One hundred and two years ago today, the young men of Australia and New Zealand were woken in the middle of night. They long awaited assault on the beaches of Gallipoli would begin at dawn. These men were not from the British Isle but instead from the other side of world.
Australia itself had only been a federated nation for thirteen years and the horrors of the trenches on the western front must have seemed far removed from their pastures and farms. Even so, when their King called for aid they responded overwhelming with more than fifty thousand men volunteering to serve in the first year. This number is even more overwhelming when you consider that Australia only had a population of around twenty-four million in 1910. This overwhelming show of patriotism and willingness to charge into unknown danger was and should be a great source of pride for the Australian people for all time.
And the dangers were very real indeed, from the first convey of troops to depart from Albany, every mother’s son lived in mortal peril. The seas were a dangerous place in wartime and the light cruiser HMAS Sydney had to engage the large and more heavily armed German Cruiser Emden to protect the Australian forces huddled in vulnerable troop ships. Despite the odds, the valiant sailors of the HMAS Sydney won the day and the 1st Division arrived safely in Egypt which was then part of the British empire.
Although most of troops believed they were destined for the trenches, the lords and admirals in London had determined they were needed for a different mission. With the war on the western front in stalemate, the Australians would boldly launch an attack against the Ottoman empire and once they gained control of the black sea turn west and deal with the Germans and their allies. When the naval attack failed to secure the all-important narrow passage to the Black Sea from Mediterranean, a coastal invasion was planned. The entire 1st Australian Division would be a critical component of this attack.
The details and reason for success and failure have been discussed and debated for years and will most likely be debated for years more. What everyone agrees upon is the Australian forces fought superbly and continued to fight well despite enormous losses. And the losses would continue for the Australians who fought in many more engagements and battles in the years to come including the Somme offensive, the First Battle of Bullecourt, the Third Battle of Ypres, and the Battle of Epehy.
By the end of the war, more than half on all Australians that served in expeditionary forces would be killed or wounded. With over 50,000 Australians fallen or scarred in just five years, the effect on the young nation cannot be overstated and it is not surprising that ANZAC day remains such a revered day of remembrance over a century later.