Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Musings - ANZAC Day

Photo: The 10th battallion in formation on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales, 24 April 1915.

I have part completed the next post in the water wars series, so when I post it will come up just before this post. Given the time taken to write that type of post it will be the weekend before I do complete and post. Ah well.

Today is ANZAC Day (and here). For the benefit of my international readers, ANZAC Day celebrates the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on 25 March 1915. While the campaign was a military disaster, the day of the landing has become a major Australian and New Zealand national memorial celebration.

I have very mixed feelings about ANZAC Day.

As I wrote in an earlier post written on Remembrance Day (11 November), 416, 809 Australians enlisted for service during the First World War, representing 38.7 per cent of the total male population aged between 18 to 44. At almost 65 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (deaths, wounds, illness) proportionate to total embarkations was the highest of the war.

All Australian families were affected.

Uncle Will's Christian beliefs would not allow him to take life, but he felt that he must do his duty. His solution was to join as a stretcher bearer. On the day of the Gallipoli landing he wrote to brother Morris:

"I have tried to play the game and to live up to the ideas Jesus has set before me."

Will survived the War, Morris did not.

Morris did not enlist immediately. Then on 7 August 1915 he wrote to brother David (my grandfather):

"Perhaps you will not be altogether surprised but I have felt it coming on - like a bad cold .... while I have the conviction that men are really required I cannot hang back and let someone else carry my bundle... I've taken the step and hope it won't be labour in vain, but at any rate I've no delusions about the fun and glory of it."

Morris was offered an immediate commission but declined it. Officer training would have delayed his passage, and he also wanted to know first something about the men he would command.

In May 1917 came the news that Lieutenant Morris Drummond MC had been killed in brave but futile attempt to force the German lines in front of Reincourt. Lt. Jim Harrison, a fellow officer, wrote to Will Drummond on 6 May:

"Maurice was ... the most fearless officer in the Batallion, he was exceeding his duty at the time, very typical of him."

Many in my generation, that affected by the Vietnam War, had reservations about ANZAC Day because we saw it as a celebration of war. While my own views have changed over time, I still have mixed feelings.

All nations require symbols to unify their peoples. I find it a little sad that a military event, that Australia's military tradition, should become so dominant in symbolic terms. Still, in typical wry Australian fashion, we celebrate a defeat!


Ninglun (Neil) had a good post on ANZAC Day including some stories from the Whitfield family.

For the benefit of my Australian readers interested in family history, the National Archives of Australia have now completed the process of digitising all World War One service records. These are available on-line, and can be viewed and printed.

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