THIS year’s Anzac Day, the 103rdanniversary of that tragic but pivotallanding at Gallipoli, draws a curtain on a phase of our commemorations officially described as the centenary of Anzac.
In April 1914, when the original Anzacs were determined to take on “Johnny Turk”, the war had been going for just nine months. Although the realities of the battlefield were finding their way home, the mood was still one of optimism, of young soldiers going forth to do their best for King and country.
Four years later, in 1918, any naivety about the cost of conflict had long sinceevaporated. Although WWI had its share of air and naval warfare, it was the years of sustained trench battles–with gas as well as explosive artillery, and incredibly high numbers of casualties on both sides– that became the central motif of the so-called Great War.
The Second Battle ofVillers-Bretonneux in April 1918 was one such bloodbath. Among the Australian battalions taking part were the 34thand 35th: “Maitland’s own” and “Newcastle’s own”.
That month, some 14,000 Allied troops, including more than 2400 Australians, lost their lives in and aroundVillers-Bretonneux.
In a final conflict, Australian troops retook the village on Anzac Day, 1918, adding symbolic importance to an already crucial victory.
The war ended just seven months later, on Armistice Day, November 11. Back in 1914, British author H.G. Wells had written optimistically of “the war that will end war”.
But as historyhas shown us, that was far from the truth.
Armed conflict is as much a part of the human condition as ever, and with some 1700 Australiansserving abroad in various theatres of conflict –principally Afghanistanand the Middle East –and another 600 on border protection with Operation Resolute, this Anzac Day will also serve to honour the contributions of the modern soldier, as well as those of earlier generations.
Anzac Day has changed a lot over the decades. A tradition in decline by the time of the Vietnam War, it has come full circle in recent years, as the huge crowds that have gathered in recent years for the Nobbys dawn service attest.
Hopefully, the world will never again see the sort of mass conflict that shook the globe to its core in WWI and WWII.
But by marking Anzac Day as we do, we acknowledge the sacrifices of those who won us our freedoms, and the efforts of those whose military careers are dedicated to preserving them.