Victim or Victor: The Lessons of Gallipoli 100 Years On.

One hundred years on, were the ANZACS of Gallipoli victims or victors? Moreover, what does the spirit of ANZAC mean today as we ride through our own battles… victims or victors?

While this sounds like something you’d come across in a high school history exam, I’ve been pondering these complex questions today as we commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the ANZACs landing at Gallipoli.

By the way, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. On the 25th April, 1915 the ANZACSs landed at Gallipoli, launching a doomed and brutal campaign. On the 25th April of ANZAC Day each year, Australians commemorate the sacrifices made by Australians in all theatres of war. Traditionally, we wear a sprig of Rosemary for remembrance and either attend a march or watch on TV and we also bake  the ANZAC Biscuits. These were sent in care packages to the soldiers on the front .

Scouts marching to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

Scouts marching to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

Being the 100th anniversary, as you could imagine there have been a plethora of commemorations and people turned out in absolute droves to ANZAC Day marches all around Australia and even travelled to Gallipoli. This morning, our kids were marching to the Dawn Service at the local cenotaph with their Scout group. Geoff was taxi and I was photographer. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m quite a night owl and night owls have something of an anaphylactic reaction to seeing the sun rise so it wasn’t easy for me to get moving. At the same time, despite my health issues and lack of sleep, I didn’t think I could bail out. Shame! Shame! Shame! Our boys sacrificed their lives and quality of life for us to know freedom and yet I couldn’t get out of bed? Yes, I was up and out the door with the family long before the birds and I was really looking forward to being a part of it all. The kids were also looking forward to meeting the old diggers. They love seeing their medals and hearing their stories. I just need to keep reminding them that they’re medals and not “badges”.

Dawn breaking after the commemorative service.

Dawn breaking after the commemorative service.

So, when the alarm went off at 4 am this morning and I staggered out of bed after only 4 hours sleep, I really had to slap myself. Remind myself what it was like for the ANZACS who landed under the cloak of darkness at ANZAC Cove on the 25th April, 1916. They not only had to get up and out the door long before sunrise but dress and psyche themselves up for battle. Prepare themselves for the possibility and in the case of the Gallipoli, the near certainty, of death. As if going into battle wasn’t hard enough, after an initial tow into shore, the ANZAC actually had to row into the beach. This was pretty tough going. The sort of thing, as my Dad would say, puts serious hair on your chest. But wait, there’s more. There they are rowing through the icy waters in absolute darkness not out in the backyard where everything is familiar but in a foreign country with a foreign tongue and showers of bullets pouring down on the beach. Although the first arrivals might have had that element of surprise, subsequent arrivals did not and the casualties were high.

Australian Troops in front of the pyramids in Egypt.

Australian Troops in front of the pyramids in Egypt.This photo was part of the display in the school library.

As I reflect on it all now, even those with a heightened sense of adventure, would have known that sense of terror and yet they went forward. Wave after wave after wave and with each succeeding wave, the horror of witnessing those who have just died in front of their very own eyes, smacking them straight in the face. Yet, they went on. Men of such courage and valour…lambs going to the slaughter…yet, they fought on. 8,709 Australians lost their lives at Gallipoli.

Volumes have been written about the failed Gallipoli campaign and how Australian nationhood and a sense of Australian mate ship and national character were forged in the battlefields of Gallipoli.

In so many ways, it’s hard to understand why Gallipoli is almost deified in Australian history, culture and political speeches (and rants!). I swear any other country would be celebrating its victories, not it’s defeats. Indeed, in comparision to the Gallipoli Campaign, Australia’s incredible contribution towards victory on the Western Front, is rather underplayed and seems to be something of a PS on every ANZAC Day.

However, in a country characterized by drought, flood, deadly poisonous reptiles and the likes of the Great White Shark, much of our identity has been forged by hardship, loss and indeed loss of life. Being Australian is almost synonymous with living with and overcoming adversity.

A few years ago, we found out that my husband’s Great Uncle, Major James Griffin, had fought at Gallipoli with the 3rd Australian Lighthorse. Born in Moltema in Rural NW Tasmania, Uncle Jim arrived at Gallipoli on the 12th May, 1915…two and a half weeks after the first landing. Uncle Jim survived the war but died well before my husband was even born. This means that we don’t have any personal stories, insights or letters relating to his time in Gallipoli. However, Geoff has inherited a handful of photos of men in military uniform including Uncle Jim and his brother, Uncle Dan, who Geoff did meet. Geoff didn’t grow up really being consciously aware of their war time service and we only found out the details of his war service a few years ago after his service records went online. I should point out that this could well have been more than the code of silence. Geoff’s grandmother, their sister, passed away when Geoff’s father was only around eight and there was also physical distance involved as well.

8,709 Australians died at Gallipoli.

While we have been touched to find a close family connection with Gallipoli and I’m intermittently trying to retrace James and Daniel Griffin’s footsteps, today my research deviated yet again…another twist in the road and I was thinking about and exploring something else…a story about two brothers. Indeed, a story of a younger brother following in his older, much taller brother’s footsteps. On the 19th September, 1915 Daniel Griffin enlisted with the Third Lighthorse at Claremont, Tasmania. That’s around 5 months after his brother disembarked at Gallipoli and by the time he steamed out of Melbourne on the 28 October 1915 onboard the SS Hawkes Bay, the first casualties from Gallipoli had started trickling back to Australia.

While letters home could well have concealed the true nature of war, the graphic image of the war wounded arriving back testified to the horrors of war and yet still men went…women too.

This is what it really means to be brave…to be courageous. To know what you are up against yet still take up the fight. That’s what turns you into a victor, even if you lose the battle because at least you’ve fought the fight. Had a go and done your best.

When newspapers reported the first casualties of the Gallipoli campaign returned to Australia, they mentioned welcomed home ceremonies. These men were heroes, even though the Gallipoli campaign itself was an utter, utter failure. There was no talk about “woe is them” or “pity” just gratitude for the sacrifice they’d made and an excitement that they were back home. Also, the community was incredibly thankful for the sacrifice they’d made. These proud men were anything but victims and they certainly weren’t whingeing and selling their tales of woe to the highest bidder, like you see today. They had their dignity and commanded respect. That said, these were changed men. Ultimately, the Allies won the won the war. Quite aside from any physical injuries, many returned home shell-shocked or what we now refer to as PTSD. These victors were also victims.

I know this is fast forwarding very crudely but after the pre-dawn start, I’m beyond tired and am needing to get this posted. So even though it’s a bit of a leap to the end of the war, I wanted to leave you with an interesting story I found about Geoff’s grandmother, Molly Griffin, sister to Major James and Daniel Griffin. She was the school teacher in Mt Hicks.

MT HICKS BONFIRES.

The signing of the armistice was celebrated at Mt. Hicks on Tuesday night. A large bonfire was lit on the highest point of the mount. Cr. Jones said a few words appropriate to tho occasion, and concluded ‘ by announcing that there was an effigy of the Kaiser hidden somewhere, in the paddock, but the young ladies of Mt. Hicks requested that they should have the first privilege of dealing with it. The ladies then made a search, and soon drew the Kaiser from his place of hiding, marched him to the bonfire, and committed him to the flames amid much rejoicing! An adjournment was then made to an adjoining paddock, where two stacks of old straw stood; these had been given by Mr Horace Cross for the purpose of making other bonfires, and they were soon alight, the flames illuminating the surrounding country. The children were supplied with fireworks by Miss Griffin, and a time of rejoicing was spent by all present.

The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times (Tas. : 1899 – 1919)Friday 15 November 1918 p 3 Article

Trying to address this topic for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge was being too ambitious but as the saying goes: “it’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”. Through just trying to sort out sufficient details to write this short piece, involved quite a lot of research and a much greater appreciation of what our armed forces went through. When I think of those young men rowing through the dark and freezing waters of a foreign country when most of us say we can’t get going in the morning without our coffee or some other pick-me-up and it is incredibly humbling. I can get quite anxious about my driving or changes such as our son starting high school next year and these can be quite paralyzing and yet our troops couldn’t be paralyzed. They had to keep going. Keep their wits about them and move through the greatest fear most of us face…dying…and come out fighting.

Poppies of remembrance. Lest we forget.

Poppies of remembrance. Lest we forget.

I have been left with a much, much deeper sense of what these incredibly brave and courageous young men went through and I thank them and their families from the very bottom of my heart.

Lest we forget!

xx Rowena

PS This post is very much a work in progress. If you have found any historical inaccuracies, please let me know. I’d really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much had to write this on the run.

9 thoughts on “Victim or Victor: The Lessons of Gallipoli 100 Years On.

  1. byrdwords

    Amazing post. I’ve always had … I hesitate to call it an affinity … a connection to the Great War. 11/11 I refer to as Armistice Day (though the rest of the country calls it ‘Memorial Day’), and toast what veterans I know. I think that the Great War was truly the break between the old world and the new, where the people learned and openly expressed that their governments were not the trustworthy public servants, caretakers of the public that had been portrayed. Much has been written about Gallipoli, had so-and-so done this, had so-and-so done that, blah blah blah. The fact remains that men brave as lions faced horror of certain death with courage and humor, despite the outcome. My own heritage is part Scottish and Culloden is celebrated much the same way. A defeat, but the ideals for which they fought (or for which history says they fought) and the way they fought against overwhelming odds makes it significant. My dad ran into ANZACs during WWII in New Guinea and he was most impressed with them, enjoyed their company very much, had a lot of respect for them, and Dad was not a person to respect lightly. My sincere regards to your countrymen. Take care, xx

  2. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Bob. Where did your Dad serve in New Guinea? Geoff had two uncles who served there and I had a Great UNcle. My Great UNcle was in Milne Bay for the Battle of Milne Bay and then went to Buna. A lady at the school had her father’s photo album on display and I photographed some of them. There were a number of photos of US planes with the ladies on the side. Happy to email them through to you if you like. My email is rowenadreamer at outlook.com You’d better let me know that you’ve messaged me as it gets clogged up with blog messages.
    How was your Dad after returning from New Guinea? Many of our men returned and became alcoholics and violent towards their families. Not much has been said about this and to be honest, it’s been covered up I guess out of respect to the returned servicemen. You don’t like to dishonour their memory but at the same time, we do need to remember that the legacies of war are more than a row full of medals. I know that at least some of those children who wear their father’s medals deserve medals of their own just for surviving themselves…the hidden casualties of war. xx Rowena

  3. roweeee Post author

    Hi Geoff,
    Thanks so much for sharing that with me. As you no doubt know, I reblogged it and linked it to a few people on FB. My husband loves planes and follows a plane photography site. Must also read it to the kids.
    Hope all is well there.
    xx Ro

  4. herheadache

    I like your title. I don’t feel anyone wins in war and everyone’s a victim of horrible circumstances.
    I will admit, I have studied some on The Great War, but from Canada I focused on the stuff the Canadians did and then throughout Europe, but never made it to this part. Thank you for educating me. I have been reading a lot of blog posts and articles written on the importance this day has for Australians and New Zealanders.
    I have written a few 100 year posts on the soldiers and the front. I think it is an important marker, 100 years, to make and I am sure it was a special, once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
    I read and watch movies, but the reality is something I can’t possibly fathom, here in my secure world in Ontario, Canada, in the year 2015.

  5. roweeee Post author

    When I tried puttin gmyself in the soldiers’ boots, I thought about not being able to get going before 8 in the morning and needing a good cup of coffee to fire the engines up and as for rowing in and then wading through chest deep water, which was no doubt freezing and expecting me to fight…forget it. That said, I would have been gender and medically exempt back in the day and these days too old for the front as well. I could stay home and knit socks without feeling guilty. I’ll have to come and check out your 100 year posts. It’s interesting seeing the same events from a different perspective…really love that. Hope you are going well. xx Rowena

  6. Jim Griffin

    Major James Griffin was my father, and Daniel my uncle. I was honoured to attend the 100th Anniversary of the Landing at Gallipoli at Gallipoli, and this year will attend the 100th anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba in Israel, where he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

  7. Rowena Post author

    Hi Jim. It’s lovely to hear from you. We met up with Maureen and Michael when we were in Tassie in January and had hoped to catch up with you. As you’d be aware, Molly Griffin was my husband Geoff’s grandmother and she died when his father was a boy. Hence, we’ve lost touch with much of the family. We live just North of Sydney and it’s been awhile since we got got back to Tassie. However, we loved our time there and we have close friends who live in Spreyton and we can stay with them or Geoff’s cousin in Bridport, which makes it easier. I hope you are keeping well.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

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