On 11 November 2014, one hundred years after the outbreak of hostilities many Australians gathered to honour the memory of World War I and how Australia had reacted to the outbreak of conflict.
By mid-1914 Australians were aware through their newspapers of the rising tensions and dangers of war in Europe. The response to the outbreak of war was generally one of joint patriotic exuberance for the nation and for the British Empire.
Before the war began, well known Australian poet Henry Lawson prophetically wrote the following lines:
We boast no more of our bloodless flag that rose from a nation’s slime;
Better a shred of a deep-dyed rag from the storms of the olden time.
From grander clouds in our ‘peaceful skies’ than ever were there before,
I tell you the Star of the South shall rise – in the lurid clouds of war.
It ever must be while blood is warm and the sons of men increase;
For ever the nations rose in storm, to rot in a deadly peace.
There comes a point that we will not yield, no matter if right or wrong,
And man will fight on the battle-field while passion and pride are strong.
My forebear Sir George Houston Reid, PC, GCB, GCMG, who had served as Premier of New South Wales and Prime Minister of Australia was appointed Australia’s first Australian High Commissioner in London on September 9, 1913.
In 1914 he soon became aware that Austria-Hungary had delivered a list of ultimatums to Serbia following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. When Serbia failed to comply, Austria-Hungary declared war on July 28, 1914. Germany, in support of Austria-Hungary, invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg and advanced on France, prompting Britain to declare war against the Germans on August 4, 1914. Reid was aware that whatever happened, Australia was part of the Empire, so if the Empire was at war Australia was at war.
Australian Prime Minister at the time, Joseph Cook in a speech in Horsham, Victoria on August 1, 1914 said as far as the defences go here and now in Australia, I want to make it quite clear that all our resources in Australia are in the Empire and for the Empire and for the preservation and security of the Empire. So as part of the British Empire, Australia sent a message to the British government on August 4, 1914, offering 20,000 men of any suggested composition
Reid made clear that he believed it would indeed be better for the Australian troops to be trained in Egypt. He travelled to Egypt by boat to make sure everything was all right and in his many diaries he makes clear how much he liked the people he met in Egypt and the many Muslims he met. So the ANZAC forces, under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood, were based in Egypt largely due to of a lack of training and accommodation facilities in England. Later, these forces helped protect the Suez Canal following Turkey’s entry into war in October 1914.
While still training in the Egyptian desert in late 1914, the 1st Australian Division and the New Zealand Australian Division, which later included the 1st Light Horse Brigade, were re-formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – the ANZACs.
As fighting on the Western Front in France in late 1914 deteriorated into a stalemate, the British War Council suggested that Germany could best be defeated by attacks on her allies, Austria, Hungary and Turkey. Initially, the attack on Turkey was planned as a naval operation.
However, following several abortive attempts to force the Dardanelles in February and March, the British Cabinet agreed that land forces could be used. A combined international force (the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) was assembled under the command of British General Sir Ian Hamilton, and a three-pronged landing was planned to clear the Turkish defenders from the straits. Once the straits were clear, the allied fleet would steam into Constantinople where, it was believed, the threat of the fleet’s guns would cause mass panic and force Turkey to surrender.
At dawn on 25 April 1915, the ANZACs landed north of Gaba Tepe (the landing area later named Anzac Cove) while the British forces landed at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The aim of these two landings was to capture the Turkish forts commanding the narrow straits. French forces attacked the Turkish positions on the Asia Minor side of the Dardanelles as a diversion and later landed and took over part of the Helles frontline alongside the British.
Later reinforcements included the dismounted Australian and New Zealand Mounted Brigades at Anzac Cove. In August, a new British corps landed at Suvla Bay, to the north of Anzac Cove, in support of an attempt by allies to break out of the Anzac beachhead.
The campaign was a heroic but costly failure and by December plans were drawn up to evacuate the entire force from Gallipoli. On 19 and 20 December, the evacuation of Anzac and Suvla was completed with the last British troops leaving Cape Helles by 8 January 1916. The entire operation evacuated 142 000 men with negligible casualties. Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26 111, comprising of 1007 officers and 25 104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7 779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease.
Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to soldiers in Australian units. While the campaign is considered a military failure, Gallipoli became a household name in Australia and with it the ANZAC tradition was created. Gallipoli became the common tie forged in adversity that bound the colonies and people of Australia into a nation.
George Reid’s wife was Dame Florence Anne Reid,for her work in assisting Australian soldiers recuperating in London during World War I, was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in August 1917, being in the first list of appointments to the order, which had been created only in June 1917.
I am named Anne after her.