“And I know that this passes:
This implacable fury and torment of men.”
- Frederic Manning, Australian War Poet and Novelist (1882-1935). Private, 7th Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
On the twenty fifth of April 1915, ninety-seven years ago, members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. Since that day, the acronym ‘ANZAC’ has come to stand for the qualities that we would like the world to most admire about Aussies and Kiwis – mateship, sacrifice, teamwork, sporting supremacy and never leaving men or women behind on the battlefield – no matter if you’ve never met them before and perhaps are even on the opposite side.
Even as the ANZACs landed on those Turkish beaches, they knew that what they were going into was likely to be something that not many of them would come out of alive – but still they went forward. These were young soldiers, sailors and army airmen of perhaps 18 or 19 years of age – younger if they had been ‘lucky’ enough to get away with falsifying their ages. How many of then would eventually break through to the Turkish lines?
The dogged determination (because in nobody’s eyes was this campaign a military success story) of these young men elevated Australia to a new place in the world order. As the British commander, General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote at the time: “Before the war, who had ever heard of ANZAC? Hereafter – who will ever forget it?”
Of the 60,000 Australians who fought at Gallipoli, 7818 were killed and some 19,000 were wounded.
On the other side that day, young Turkish boys were sitting in gunnery nests, waiting for the whistle that signalled the approach of hundreds of young ANZACs, having the same conversations, writing the same last letters, hoping to get out of the coming charge alive.
This is a tiny potted view of what was going on in the Dardanelles nearly a century ago. For me, ANZAC Day has a very personal resonance – because at the War Memorial at 0530, I will be standing proudly in two capacities; as the representative of Defence Families of Australia – and far more importantly, by the side of my husband, a Commander in the Royal Australian Navy, who only two weeks ago returned from active duty in Afghanistan.
I have, for the last six months, despite the modern conveniences of Skype, Facebook and e-mail, had to deal with him going to work every day in body armour. With him being in lockdown. Being in bunkers when there were warnings of RPG attacks and shots. The shootings at point blank range of two American officers gave me some of the most dreadful hours of my life – and guilt after the relief of knowing it wasn’t my husband.
A lot of people ask me how I stand being married to somebody who basically, goes to war for a living. The answer is very simple; it is because he believes that what he is doing is for the good of those who can’t stand up for themselves – and because he loves his country. This may sound simplistic, it may sound twee, but that uniform is a part of his identity and I am damn proud he wears it – and wears it well. I would rather he was out there doing the job than someone who wouldn’t show humility and kindness to those he is in essence ‘fighting’.
My family have served in various conflicts across the world including both world wars and Korea, but to have your husband in a war zone – nothing can prepare you for what that will mean. And to think of the families doing it in 1915 – with no TV, no internet, no radio, no nothing – the feeling of blindness must have driven those at home half mad.
I cannot imagine what it is like in combat. I have been in some fairly nasty situations through living in countries that are not what one would call ‘safe’ – and yes, I experienced the bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta – but the thought of someone sitting and waiting to kill you simply because they are told that this is the brave and right thing to do – how is it possible to put oneself in that mindset? Those poor boys on both sides of the lines – dirty, lice ridden, cold, petrified, adrenalin-fuelled and huddled together telling blue jokes – with the smell of pine trees in the air above the stench of unwashed bodies and fear.
I know that at Dawn Services around Australia tomorrow those who have served, are serving and those who support them will be standing proud – but also inside will be that kernel of loss, fear and sadness that every person who is associated with the ADF carries. And nothing should change that. Sure, ANZAC Day is about having a beer or a Bundy with the boys and playing two up – but it’s also about a nation grieving a generation of young boys – and the fact that we still are fighting on for those who don’t have the freedoms we love to take for granted. Because irrespective of whether or not you think we should be in places like Afghanistan, those who serve do it because they want to, not because they have to – and that’s as honest as you can get. And despite the shadow of conscription, that’s what many of those boys were doing in Turkey.
Both lots of boys.
“Upon the margin of a rugged shore
There is a spot now barren, desolate,
A place of graves, sodden with human gore
That Time will hallow, Memory consecrate.
There lie the ashes of the mighty dead,
The youth who lit with flame Obscurity,
Fought true for Freedom, won through rain of lead
Undying fame, their immortality.”
Gallipoli – Sergeant John William Streets, 12th (Service) Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment, 1886 – 1916
Kate Stone is the owner of Wardrobe Witch, and is addicted to four things in life; books, writing, fashion and social media. Her love for shoes has bypassed addiction and is now a subject of a clinical psychological study. She will happily rant about just about anything - read her thoughts at www.40isthenew30.me and tweet to her @oskythespy, or let her cast a fashion spell at www.wardrobe-witch.com.View all Kate Stone posts.