It is hard to believe that in nearly three years, it will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The memory of these people has passed into legend, and the last of the Anzacs, Alec William Campbell, who was a 16 year old kid at the time of the landings, passed away in May 2002. All that remains of these men and women is in books, letters, on plaques in public buildings, monuments and cemeteries.
We walk past these things every day – just one more detail in an information overloaded world. We normally ignore these things, like the other minutiae of life, just to be able to concentrate on what is at hand. Yet, they stand as mute reminder of a time past. A time when the collective hearts of our country were broken, by a level of tragedy that we find hard to imagine in 2011. Yet this experience is part of what we rely on as part of our national story – who we define ourselves to be.
In the rush to embrace the heroic and admirable, in the midst of all of the tragedy, there is a tendency to want to “dry-clean” the past. The details of the more complete picture get downplayed, and left out entirely over time. All too ugly and painful – who wants to think about that? Focus on the things that make us feel good – and leave all of the rest behind. “Less-(that) we remember” seems to be the order of the day in the early twenty-first century – or at least, a very, very selective memory seems to be in operation.
It seems to forget one basic principle… in order to appreciate the candle light, you need the dark background so that the stark contrast brings it into focus.
As Aussies, we forget that it was not some kind of a prolonged cricket match, between us and Turkey alone. In fact, even putting us and the Kiwis together as a group, we were only a fraction of a number of landings that took place on the Dardanelles peninsula that day – one beach area out of six invasion beaches, on the first real “D-Day” in World War One. We were a part of a much bigger whole. We were tens of thousands, when hundreds of thousands of troops from other parts of the commonwealth, and our allies like the French, with their colonial allies, were also landing further around that part of Turkey.
We also overlook that our troops, landing on those beaches were “green” troops, most of whom had never been in combat, that are prone to make stupid mistakes. There were only a few handfuls of veterans from the Boer war and the Boxer rebellion who had seen any combat before in the troops that landed. While there was a lot of youthful enthusiasm and zeal from troops who were blissfully ignorant of what war really was, this is no substitute for being able to rationally work as a team when you are being shot at, as we found out the hard way.
Those stupid mistakes early in the piece, like bunching up during the landing, and then staying put too long on the beach, gave the Turkish defenders the chance to bring in reinforcements and artillery, and to bottle up and bleed the invaders dry by a rain of gunshot and shell. Anzac beach, or that stretch of “Z” beach at Ari Burnu, is the bottom of a kind of natural amphitheatre, where Anzac beach is the centre stage, that everyone up on the hills can see, shoot at, and kill people, from kilometers away. Nobody seems to have said:
“ Fellas, we are in the wrong place. The Beach we are supposed to be on is about 3km south, and this beach is a shooting gallery where any bastard with a Mauser rifle and ammunition sitting up on those hills is going to feel like he is practicing to win a prize at the Easter show. Lets go to where we are supposed to be!”.
It also seems to be forgotten that most of the officers and NCO’s that knew what the plan was supposed to be, were shot and killed, or injured and evacuated right at the beginning first few hours. This left those remaining troops and officers on the beach, milling around like sheep in a slaughter yard, or huddling behind whatever they could find, rather than get as far inland as fast as possible, and away from the beach, up to defendable positions before Turkish reinforcements and artillery could arrive.
In other words, We ( the Aussies and Kiwis) got lost. The people who were supposed to be running the operation and knew the plans and orders were killed or injured and taken away in the first few hours. Then, without those instructions passed on, we flat out did not do what we were supposed to be doing. Yet, instead – it seems to be the “done thing” long after the fact, to pretend that all of the death and misery caused there was the fault of bad English management.
It is this background of the sheer blood-letting , ugliness and suffering that was the norm of fighting around Anzac cove, that makes the heroism, gallantry, good humour and gentlemanly conduct worth remembering. They were living a waking nightmare, in the most hellish of places. Something else to keep in mind, is that the men wearing the slouch hat were not all 6 feet tall plus, blue eyed blonde, “Clancy of the Overflow” type tanned bushmen and athletes. They were as diverse in their backgrounds from factory workers, to shop clerks, to tradesmen and every other kind of profession you can imagine. Many of the first people to enlist were from the cities. Two battalions of which signed up on the north shore of Sydney, where SydneyGhostTour.Com runs its tours, within days of war being declared. It was their very ordinariness – the fact they were fathers, sons, mothers and daughters, spouses and sweethearts that make their super-human efforts even more remarkable.
Yet it was because they were all of these things, that makes their loss so keenly felt. The empty place at the family dinner table, the clothes that would remain hanging in the wardrobe in mute reminder, and the Christmases that would never be shared again with that loved one, became a feature of many Australian households. It isn’t an exaggeration that 1918 as a year where the whole world was in a state of shock and grief. Of all of the best and brightest who went off to war, so many did not come back. Many of those families, not knowing if their loved one would be remembered in any formal way, made memorials to them on the family plots and mausoleums in the St Thomas Cemetery in Crows Nest, and in the Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery on the Pacific Highway, right next to Royal North Shore Hospital. Lone Pine, Quinn’s Post, the Nek , Passchendaele, and many other places that they fell, are memorialized in stone in these lower North Shore Cemeteries. Surprisingly, no one has made the concentrated effort to tell their stories, up until now.
This Anzac day 25th of April 2011, there will be two tours, the first starting at Cammeray Square at 9.45am, and the second starting at 1.45pm at The Forum Plaza @ St Leonards railway station, that will tell the stories of these men and women, to whom we owe so much. Advance bookings are essential and can be made on 02 8197 0363, or on www.sydneyghosttour.com. The cost of the tours are Adults $35.00 per person, students and concession card holders $25.00 per person. 10% of profits of SydneyGhostTour.Com are always used to restore and preserve historic sites on all of our tours, however, 10% of the profits from these two Anzac Day tours will be donated to Legacy NSW. Please go to our tours page, or put your details into Crypt Insiders to book your tickets now!