Every year, Australia attends dawn services to commemorate Anzac Day. But as the years pass by new stories emerge, giving a different perspective on Australia’s ‘Baptism of Fire.’
We often look at wars through a national prism, forgetting that soldiers suffered and families lost their children on all sides. We forget the people they left behind. Sometimes, we forget soldiers who remind us of difficult parts of our history. Let’s take a look at some forgotten Anzac stories.
Defending their homes
Last year, for the centenary commemoration, Erdem Koç reminded us that there are many stories surrounding the ‘Anzac legend’, and some are much less known than others. In his article for The Conversation, he explained how the battle of Gallipoli was a small part of a bigger combat that lasted 18 months for the Turks, who were defending their home.
‘If anything, the notion of ‘sacrificing for freedoms’ is truer for the Turks,’ he says. ‘Had the hundreds of thousands of young men not joined the army and headed to Gallipoli, had the bravery displayed on the frontlines not happened, it’s without doubt modern Turkey would not have been formed.’ He adds:
‘For the Australians, the battle was one fought for the imperialistic purposes of a self-serving empire, which had control over young Australia’s foreign policy. For the Turks, it was about defending the nation from enemy invasion.’
In 1934, Turkey’s first President encouraged reconciliation between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk wrote:
Here in this country of ours,
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries,
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.
So although we were part of the invading force, there is now a measure of unity in how we deal with Anzac Day. But what about the stories of Australian soldiers that don’t quite fit into our ideas of what an Anzac looks like?
Indigenous soldiers at Gallipoli
Indigenous Australians were not legally Australian citizens until 1967. So in 1914, there were significant cultural barriers for Indigenous Australians and this extended to joining the army. By 1917, these barriers were slightly relaxed and some soldiers were allowed to enlist. Gary Oakley, a war memorial Indigenous liaison officer at the Australian War Memorial, explains that Indigenous Australians were treated equally in the army:
‘Once in the service, as an indigenous soldier, you were treated as an equal; you have the same options for pay. When you are in the trenches, you don’t have the option of disliking the person behind you’
Historians think 50 Aboriginal soldiers fought in Gallipoli. Thirteen of them died there. It’s thought 800-1000 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, with around 250-300 killed.
There are now efforts to highlight this history. In 2014, the Dawn Service started with Able Seaman Darren Davies, from the Yidinji people, playing the didgeridoo. He declared:
‘There’s definitely some nerves there – but on the day it’s not the nerves, it’s more the pride in coming out and being part of the Anzac tradition … and what it means for indigenous men and women. That’s important to me. And I hope it leaves a mark for future generations.’
Women: at war and left behind.
There are other stories about Anzacs we might not know, like those of the women who went to war, and those who were left behind.
During WWI, women made a major contribution to the war effort, at the front as nurses, and at home, working and taking care of the families that soldiers had to leave behind. According to the Australian Department of Defence, 2,562 AANS nurses joined active service during WWI, with 423 of these women serving in Australia.
One story that has been highlighted recently is the story of the ‘Lighthouse Girl’, Fay Howe, told in a book by Dianne Wolfer.
The Lighthouse Girl signalled to the departing fleet in morse code, becoming the last human contact some of the young soldiers would ever have with Australia.
Weeks later, Fay started to receive postcards from the Middle East. They were addressed to ‘the little girl on Breaksea Island’. Her story inspired this amazing art work.
Lest we forget
Exploring our hidden stories is important when commemorating Anzac Day. If we don’t know the full picture, we aren’t respecting the whole amazing history of our involvement in global conflict.
Image: Remembrance by gerard4170