Anzac Day Address 2015: Remembering and Experiencing Gallipoli

Ms Julie Hennessey, Head of History

An edited version of the Anzac Address delivered at the Commemoration for Anzac Day and 36th Anniversary of the Christmas Creek Tragedy Assembly on Wednesday 22 April 2015.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance.

But what does it mean to remember? In the first instance, to remember is to hold in mind or bring to mind someone or something from the past. It requires us to draw together, imagine and reassemble often disparate parts of our personal and collective memory. As we re-member the people and events surrounding Anzac Day each year, we repeatedly (as the Latin prefix ‘re’ indicates) draw together our memories and review our understandings of that time. In doing this, we imbue it with meaning and significance.

Anzac Day is one of Australia’s most important national days of remembrance. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War, when the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey on 25 April 1915. But the meaning of Anzac Day has transcended that particular day and that particular place. It has become a day in which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations as well as the ‘spirit of Anzac’ with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice.

The 2015 anniversary of Anzac Day is of particular significance; marking the centenary of the Gallipoli landing. Our School community is privileged to be able to take part in these commemorations with students, Josie Ganko (12R), Anna Ruddell (11O) and Laura Fell (11B) currently in Turkey. As winners of the Queensland Premier’s Anzac Prize, they will attend Anzac Day services on Gallipoli and tour the Western Front over the next two weeks.

This year, for the first time,  the School organised its own inaugural trip to Gallipoli to commemorate the anniversary. The Brisbane Girls Grammar ‘Anzacs and Antiquities’ tour has just returned from an extraordinary trip to Turkey and Greece. Our two days on the Gallipoli peninsula were particularly special, arriving there on Easter Sunday 5 April 2015, just over two weeks ago. Our first stop was Anzac Cove, a narrow, crescent-shaped beach marked by a stone sign on its southern end. From this vantage point we were able to view the full expanse of the cove,  arguably the most iconic ‘piece of Australia’ not actually in Australia or owned by Australia. The cove is incredibly small when you stand on it,  only 600 metres long and could be walked, at a comfortable pace, within eight to ten minutes from end to end. It was hard to imagine that this was the location where most of the 16,000 soldiers landed on the first day, and that this small cove became both the base of the entire Anzac operation and the main rest area for soldiers in the opening months of the campaign. It was here that Anzac soldiers obtained some respite from the frontlines situated in the steep cliffs above, less than a kilometre away. Though this small nook also made them easy targets for the Turks who commanded the heights.

Looking up from the beach to the cliffs we began to comprehend the challenges and difficulties our soldiers faced. Anzac Cove was never safe. From their high observation posts, the Turks could see parts of the beach both north and south and constantly bombarded the area with artillery fire. More than a thousand men are said to have been killed or wounded there, many while swimming. In total over 8,700 Australians died in the Gallipoli campaign; a figure today which would be unacceptable and abhorrent to the Australian public. In contrast, the Turks lost an estimated 86,000 troops defending their homeland – ten times more men than the Australians. Yet despite these devastating figures and despite the fact that Australia, along with Britain, France and New Zealand invaded Turkish land, the relationship between Australians and Turks has been based on a deep respect and friendship forged in the futility of war.

We all bore witness to this upon reading the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk inscribed in stone on the northern end of Anzac Cove. (Ataturk was a Turkish military commander during the Gallipoli campaign who went on to become the founder of modern Turkey.) Here is an extract from this inscription:

Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives…

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,

Here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries…

Wipe away your tears.

Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land, they have

Become our sons as well.

Ataturk’s words are the ultimate message of reconciliation and magnanimity between two hostile parties. This good-will and generosity of spirit was evident all around us – the Historic National Park status of the site to protect the battle fields, the establishment of Allied lawn cemeteries and memorials around and above Anzac Cove as well as the adoption of place names given by Australians during the campaign which feature in the signage in the Anzac area such as Lone Pine, The Nek, Quinn’s Post and Shell Green. Each of these sites hosts eerily beautiful lawn graves, meticulously maintained and, when we were there, blooming with bright daffodils. Green lawns and gold daffodils – Australia’s colours – punctuated by the stark white of the understated grave stones.

Walking from the beach at Anzac Cove to Shell Green and then onto Lone Pine along the Artillery Road, we retraced the steps of our soldiers on this dirt road which carried guns and men from the beach to the front line.  As we walked, we could only imagine what the Anzac troops faced on that first day as they scaled the ridges in the dark, in the confusion of mixed battle lines, weighed down by heavy equipment and under Turkish fire. Forced back by heavy gunfire, the troops were ordered to ‘dig, dig, dig’ for their very survival. So precarious was their position that divisional commanders asked for an immediate evacuation. This request was denied so the Anzacs bunkered down and secured a small beachhead surrounding the cove which would become their home for the duration of the campaign. Despite the daily onslaught, the Anzacs stood fast, establishing and maintaining the base for eight months through the searing summer and the freezing winter until their evacuation just before Christmas in 1915.

At each of the places we stopped – Shell Green, Lone Pine and Quinn’s Post – we sought out grave sites or memorial inscriptions of soldiers that each girl on the trip had ‘adopted’. As a gesture of remembrance and acknowledgement the girls shared stories of their soldiers’ lives and the circumstances surrounding their deaths; they planted single-stemmed, blood-red silk poppies next to their grave stones and laid a wreath at the most important Australian memorial to the missing at Lone Pine. The Lone Pine memorial commemorates the thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops, who either died in the Anzac area or at sea, and whose graves are not known. It is at this site the names of nineteen of the twenty-eight Brisbane Grammar School boys and masters can be found.

As a mark of respect and reconciliation a wreath was also laid at one of the most important Turkish war memorial sites – a memorial to the famous 57th Turkish regiment. This regiment was the first defending unit to go into action following the landing at Anzac Cove. On this day, in response to the Turkish soldiers cries that they were unarmed and could not fight, Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal declared, ‘I am not ordering you to attack.  I’m ordering you to die.’ The regiment was subsequently wiped out – heartbreakingly, not a single man survived.

Most of the soldiers ‘adopted’ by the girls were from Brisbane Grammar School. Of the twenty-eight Grammar boys and masters who lost their live on the Gallipoli peninsula, five were on the day of the landing: Thomas Ford (20 years old), Frank Hayman (23), Alan Radcliffe (25), William Rigby (23) and Raymond Shirley (22). Others like Keith Watson, who survived the landing, died nine days later on 4 May 1915. Keith Watson was not only a former Grammar boy but also the great, great uncle of Emily Hawkins (10W), who participated in the tour. The most senior officer commemorated at Quinn’s Post cemetery was Thomas Logan, a former Grammar boy and the great grandfather of Emma Tripp (Class of 2010). Major Logan of the second Light Horse was killed leading the first wave in a charge from Quinn’s Post on 7 August 1915. He fell dead before he had gone 4.5 metres. He was thirty-seven and left behind his wife Beatrice and six children.

War has traditionally been an all-male preserve and as a consequence women have been written out of the Anzac tradition. The only Australian women allowed to actively participate in World War I were nurses, a traditional occupation defined by its female qualities of nurturing and supporting. Nurses did not care for Anzac soldiers on the peninsula but rather hospital ships moored offshore and field hospitals on nearby Lemnos Island. These women need to be remembered for their role in the Gallipoli campaign.

The first war assignment given to nurse and former Grammar girl, Grace Wilson, was to set up and run No. 3 field hospital on Lemnos Island for injured soldiers being shipped out of Gallipoli. Grace Wilson was lauded by both her peers and superiors. She went on to become the matron-in-chief of the Australian Army Nursing Service and is one of the most highly decorated Australian women to participate in any war. During the war she was mentioned in dispatches five times and awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (First Class) in 1916. After the campaign she was appointed a Commander (Military) of the Order of the British Empire (in 1919) and the Florence Nightingale Medal (in 1929). She was also the first woman to receive life membership of the Returned Service League (RSL). But while Grace is the most distinguished, she is just one of thirteen former Grammar girls who participated in the war. The School’s tribute to them can be found on the World War I and World War II honour boards in the Annie Mackay room.

During the Gallipoli campaign Grace witnessed things that she said were ‘too awful for words’. In our archives you can read a letter from Grace to her sister Minnie, dated 6 August 1915. In this letter, she wrote of the death of her beloved brother, Graeme, at Quinn’s Post in the early days of the campaign. She expressed her relief that his suffering was over.

Tell mother from me to be thankful if he fell in action… the men have suffered… from the utter inability of the medical service to cope with things… and if any of you could see a hundredth part of what I have seen, you would feel as I do absolutely glad… that he was killed… Things are just too awful for words.

So far removed from such horrors, we can only imagine the hardship Australian soldiers and nurses experienced during the Gallipoli campaign; however in remembering them, in holding them in our mind, we acknowledge their sacrifice and pay tribute to their courage and loyalty to Australia.

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