lest we forget the anzacs

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  • ANZ J. Surg.



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    J. M


    Eighty-seven years ago at dawn on this day, 25 April 1915,Australian, New Zealand and British troops landed on the Gal-lipoli peninsula as part of the campaign to gain control of theDardanelles, the 30-mile-long strait between the Aegean Sea andthe Mamara Sea. Control of the Dardanelles would allowConstantinople to be placed under siege and would provideaccess to Russia. This was the first exposure to war of Australianand New Zealand troops as part of a national force, although Aus-tralians had been sent to the Boer War before Federation, as hadNew Zealanders.

    The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (to be known asthe Anzacs) landed at what was later to be known as Anzac cove.This faced steep cliffs and a well dug-in Turkish resistance thatwas quickly reinforced over the next few days. The British forces,including many Indian soldiers, landed at St Helles. A Frenchbrigade also took part in the invasion at Kum Kale but was laterwithdrawn. This was the first time that Britain had allowedBritish Commonwealth soldiers to serve as independent unitsrather than being spread throughout the British forces. The Aus-tralian and New Zealand forces continued to serve as independentunits throughout World War I.

    Over the next days and weeks the Anzacs made continualefforts to storm the heights, suffering dreadful casualties, as didthe Turks who were defending the hilltops. Both sides were duginto trenches, which criss-crossed the hillside and, although occa-sional trenches changed hands, both sides made little progress.Thus, the decision was made in September to abandon the cam-paign. Evacuation of the Anzac forces took place over severalmonths and was completed by mid-December.

    During this 8 months 60 000 Australian and 8500 NewZealand soldiers took part in the campaign and the casualtieswere enormous. More than 8000 Australian soldiers were killedand 19 000 wounded, and 2500 New Zealand soldiers were killedand 5000 were wounded. The Turks, under the redoubtable lead-ership of Mustafa Kemal, later to become famous as Attaturkwho led his nation into the modern world, proved an honourableenemy. But the Turks also suffered dreadful casualties, some300 000 being killed or wounded.

    Amid this carnage were many acts of heroism. The best knownis perhaps that of Simpson and his donkey. Jack Simpson Kirk-patrick, a member of the medical corps, was seen every dayroaming up and down the cliffs, oblivious of enemy fire, bringingcasualties back to the medical base at the foot of the cliffs. He

    rescued 300 wounded soldiers single-handedly by bringing themdown Shrapnel Gully on the back of his donkeys. Not surpris-ingly, Simpson was killed after 24 days into the campaign buthis acts remain a legend to this day. He was recommended for aVictoria Cross (VC) but it was denied on a technicality.

    Albert Jacka was the first Commonwealth soldier to win a VCin World War I for a courageous single-handed assault on anenemy trench at Gallipoli in the early weeks of the campaign.He served throughout the war in France winning a Military Cross(MC) and Bar, but allegedly should have been awarded severalmore VC. He was without question the outstanding Australianfighting soldier of World War I. He survived despite numerousinjuries and returned to Melbourne where he became mayor of StKilda. He died at the age of 39 as a result of the severe gassing hehad sustained near the end of the war.

    The Gallipoli campaign, although well conceived, was anunmitigated disaster both in its planning and execution. And yetever since that time we have celebrated the Anzac campaign inboth Australia and New Zealand as a national holiday and a dayof remembrance in both countries. One has to wonder why, asantipodeans, we continue to celebrate what was an absolute fail-ure; perhaps not an attitude normally attributed to us by the rest ofthe world.

    The landing at Gallipoli was taught to us in school as a cam-paign fought by heroes under the direction of incompetents. Cer-tainly there is an element of truth to that but most of theAustralian and New Zealand soldiers were volunteers on theirfirst trip away from their own country. They had enlisted with anair of romanticism about war that was supported by a belief in aduty to support England, known then as the mother country, in atime of difficulty. However, in this campaign perhaps the conceptof mateship was to appear as a national attribute of our two coun-tries, because the soldiers living in the trenches had to survive bydepending on each other in a way they had not experiencedbefore. In Australia and New Zealand, the campaign at Gallipolihas been described as the defining point in the birth of bothnations.

    Following Gallipoli, the Australian and New Zealand troopsregrouped in Egypt and then, reinforced by new arrivals, tookpart in the war in France together with the British, French, Indian,Canadian and later USA forces. The Australian and New Zealandmounted troops were retained in the Middle East and distin-guished themselves in the Palestine campaign, which led to thedefeat of the Turkish armies.

    The military losses during World War I were unbelievable.During the war the British troops numbered some 5 million, ofwhom around 500 000 were killed or died of their wounds. TheGermans suffered 2.75 million deaths and casualties. The casu-alty rate in the Australian army, whose men were often used asshock troops, was the highest in the allied forces. Many thou-sands died in a few weeks at the battle of the Somme in 1916 andmany thousands more at Passchendale in 1917. During the warnearly 60 000 Australian soldiers were killed and casualtiesnumbered over 200 000. This comprised some 70% of the total

    P. J. Morris


    Correspondence: Sir Peter Morris, President, Royal College of Surgeons ofEngland, 3543 Lincolns Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE, UK.Email: pmorris@rcseng.ac.uk

    The Anzac Day Dawn Service was held on 25 April at the Anzac Memorialin Battersea Park. Sir Peter delivered the address at 5.10 a.m. to around 3000Australians and New Zealanders

    *Reprinted with permission from

    Ann. R. Coll. Surg. Engl.



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    expeditionary force of 331 789 men who took part in the war, at atime when our population was under 5 million.

    These deaths and injuries among the cream of the nationsyoung male population without question retarded Australiasgrowth and productivity over the next 20 years. The same statis-tics apply to New Zealand: from a population of just over1 million, 99 000 men were sent overseas, of whom nearly 17 000were killed with a similar impact on the countrys development.

    I have spent some time giving figures for the military casual-ties during World War I, the like of which we have not seen since,in an attempt to convey a little of the unbelievable level ofwounded and dead in this conflict. Perhaps I can remind youthat these young men were the same age as so many of you herethis morning.

    As we stand at this service today, we have to ask, why are wehere?

    First, we are still proud of the bravery displayed by the Anzacs intheir first battle as nations joined together in a common cause, eventhough a lost cause. Perhaps the fact that we remember a failurewith such pride reflects our inherent support for the underdog.

    Second, we are here to remember with gratitude all those soldierswho died, were wounded or participated in the remainder of WorldWar I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and nowAfghanistan, as well as in numerous peacekeeping exercises for theUnited Nations such as the recent engagement in East Timor.

    Third, for those of us who have not fought in a war, we need toremember that war is not glamorous, as is always more readilyappreciated by those who have actually been on active duty. Warshould be avoided by negotiation at a political level if at all pos-sible, and politicians need to remember that it is not they who goon active duty.

    A poem by K. L. Trent, a New Zealander, entitled

    A DiggersDisillusion

    (1918), represents this better than I can describe.

    When I first thought of enlisting,And courageously assistingIn this game the poets call the sport of kings,I had dreams of martial glory,Dashing charge with bayonet gory,And a host of other brave and stirring things:But, alas! For dreams deceiving,And imagination weavingSuch a web of falsehood in my brain!For my visions are all shattered,And Ive just become a tattered,Weary digger, working knee-deep in a drain.

    Finally, we must remember that all of those who served in theAustralian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli and in numerouscampaigns thereafter felt that they were doing their duty, perhapsin many instances hoping to make the world and our own coun-tries a better place to live in. As we look at our two countriestoday, we should ponder on our shared history, beginning withthe Anzacs, and ensure that our national ambitions continue tomove together in harmony in the coming years. The profile of ourpopulations today is far different to that which the fortunate sur-vivors returned to at the end of World War I. Both our societiesare now multicultural, which should be a source of pride, and Iwould like to think that the Anzacs would agree. Furthermore, wecan also take some pride at our rather belated attempts to improvethe lot of our indigenous populations who were also Anzacs.

    Lest we forget.