Page 1073 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 25 March 2015

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Australians saw many positive characteristics displayed by their troops that they would continue to identify with in later wars and conflicts and in other crises and hardships faced by the nation. These characteristics, like courage, duty and mateship, have in many ways become defining national characteristics.

The troops, mostly from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the Anzacs, landed at night on the western side of the peninsula. They were put ashore about 1½ kilometres north of their intended landing beach. In darkness, the assault formations became mixed up, but the troops gradually made their way inland under increasing opposition from the Ottoman Turkish defenders.

Not long after coming ashore, the Anzac plans were discarded, and the companies and battalions were thrown into battle piecemeal and received mixed orders. Some advanced to their pre-designated objectives while others were diverted to other areas and then ordered to dig in along defensive ridge lines. Although they failed to achieve their objectives, by nightfall the Anzacs had formed a beachhead, albeit much smaller than intended.

The exact number of the day’s casualties is not known. The Anzacs had landed two divisions, but over 2,000 of their men had been killed or wounded, together with at least a similar number of Turkish casualties. The number of casualties continued to escalate until some months later when the Anzacs withdrew under the cover of darkness in what was quite a remarkable withdrawal operation.

Many of those who served at Gallipoli then went on to serve on the Western Front, in one of the most bloody and despairing series of battles experienced by mankind. Tens of thousands were slaughtered on an industrial scale, but amidst the carnage were countless stories of extraordinary individual courage, of mateship and of compassion.

Many of our ancestors—including those of many in this place, I am sure—served either at Gallipoli or on the Western Front, and it is true that at the time almost no Australian or New Zealand family was left untouched by that war. Indeed my grandfather never fully recovered, and died as a young man after his experience on the Western Front, and my wife’s great uncle, a Kiwi, lies in a grave in France. In total, 61,516 casualties of the First World War are remembered on the honour wall at the Australian War Memorial.

Canberra had a particular role to play in this important period in our history. The Royal Military College, Duntroon, was opened on 27 June 1911 by the then Governor-General, Lord Dudley. It was situated on the Campbell family homestead in Canberra, which had been named Duntroon after Duntroon Castle, the Campbells’ ancestral home in Argyll, Scotland.

General Bridges, who established the college, was the commander of the 1st Australian Division, which landed at Gallipoli, and he was killed by a sniper some days after the landings. He was notable for always being at the front with his troops. His grave is on Mount Pleasant, overlooking Duntroon, the college that he helped establish, and that has produced officers who have led troops in every conflict since.

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