The following article appeared in the Corryong Courier, April 2017
by Honor Auchinleck
Those who visit Gallipoli see etched in white into the hillside of the Gallipoli Peninsula overlooking the Dardanelles a Turkish verse. It translates as:
‘This earth you thus tread unawares
is where an age sank. Bow and listen.
This quiet mount is where
the heart of a nation throbs’
Some 44,000 Allied servicemen were killed on Gallipoli including some 8,709 Australians and 2,701 New Zealanders. As well as Australians and New Zealanders, there were British, Irish, French and Indians among the fallen. The Turks lost more men than any other nation. The Gallipoli campaign robbed the manhood from a generation from all these nations and their losses continues to echo in our histories. In addition to the Turkish, the hearts of many nations throb on Gallipoli – you can almost feel it in the silence and on the wind and snow in winter.
Anzac Day 1916 was commemorated in London with a procession and a Service at Westminster Abbey, where Anzac Day continues to be commemorated each year. During the latter years of the First World War, Anzac Day was commemorated where and when it was possible. Appropriately in 2016 many commemorations focused on the centenary of the Somme and other on the Western Front. Anzac Day 2017 is an opportunity to consider what was happening in the Middle East where the Allies were playing their part to influence the fortunes of war.
In Major General Harry Chauvel’s letters home from Palestine there is no mention of Anzac Day 1917. Just as it was in April 1916, Anzac Day 1917 was a time of uncertainty. After success in the latter part of 1916 with the battles of Romani and Magdhaba and in early 1917 at Rafa, the Desert Mounted Division encountered setbacks at the two battles of Gaza, firstly on 26th and 27th March and again between 17th and 19th April.
On 22nd April 1917 from Abasam-el-Kebir and writing from ‘a dusty camp’ on a ‘mess table under a wide spreading fig tree’ Chauvel explained ‘the first battle [of Gaza] should have been a success, but for a thick fog which delayed the Infantry for two hours. I don’t know quite why; as it did not delay us, in fact we made every use of it, and owing to it, got nearly round the place before we were observed…’ ‘The reason the second battle [of Gaza] was not a success, was due mainly, I think, to faulty intelligence in that there were double the number of Turks than there were anticipated.’
These were Chauvel’s initial personal views and given censorship, possibly it was all he could say in a letter. Deeper analysis followed when more information became available. Meanwhile, for Chauvel and the Anzac Mounted Division, there must have been a great sense of disappointment that near victory in the first battle of Gaza had been snatched from them by the order to withdraw. I can only imagine that disappointment together with an increased uncertainty about the future might have tainted Anzac Day 1917 for the Desert Mounted Division – they could not have known that there would be success months later on 31st October at Beersheba. Meanwhile, Anzac Day 1917 is likely to have been a time of reflection for losses sustained at Gallipoli and on the Western Front and in the various skirmishes and battles on Sinai and most recently at Gaza. Lost and injured mates must have been uppermost in many men’s thoughts. Many might also have wondered how their loved ones were coping at home – Chauvel, for instance, was concerned that his family who were living in England had enough to eat. He wouldn’t have been alone. Some might even have wondered why they were fighting other countries’ wars when their families needed them at home.
Not only would there be another Anzac Day in 1918 before the First World War ended, but there was the Second World War, the Korean War, the Cold War in Europe, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan to come. Our forefathers could well be disappointed that the war they thought they were fighting to end all wars has more often than not, served to fuel subsequent conflicts.
There could be no accounting for the diversity of emotions that might have run through people’s minds on Anzac Day 1917, or indeed subsequent Anzac Days. Anzac Day is a very personal experience that comes with its own stories. Whenever I think of Anzac Day, I think of one we commemorated in 1979 near Potsdam, behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany during the Cold War. During the Cold War, it was very difficult for families to visit graves of the fallen lying in Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries behind the Iron Curtain.
I think too of Anzac Day seven years later in 1986 in Bonn, the Cold War German capital. The news of the explosion in the Ukrainian nuclear power plant at Chernobyl reached us the day after Anzac Day. Although we will never know if the radioactive cloud had already passed over us by the time we heard the news, undoubtedly some of us wonder about its long-term effect particularly on our children’s lives. Five years later on Anzac Day 1991 after the first Gulf War in the garrison at Fallingbostel (also in Germany), a bugler played The Last Post outside the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars Guard Room opposite the Army quarter in which we lived. Later the Commanding Officer explained that each year they mark Anzac Day because they too have their own memories of Gallipoli and their bugle had been played in 1915 at Gallipoli.
On Anzac Day 1991 memories of the recent Gulf War had left us more reflective. In the space of a few weeks of the air and ground wars, those of us who had loved ones serving in the Gulf had learned more about what war means. I remember too in the late 1990s the two simple Anzac Day services we attended at Anzac Cove after which we took off our shoes and wandered on the beach before walking up to Plugge’s plateau to see the view over Anzac Cove and Ari Burnu. By the early 2000s, the crowds were too big and security was too tight for us to go onto the beach and our overpowering concern was that Anzac Day on Gallipoli would pass without incident. It saddens me that due to terror threats, the Department of Foreign Affairs now finds it necessary to warn of risks of travelling to Turkey. It is a country I love and of which we have many happy memories. This Anzac Day I will not relax until I know that everyone who attended commemorations on Gallipoli has returned home safely.
Now, living back at Towong these memories and concerns form a part of my Anzac Day with gratitude to those who have shared so much, and indeed gratitude that I too have had my own homecoming. On Anzac Day we can pause for a moment and focus on our own memories, tell the story of our ancestors who fought and of their families who worked to keep the home front going and to keep the country on its feet. As well as being about our ancestors, Anzac Day is also about us.
Each Anzac Day Australia’s heart throbs with memories and stories – it is these stories that keep the Anzac legend alive and to which each year we might add some of our own stories. Some of you might like to enter your stories to the Elyne Mitchell Writing Award www.elynemitchell.com. Entries are open until 24th August, so you have plenty of time. For those who choose to write about a Light Horseman, you also might like to keep an eye on the General Sir Harry Chauvel Foundation website. www.chauvelfoundation.com