ANZAC DAY – Honour in Defeat

The History of Anzac Day

At 18 minutes past four in the morning on Sunday 25th April 1915, one of the great events in Australia’s history occurred. The events surrounding  the landing of Australian troops  at  Gallipoli have been described by some as “the Birth of Australia as a Nation”.

On April the 25th every year, Australians commemorate ANZAC Day

The War in Europe was not going well for the Alliance consisting of  Britain, France and Russia. The German Army had delivered a crushing defeat on the Russian 2nd Army at Tannenberg in the early days of the World War 1 in 1914 and were steadily advancing eastward. The Russians were also threatened by an advancing Turkish Army through the Caucasus. They appealed for help from their Allies.

Gaining control of the Dardanelles  (the narrow channel between the Aegean sea and the Black Sea) by the British and her Allies would re-open communications with Russia, allow shipping to recommence from the Black Sea where it had been blockaded by the Turks and release wheat supplies from Russia.

British Strategists had believed for a long time that the best way to defend Egypt and the Suez Canal, which was at risk after Turkey entered the War on the side of Germany,was by an attack on Turkey itself.

The Dardanelles Attack

British and French warships had made a tentative foray through the Dardanelles Strait in November 1914 and bombarded the Turkish shore batteries. This alerted the Turkish commanders to their vulnerability in the area, so they strengthened their defences with strategically placed guns, laid minefields in the Strait and installed searchlights that swept the narrows at night.

Dardanelles Region

Three months later a British and French fleet that included 18 battleships, made an attempt to force its way through to Constantinople ( now Istanbul ) . Two British battleships, ( HMS Irresistible and HMS Ocean) and one French ( The Bouvet ) were sunk. Two British battle cruisers ( HMS Inflexible and Suffren ) and a French battleship ( The Gaulois ) were badly damaged.

Believing that they could not force their way through the Dardanelles, the Naval Commanders decided to retreat.

Unknown to them at the time, the Turkish defenders had almost exhausted their supply of ammunition.

Planning for a troop landing on the Aegean Sea side of the Gallipoli Peninsula commenced.  The attack on Gallipoli was one of the more imaginative of the strategies of the First World War.

The ANZAC Story

At the time of the First World War, Australia, though an independent nation, was part of the  British Empire of Nations . When Britain declared war on Germany  on 4th August 1914, the declaration involved the whole British Empire.

Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, Joseph Cook,  said, ” If the Old Country is at war, so are we…….. Our duty is quite – clear to gird up our loins and remember that we are Britons”.

Australia pledged 20,000 men.  Almost immediately, recruiting began and a new army of volunteers was formed. It was named, The Australian Imperial Force ( The AIF).

New Zealand which was also a British Dominion and promised to supply a military force .

In due course a convey was assembled with the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Force and the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force. It set out supposedly for Europe in late  October 1914 but, was diverted to Egypt for training, to avoid the cold English winter before moving on to the Western Front in France.

The original name intended for the combined armies was The Australasian Army Corps. However after protest from New Zealand, the name Australian and New Zealand  Army Corps was adopted. As this title was somewhat cumbersome the abbreviation A & N.Z.A.C or simply ANZAC was used.

No one knows definitely who came up with the term Anzac. It is likely that Sergeant K.M. Little, a clerk at General Birdwood’s headquarters, thought of it for use on a rubber stamp: ‘ANZAC’ was convenient shorthand. Later the corps used it as their telegraph code word. It did not enter common usage among the troops until after the Gallipoli landings.

The Gallipoli Landing

After the failed attempt at invading Turkey through the Dardanelles, the British endorsed the plan for a major assault on the opposite side of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

A large Imperial Force consisting of the British & French was assembled . The ANZACS were brought from training in Egypt to join that Force. The attack on the Peninsula occurred in several places along the coastline.

Historians still debate whether the Anzac troops were landed at the correct place. Why did the Allied commanders send Australian troops to land on a beach before rugged hills, ridges and steep gullies? What was the objective? What happened?

It was only shortly after the landing that high command let it be known that an error had been made – the landing should have been made on Brighton Beach, south of Anzac Cove and in a locality of relatively friendly topography.

The Anzacs landed at a difficult spot and the Turks were ready for them. Over a period of months very little headway was made. In August 1915 another offensive was launched against the Turkish Forces. Casualties were heavy, but  it failed and a defeat was inevitable . Eventually the British Government ordered an evacuation. During the day the Turks could see troops landing, but by night the Forces were gradually being withdrawn. The whole offensive was a disaster.

How the Aussies fooled the Turks

On 20 December 1915, almost eight months to the day that it began, the Anzac retreat was complete. The Turks were unaware of this and kept shelling the trenches.

“Aussie” ingenuity was one of the reasons for this deception. A delayed-action device known as the  Drip (or “pop off”) rifle, was invented by Lance Corporal William Charles Scurry with assistance from Private A. H. Lawrence.  Both soldiers were from the 7th Battalion, AIF.


Just over 10,000 ANZACs were killed, 8700 Australians and 2,700 New Zealanders and 33,500 injured. There were also around 21,000 British and 10,000 French soldiers killed.

The ANZACs went on to serve with  distinction in Palestine and the Western Front in France. Click on Books  below forr

Light Horse: A History of Australia's Mounted Arm (Australian Army History Series) Anzac Day: The Beginning of Tradition Anzac Day Parade

The First Anzac Day and Dawn Service

The 25th of April was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916.

Every year on the 25th of April, commemorative services are held at dawn, the time of the original landing,  throughout the Nation. The first Dawn Service was held in 1923, while the first official Dawn Service was held in New South Wales at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Later in the day marches are held in all the major cities and  many smaller towns

After the Second World War, Anzac Day became the main day on which we remember and honour all those who died in time of war.

Old Foes, Now Friends

Despite being enemies at the time, respect and friendship developed between the Anzacs and the Turks over the years since . There is a Memorial at ANZAC Cove in Turkey, honouring all those who died during the Gallipoli Campaign. A Dawn Service is held every year at that spot in which Australian, New Zealand and Turkish Representatives participate.

Mustafa Ataturk

In 1985, seventy five years after the historic Anzac landing , a memorial was unveiled in the National Capitol, Canberra and named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. As  Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, he commanded one of the famous Ottoman  regiments at Gallipoli. He went on to become the founder of Modern Turkey as we know it today and was elected as its First President. The Turkish parliament bestowed on him the title Ataturk ( Father of the Turks). On this memorial and the one at Anzac Cove are the famous words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives …
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries …
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have
Become our sons as well.

The book links shown below contains the personal notes, poems and other information demonstrating the conditions as  they were  and the  way in which soldiers at Gallipoli coped with the trying events of the time . These books are well worth purchasing and reading.

The Anzac Book Minds at War: Poetry and Experience of the First World War A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Illustrated Poetry of the First World War

ANZAC Day is that special day when we remember with immense gratitude and thankfulness all those men and women who gave their lives that we might live in freedom. You may have been touched personally by such a tragedy as I have been; my grandfather was killed in Belgium in World War 1 and my uncle in Syria in World War 2.

In his famous poem, ” For The Fallen”  Robert Laurence Binyon wrote;

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Doctor Bill

Up-Date Notice:

This article was originally published for ANZAC Day 2010.  I have updated and revised many parts -including some Links -for Anzac day 2012.