Tag: World War I

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.



The Great War (1914-1918)

The Great War (1914-1918)

The Great War started on 14 August 1914 in response to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Serbia in the Balkans. Things had been brewing for some time in this part of the world. Once tensions reached a fever pitch, the fight was on. The Austro-Hungarian empire was a mighty one that included 14 countries many unknown in the popular domain. Ethnic diversities resented this take over and so there were many nationalist military groups fighting for independence. One such was The Black Hand.

The Black Hand and the Archduke

On hearing of the visit to Sarajevo by the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Black Hand planned his assassination. A bomb was thrown under the car carrying the Archduke and his wife, Sophie but missed the target injuring others in the motorcade instead. The Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip was one of the nationalists involved and along with his disappointed comrades he fled the scene.

But Franz Ferdinand was meant to die that day it seems. The motorcade diverted to backstreets was in the act of turning around near a delicatessen where Princip was eating a sandwich. Surprised, he ran out and shot the Archduke and Sophie at short range. These two shots sealed the fate of millions. They ignited a powder keg that fanned the flames of The Great War.

The fuse that started The Great War.

At the time this conflict started it was not called World War One as not many expected a skirmish in faraway Serbia to become global. Nor was the conflict ever expected to last long. But The Austro-Hungarians wanted to take revenge on troublesome Serbia and avert possible intervention by mighty Russia. During the following month post assassination, the powers in Europe took sides.

Taking sides

The Allies included Britain, France, Russia and were also called The Triple Entente. On the opposing side called the Axis were the Austro-Hungarians, Germany and Italy though Italy switched sides in 1915. Other countries became involved by association. As these key players were Empires, they had inbuilt support from their colonies. Britain had Australia, Canada, other British colonies and surprisingly Japan. The Axis had Turkey on their side and later Bulgaria. I discovered there is a boardgame based on the conflict, called Axis and Allies. If only the leaders of empires had fought a duel or played this board game. Not used 40 million people as their play pieces.

The Central Powers or Axis was disadvantaged from the start in terms of resources and fighting personnel. But such was their Teutonic pride and ambition that they were the ones to start the hostilities that once begun would inflate to involve the world.  Britain declared war in retaliation to the Axis advance into France.

Youthful enthusiasm for the war.

British soldiers and young civilian men were up for the fight. They looked upon it as a grand adventure, a way to serve their country and also see the world. No conscription needed they enlisted willingly and with much patriotic enthusiasm. After all they would be home by Christmas after eliminating the enemy. Wouldn’t they?

Gallipoli. It all went horribly wrong.

Similarly in the colonies, men signed up for the fight. A whole generation of men and boys who lied about their age. Some were only 14 years old. Young Australians and Canadians were eager to go to Europe and see the world while getting paid. Whole contingents of them would be dead shortly after. The Gallipoli campaign alone took 70, 000 of the young Allied soldiers and Turkey lost 60,000 men. Stalemate was the name of this deadly game. It was all about a planned British sea route through the Bosphorus  to seize the straits of the Dardanelles in Turkey. But it all went horribly wrong.

Horribly wrong. The best made plans of Churchill misfired and bogged troops down in nine months of hell on both sides. The same could be said for the trench warfare in the fields of France and Belgium. Bogged down in mud, not advancing at all. Stalemate that cost men their lives and sanity. Those who survived the onslaught were not the young men they were. Shell shock and other traumas took their toll. A Christmas truce gave hope but then the soldiers were forced to continue the pointless battle for territory.

The deadly weapons of The Great War

Never before had soldiers faced machine gun fire and coils of barbed wire. They were new weapons. Daylight fighting was pure suicide. Sending men over the top of the trenches into No man’s land was tantamount to murder yet in the early days that is what happened. Coils of barbed wire, designed to keep the enemy out, also ensnarled many a soldier trying to retreat to safety. It took a while for the commanders from their position of comfort and safety to realise the enormity and futility of the troop losses.

The theatre of The Great War

But the war waged on in the mud at the infamous Somme and Ypres battlefields. Germany pressed northeast in battle to Russia as well up to 1917 when Russia descended into its own civil revolution.  Trenches that were intended as temporary stages for war became the rat and lice infested homes of soldiers for years at a time. The theatre of war did not refresh its scenes. There was no advancement. Trenches filled with the dead and shattered. Families at home grieved their young sons and fathers.

There were stories of great bravery and cowardice. News abounded of flying aces of the air, spies like Mata Hari, intelligence and espionage from balloons aloft and messenger pigeons. These stories buoyed the spirits of all. Surely it would end soon, surely there would be peace.

The huge losses of The Great War

Once USA entered the fray it was all over. The Germans reluctantly admitted they were a spent force and outnumbered. Kaiser Wilhem abdicated, and an armistice signed on 11th November 1918. But this forced sudden end to the conflict left Germany feeling cheated of victory and this unfinished business sowed the seeds for another world war just twenty years later.

20 million lost their lives in this conflict. This includes the civilians caught up in the fight. Another 21 million were wounded and 8 million left permanently disabled. This does not include those who suffered mental trauma. On top of this carnage was the loss of more millions from the Spanish Flu epidemic which also went global due to returning soldiers.

TIme Heal my Heart

If you find all this interesting, you might like to read my WWI novel based on my grandparents lives during this war. Newly immigrated to Sydney and just newlywed, their lives are caught up in this global war. The novel is called Time Heal my Heart and shifts back and forwards from Australia and France as it tells the story of a family and their friends. Love and loss, courage and tragedy, this one has it all and it’s true.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published novels; Whispers through Time, The Last Hotel, Colour comes to Tangles and Time heal my Heart. Read about her books on https://joniscottauthor.com.


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