The Anzac Centenary

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By Mary McConville


“One hundred years ago, thousands of Victorians embarked from Port Melbourne bound for the battlefields of World War One. By the end of October 1914, 17 troopships had left Victorian shores carrying troops, nurses, technicians, horses, supplies and weaponry. This was Victoria’s First Convoy.” Denis Napthine, Premier of Victoria

August marked the centenary of the beginning of World War One. Sixteen million people died during this first major war, combatants on both sides and civilians. The conditions for the war had been simmering away in Europe for many years beforehand. Then the official hostilities erupted when the Austro- Hungarian Archduke was assassinated.

Australia considered itself a loyal part of the British Empire and sent thousands of its people to join in the fighting. In the beginning these soldiers were eager and patriotic volunteers. Later when the menfolk were less able and less willing to fight there was some talk of introducing conscription. This caused some some social problems at home in Australia.

Many famous battles were fought and contributed to the Australian sense of self – Gallipoli, the Somme, Passchendaele and Lone Pine among others. Gallipoli was one that entered into our mythology. It was a very difficult task to invade well defended land from the sea and push into the enemies’ territory. They needed to reach the beach, climb the cliffs and take over the high ground. Some Australian troops managed this but were left without the extra men and ammunition that they needed. Without these the battle turned into a siege with all the disadvantages on the side of the Allies.

The last battle of the war was fought in France, ending on the 11th November, 1918 when the Armistice was signed in Germany. Then came the cleaning up, the less exciting but still very difficult aftermath. 60,000 men had died. Some were buried near when they fell as repatriating all of the bodies was impossible.

The war changed the life of many in Australia. Working class men had a opportunity to travel and broaden their minds and women were called to move into men’s jobs and keep the country running. Lives and innocence were lost but strengths and hard truths were found. Those who survived never really returned to the conformity and simple trust in their “betters” that was common during the Edwardian age.

Photo by Irene Grynbaum

Photo by Irene Grynbaum

Private and public memories abound. Families have treasured war stories and the memorabilia that went with them and passed them down through every generation. Public memories were incorporated into the many remembrance ceremonies and into government attitudes. According to the Victorian Premier, the Hon. Dr Denis Napthine “Everyone has a connection to the First World War, either through family, local community, place of work, or country of origin. The Anzac Centenary is an occasion for Victorians of all backgrounds and cultures to remember those who served … I recommend all Victorians to The Anzac Centenary – Mary McConville

commemorate the service and sacrifice of their ancestors and collectively honour their stories. Keeping these connections alive will ensure that the Anzac legacy lives on for future generations.”

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