modified the recipe to be more biscuit like. They sent the biscuits in tins to their loved ones. The ingredients especially the sugar content made the biscuits travel well.

If you like stories about this time in history, you will enjoy my WWI novel based on a true story. Time heal my Heart is such a story of love, loss and sacrifice.

Joni Scott is an Australian writer with an interest in history. She has four published books, two historical, two contemporary. Meet Joni and her books on her website, jonisscottauthor.com.

 

 

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