We shall remember them

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions were killed over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The 1914-8 War only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

27 thoughts on “We shall remember them

  1. Was the Gallipoli campaign pointless? What about the argument that removing Turkey from the war would have significantly strengthened Russia, both through easier supply of war material and by allowing Russia to export its grain? Speculating wildly, could success in the Dardenelles have forstalled the Russian Revolution?

  2. I won’t mark Anzac day, because whatever you would like it to be, it is not a means of remembering the horror of war, but of mythmaking. Last Anzac day, my flight to Sydney landed at 11 am. As I was walking through the terminal, an accouncement was made: “We ask you all to stand in silence for one minute, in memory of those who fought for freedom and democracy in the First World War”. Well, no one fought for those things in WWI. I kept walking, ignoring the dirty looks. I think decent history courses in schools (as well as practical measures to actually assist defence personnel when they get back from warzones) would be a better memorial than ludicrous quasi-military parades (or getting drunk and throwing up at Anzac cove).

  3. I’ll dissent from ANZAC Day hurrahing.

    The Great War amounted to a successful conservative counter-attack on the meaning of Australian nationalism. Prior to the war, there were two primary sense of Australian nationalism – the liberal sense of progress toward independent nationhood, and the working class sense that drew on the convict experience, Eureka, the myth of the noble bushman, a hatred of tyrants, and beliefs in democracy, equality and social justice. Because Australia was not menaced as part of the War, the appeal to our participation relied on identifying the nation with Britain and its Empire, and this ideological sleight of hand squeezed the republican and revolutionary senses of Australian nationalism out of the mainstream. After the war, the ANZAC came to occupy pride of masculine place instead of the bushman, ANZAC Day was built into an occasion to overshadow Eight Hour Day and May Day, the RSL had a membership almost a quarter the size of the trade union movement and battled for living conditions for soldiers, the defeat at Gallipolli loomed larger that the defeats in the Great Strikes and Eureka. Whereas at the beginning of the war, Labor governened in the Commonwealth and all but one state, at war’s end it only governened in Queensland and faced newly fashoined ‘Nationalist’ parties instead of Liberals in almost every parliament. In short, not only were 10,000 lives lost in a pointless battle at Gallipolli, as John notes, the whole gig and all its subsequent meanings and celebrations are crucial to the creation of the conservative and make-up of Australia.

    ANZAC Day? Bah! I’ll enjoy the holiday.

  4. Tom D, what would have prevented the Russian Revolution would have been an early peace. One possibility would have been a Russian government decision to seek peace on the basis of the status quo ante, with no annexations or indemnities (the terms briefly proposed by Germany at the end of 1916). The Gallipoli attack, which had little chance of military success by the time it was launched, was in large measure a political gesture aimed at keeping Russia in, and therefore contributed to the Revolution.

  5. Any celebration or idea can mean to you what decide it to mean. On ANZAC day, and indeed any time I contemplate previous wars, I am always grateful that I and my family and our nation have been spared making the sacrifices that soldiers and civilians made in all the wars Australia has fought in.

    Think of a young man wounded and dying on some God-forsaken battlefield in Europe, or on a ship sinking in the freezing North Atlantic, or on a badly damaged bomber with no hope of making it home or in a Japanese POW camp being worked to death. What would he give to spend just one more day with his wife or child? Most of us can do that whenever we want and yet never even realise it can be taken away.

    Imagine being shipped off to war in place you had never heard of and giving years of your life away to that fight knowing you might never come home. Imagine wondering if your husband or son was alive. Every day. For years.

    On ANZAC day I prefer to be grateful that I and everyone around me does not have to make such sacrifices. To appreciate, respect and remember those who did. And to re-affirm that I will do what I can to stop war in the future.

  6. I think that the last post is a great piece of music that fits in well in the Anzac ceremonies. I could come up with some adjectives to describe it but then I would only be furthering the myth Neil mentions.

    “We ask you all to stand in silence for one minute, in memory of those who fought for freedom and democracy in the First World War�.

    Pity about the no course language rule because my vocab isn’t sophisticated enough to politely describe the American accent and George Bush’s face which flash into my head when I read “for freedom and democracy”. Maybe I am no better than George Bush and this makes me sad. Then again maybe Americans are no better than me and this makes me happy again. But such a racist thought makes me sad again.

  7. I think Chris understates the extent to which imperialism formed an important part of Australian nationalism before the war. Perhaps it was more pronounced in WA, with a higher proportion of British-born than elsewhere, but most Australians considered themselves “Britishers” first and Australians second. Those people might have been trying to escape the worst of British society (strict class hierarchies, overcrowding, etc) but they liked the connection to “home” and family that the Empire provided. However, he’s right to say that in the three-way tussle between liberal, egalitarian and imperialist nationalism, the latter gained the ascendancy during WW1 and we have never fully recovered.

  8. “Speculating wildly, could success in the Dardenelles have forstalled the Russian Revolution?”

    Why on earth should anyone have wanted to forestall the Russian Revolution – the February 1917 one, that is, which overthrew Tsarism?

    I would argue (and have argued in a letter published in the Australian on 23 or 24 April last year) that had the democratic allies stayed out of the eastern European war which was brewing between Germany and the Habsburg Empire versus Russia as a result of Habsburg threats to Serbia following the Archduke’s assassination, the most likely outcome would have been a quick German-led victory which would have been just the push required to precipitate a February-style revolution in Russia, without the subsequent developments which led to both the Bolshevik revolution and its totalitarian degeneration as the country slid into chaos.

    The temporary fillip which victory might have given the conservative elements in the victor nations would probably not have been sufficient to avert the rising tide of democratic evolution led by socialists and liberals within those societies. They would certainly have been spared the destructive consequences of the actual war and the ruinous peace terms of Versaille which facilitated the rise of German and Austrian fascism.

    As it is, can anyone think of a worse outcome than the establishment of wall-to-wall totalitarianism from Lisbon to Vladivistok and Tokyo, plus a second world war, which is what the actual first world war made possible and perhaps probable?

  9. Looking through the records at the AWM Roll of Honour for a particular surname I found that of nearly 100 WW1 records more than one third of all the men whose birthplace was recorded were born in the UK and had arrived in Australia as young adults. All those whose birthplace was recorded who were killed at Gallipoli were born in the UK although of course it can be safely assumed that some of the others had been born in Australia.

    I wonder if this means that a disproportionate number of early enlistments were actually the Edwardian equivilent of British backpackers?

    Interestingly the records I looked at give the lie to the myth that Australians who joined up were a bucolic lot as less than one twelfth were positively identified by their next of kin as working on the land at the time of their enlistment (from grazier to farm labourer). Overwhelming they were townsmen following urban callings. Of course this may just mean that country men were more resourceful and better at surviving the privations of war.

    The AWM provides PDF copies of the little RoH forms the next of kin filled out for the bureaucrats some years after the war. They are touching little testaments full of pathos. It would have often been hard for the NoK to complete the details and it is clear that many did not really know the cirumstances of their son or husbands passing or where they were buried.

    Quite often a father or mother proudly writes in the tiny space provided “He was mentioned in despatches” or gives the last known address of their son’s unit OC so that they can be contacted by the RoH’s compilers for further information. But you know in your heart of hearts no one ever did write to that former captain in a little street in Coburg who once had the compassion to find time to write to a mother about her boy.

  10. I just listen to Michael (the literate person’s Alan Jones) Duffy little radio show on Radio National (- well it’s a day off and that’s my excuse).

    One of the guests was the military historian John Keegan (or Sir John Keegan as Muffy emphatically referred to him). Both chickenhawks wased lyrical about battle and lingered lovingly on the concepts of “killing zones” and the “right to flight”. Muffy got so excited that I am sure that he couldn’t get up from behind the console for at least five minutes after the show.

    Speaking of chickenhawks we should start a list of notable Australian chickenhawks. Here’s a few for starters:

    – Robert Menzies – who perhaps uniquely resigned a militia commission at the outbreak of WWI
    – John Howard – fit enough to be president of the NSW Young Liberals but not fit enough to volunteer for army service during the Vietnam conflict although he was a vociferous supporter of conscription and Australia’s participation in that war.
    – Andrew Peacock
    – Malcolm Fraser – only Miinister for the Army of military age during a war
    – Robert Hill – got deferred because he was studying in London
    – Alexander Downer – ditto
    – Joh B-P – 28 at the outbreak of WW2
    – John Fahey – played footy
    – Nick Greiner

  11. Albatross —

    Men who worked on the land were generally precluded from enlisting, as farming was considered an essential occupation. My grandfather, a dairy farmer, tried to enlist in both WWI and WWII, but was not permitted either time. It caused him and his family no end of chagrin that people who’d served the entire war at a desk received post-war benefits (such as the war widows’ pension) while farmers who’d served their country just as patriotically did not.

    On Gallipoli, I’m not sure it was pointless, but it was certainly unnecessary. The Ottoman Empire wanted to join the War on the side of the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia), but were rebuffed by the British. Supposedly, the British Cabinet wrote to the Sultan that they did not need his help to win the war, thanks all the same. Insulted, the Turks joined the German side.

  12. one aspect of the Anzac celebrations that I’ve observed consistently over many years is that veterans who were actually involved in fighting – as opposed to those with comfy desk jobs – were always the least enthusiastic about the celebratory aspects (the parades, speeches etc.). The ones proudly displaying rows of medals and boasting about their war service at the bar after the parade were frequently found out (often by a well placed question from another much quieter vet) to have never been fired upon or been put in actual danger.

    Could not agree more with John that we should honour those who fought and died. But as we get further and further away from the events commemorated by Anzac day I feel we get more and more inclined as a nation to celebrate, not commemorate – and that’s where the whole Anzac day thing is going off the rails.

  13. Well said SWIO.

    Contrary to some posts my impression is that WW1 inoculated us against war. CS certainly has a rosy view of the atmosphere at its outbreak.

    The great public schools taught dulce et docorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and meet to die for your country) and it was widely thought that the country needed a blood sacrifice in order to call itself a nation.

    As a swift insight into this, consider Henry Lawson’s “Star of Australasia” of 1895. It is a sobering read in view of his socialist beliefs. After telling us that “the curse of nature and scorn of God is heavy on peace like ours” and celebrating the character-building nature of settling a dispute (“no matter if right or wrong”) by war and how great it is “to strike for all that is true and strong, for all that is grand and brave” he says near the end.

    And this we learn from the libelled past though its methods were somewhat rude:
    A nation’s born where the shell’s fall fast or its lease of life renewed…

    Maybe our Anzac Day rememberance is evidence he was right.

  14. Nothing good came of it.

    The fact that Windschuttle appears to think that WWI was of low significance in conditioning the 20thC’s political woes is a “negative” proof of Pr Q’s statement.

    the First World War did not dominate the twentieth century to anything like the extent usually claimed. Indeed, were someone to now compile a list of the decisive battles of history, he might not include the First World War in it at all.

    In fact WWI was the greatest political catastrophe to befall Western Civilization since the loss of Byzantium to the Turk. The war derailed the, somewhat civilising, forces of liberal European imperialism and replaced it with ideologies of class socialism and race nationalism in the Second and Third World’s.
    Even the ending of it was botched, leaving the Wermacht to retire from the battle field in good order and punishing the German nation with reparations and blockades rather than smashing the Prussian state to bits.
    I do feel that Pr Q’s “plague on all houses” moral rhetoric lets off the main culprits – the Prussian military autocracy – rather too lightly. That lot were clearly the driving force behind European militarism, on all mediums and on all fronts.
    Nevertheless Russell stands out as the one great thinker of the time who was vindicated by History. He was right and brave to take his stand against WWI’s fraticidal madness. He was largely vindicated in his mlitant anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet advocacy. HIs anti-Vietnam war stance, although sometime hysterical, was mainly in the right. His support for nuclear arms control also had great merit.

  15. PS I think that the resurgence of public interest in ANZAC day, and other forms of ritual associated with ecclesiastic and monarchic authority, has more to do with the conservative Great Re-Learning after the cultural damgage done by the constructive Great Disruption. Occidental Cultural Elites spent 30 or so years attempting to reconstruct traditional sociological norms and replace them with fashionable ideological nostrums. They failed – hence Decline of the Wets. (The same wanton acts of vandalism was perpetrated by Oriental Political Elites, most notably during the Cultural Revolution, and this vandalism is also being repaired.)
    The ANZAC day revival is therefor more about Australians recovering some sort of traditional cultural identity rather than a fashionable or cynical glorification of national security and commercial vulgarity, as some commentators, notably Michael Leunig and Shaun Carney, have asserted.

  16. WW1 was the war of imperialism with the older defeating the upstarts only becasue of the US involvement.
    JS lets of the imperialists in the UK & France too lightly.
    We also saw Generalship of the most incompetent leadership.
    Monash was the best but he was Australian and a jew to boot!

  17. Robert has told CS what I would have done, only more politely. At no. 3 CS has indulged in a little bit of reinventing history or has fallen victim to it. The best answer I can give to the idea of a conservative counter-offensive is to quote from the Melbourne Boer War memorial of 1902: “the Empire which is our strength and common heritage”. Not only is it describing where people were coming from before 1914, it is also highlighting what people miss in the idea of empire: it wasn’t “England”. In fact, the empire-minded knocked “little Englanders” for their parochiality. Empire buttressed local diversity, and as an ideal it has far more to offer even now than ANZUS.

    JQ, it looks as though you didn’t check out Bertrand Russell on the topic. While he was prejudiced, he was willing to look facts in the face. He recorded his astonishment that the people were pro-war, contrary to his PC preconceptions. Nobody dragged them into war.

    For JQ and Peter (at 11), Gallipoli was in fact a worthwhile thing based on the success of when the Germans had done the exact same thing with the Goeben. It wasn’t that the British rejected the Turks – it was that the Germans had already forced the Dardanelles successfully. The allies knew it could be done; the failure was in execution, not conception.

    That Goeben thing shows how Australia really was involved. Don’t forget that the Emden was a sister ship of the Goeben, and just as much threat to Australia as the Goeben was to Turkey – and the first major naval engagement was well outside European waters. People knew quite well that the Empire was the ANZUS of the day (and the British are more reliable allies than the USA is now).

  18. Letter from Able Seaman Harold Moss, Mess 5 HMAS Napier c/o GPO dated July 29 1942 to my grandmother regarding the loss of her 20 yr old son Lyall aboard HMAS Paramatta. The uncle ‘Bluey’ I never met. The letter’s contents in masterful pen and ink cursive is reproduced faithfully here.

    Dear Mrs ——,
    I have been asked by my Mother to write to you to tell you what I know about Lyall. I would like you to understand that I would have written to you months ago, only for the fact I felt that to write then would be to induce more grief to you than you were already suffering; so I thought I would drop in to see you when I return home.
    But now as you have asked I will say what I would have said before. First my really deep sympathy to you for his loss. The last four or five months before he died I was one of his real cobbers. He joined up the same time as I did and we had travelled to Melbourne together. That ten days leave in August 1940 we were together. I saw him several times in Adelaide. Then back we went and finally overseas together. We also incidently used to go out to the same place to see our girls and his girl knew mine and we sometimes used to go to the theatre together. Anyhow we arrived in England and we were sent to depot where we were sent on leave. I went to Scotland(Glasgow) and he went to Edinburgh. I never saw him until we were back on leave. Then we were drafted to the Arawa, we were nearly nine months on her and then paid off. After some more leave we were split up and eight of us were drafted to the “Paramatta�.
    He was then separated from his cobbers, one of whom was Stan Roberts. Anyhow we used to get together and talk about the different things we were going to do after we got out of the Service and he was telling me he didn’t think he would marry until after he finished his twelve years. We went ashore in Durban and Suez. In Suez we had our our photos taken in Arab dress. I went back there when I was there last to try and get the photo again but the negative was destroyed. I really was looking forward to getting that photo. We picked up our ship there and later on was to see our first bit of action. A German plane attacked us in the Red Sea but his bombs fell over us. We caught him as he went away and was later credited with shooting it down. I recon we were all rather nervous but none of us new hands said anything and after that we felt like old hands. Shortly after that we went through the canal to the Med. We went ashore at Alexandria. After that we had several air attacks and once went to Tobruk at night. Coming back we anchored at Mersa Matru and had hardly dropped anchor when they started to bomb the shore. They kept us awake for hours.
    We came back and two days later we left Alex for Tobruk. These were the days of the siege and the supplies just had to get through. We took a small convoy of supply ships with us.
    Anyhow to get to the night on which we were sunk, we were off Tobruk and this night was rather heavy seas, moon which was generally hidden by dark clouds and rain. This rain by the way caused the greater majority of deaths, Every(one) used to sleep on deck and through the rain they all had to go below. Lyall was my opposite watch then and at midnight when I went below he came on deck to keep his watch on the for’ard gun. It was raining and just before I went down I had a funny feeling. I thought that it would be pretty awful to be adrift in that sea. I went right for’ard to try to get a place to sleep but there was no room. So I came back to amidships and layed on a stool in a little space mess we had. My lifebelt was blown up and near my feet. At 12.20 I looked at my watch and then was just dozing off when she was hit. I never want to hear that noise ever, I was thrown to the deck and the lights were out. I grabbed my lifebelt and was up the ladder in ten seconds. I just got on deck when she lurched over and began to sink. I couldn’t tie my belt on and it was swept away. I was then in the water and swam to where I saw a float. I got on and began helping other fellows on. We floated away and soon lost sight of the ship. We were picked up in about 2 ½ hours. Although the chaps below who were for’ard wouldn’t have a chance to get away there was those on deck who should have been alright. A large party of men were on a big float and the last chap to be picked up said they were still OK when he left. I can’t possibly help you in definately saying Lyall went, because no one I know, who knew him ever saw him. There were lots of men clinging to rafts and pieces of wood. Yet next morning there was no survivors in sight. The night was bitterly cold and I couldn’t have lasted much longer myself. For myself I can’t believe that everyone who is missing is dead and feel that there may be some who are in P.O.W. camps in Germany. It was hard for me to realise that my friends, chaps who I had known as brothers were gone and it effected me for a long time.
    I’m not of a emotional character myself but have found myself close to tears whenever I remember that night. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you. I can give you Stan Roberts address but of course he wasn’t on the ship. I do sincerely hope I haven’t told you anything which may cause you more grief but rather may help you.
    Anything more I can do I shall be to pleased.
    Yours sincerely
    Harold Moss.

    The HMAS Paramatta was an escort sloop of some 1060 tons and a top speed of 16.5 knots. With double 4 inch guns forward and single at the rear, as well as anti-aircraft guns, she was designed for convoy escort duties, minesweeping and anti-submarine duties. Late November of 1941 the Paramatta was on the ‘Spud Run’ from Cairo to Tobruk, at the peak of the battle to turn the tide against Rommell. On the 26th Nov at 1100 hrs Paramatta left from Alexandria with the British destroyer Avon Vale, both escorting a precious ammunition ship. The first day out was quiet but the second day an enemy aircraft flew over and was fired upon and flew off unharmed with its intelligence. By midnight of the 27th, they were 25 miles from Bardia and the Paramatta had slowed to 3 knots as she pulled alongside the ammunition ship to give her megaphone orders for the route into Tobruk , while the Avon Dale lay off close by in the darkness. As the commander gave the order on the Paramatta for full steam ahead, the Avon Dale had already picked up an enemy submarine on its Asdic and was releasing its depth charges when two torpedoes struck the Paramatta and broke her back at 35 mins past midnight. In great danger herself, the Avon Dale would steam slowly to pick up survivors, being careful to a avoid steaming too close to men clinging to debris. She picked up 21 men in all from the water, the last two at 3.05 am. As the Avon Dale picked up the last two survivors a torpedo passed meanacingly across her bows. Another 3 crew would survive on a float and make it to shore at Bardia, where Arabs would hide them from the Germans nearby until they met advancing Allied troops. Another solo survivor made it to shore to friendly troops also. All in all 25 men survived, while 136 of the ship’s company perished. The Avon Dale escorted the ammunition ship to Tobruk and returned immediately to look in vain for any more survivors. On Dec 8th the Allied armies broke Rommell’s land grip on Tobruk. Lest we forget.

  19. I submit my critics are wrong. Merely referring to imperial orthodoxy, blah blah, is not evidence in contradiction, merely a statement of imperial orthodoxy. I’m referring to emergent and distinctly Australian nationalism, the gradual separation from the mother country within the friendly frame liberals, and the alternate working class senses of of more radical and republican nationalism. It was these two movements that were side-swiped by the war and all its attendents, as the imperial connection was watered with blood, and no quoting bunyip lord tuttleberry from tootlehoo or his faithful servant from before this time will serve to argue the contrary.

  20. Peter,

    This is not a comment on your Grandfather’s case as I simply do not know the circumstances but in respect of WW2 the AWM at the link provided suggests that prior to January 1942 “…it was open to anyone to seek release from their reserved occupations”.

    In my own forester father’s case he just went into town and joined up anyway.

  21. I’ve come in a littel late but here foes anyway… John says we should “honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV”. I agree, but I think special tribute should be paid to Lenin and the Russian Bolsheviks, and the handful of other European socialists who opposed the conflict from the outset. Not only that, but they actually organised actively against the war, and far from taking a pacifist approach like Russell, argued for soldiers to turn the bayonets against their own generals. The Russian Revolution was the decisive event in ending the war – Russia’s withdrawal from the war spurred the subsequent rebellion by sailors in Germany that ended that country’s participation as well. We can argue about what happened afterwards, but I think the Communists’ role in WWI is indisputable.

  22. Point taken about the Bolsheviks, but it points as well to the general breakdown of the German army in the west. In some ways it was the triumph of sanity against militarism and “duty”, and should not be forgotten in the ending of the war.

    And Observa – thanks for taking the trouble. I think it is really important to keep emphasising the realities as compared to the cartoon versions we repeat to each other, with the best will in the world.

  23. Jarvis,
    The Russian withdrawal prolonged the war, not shortened it. The ability to transfer the many divisions engaged against the Russians to the western front meant that the Hindenburg Line was held for longer than it otherwise would have been. It was the breaching of this (at least in part by Australians) that convinced the German High Command that they could not win with the American pouring in as well.
    The Bolsheviks had no choice but to pull out, despite the humiliating terms, but that does not mean that they shortened the war. Far from it.
    The sailors rebellion happened after they saw that they were to be ordered to sea to sacrifice themselves in a futile last gesture – see here not as the result of communist agitation. I would have rebelled myself if ordered to do that.

  24. AR, that is why they have other troops behind those being made to sacrifice themselves, driving the forlorn hope on (“…those behind cried forward…”). I wonder why that system had broken down in Russia.

  25. Two other things to remember:
    It’s, “They shall grow not old ..” not “not grow old..”
    “… we will remember them.” not “shall”.

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