100 years of ANZAC

As the 100-year anniversary of Gallipoli approaches COVERED’s John Vickery takes a moment to think about what it really means to us as a nation.

I was discussing Anzac Day with one of my best mates recently and we both asked ourselves, what is the true spirit of Anzac? As we mulled over the subject I came up with this scenario, to put us back on that morning in 1915, that made our young nation come of age.

“It’s April 25, just after dawn and I’m sitting in a row boat with my four best mates being towed into the shore at Gallipoli. I’m 15 and 10 months old. My mates are 17, 16 and 18 respectively.

“A few months ago we were running around in the safety of Australia, with all the dreams and hopes in the world. All of a sudden we are offered the trip of a lifetime, a chance to represent our country Australia, for King and country mother England. That notion had been indoctrinated into us all through school - it was the thing to do.

“We look at each other and say, ‘Bloody oath, let’s give it a crack, what an adventure’, and sign ourselves up. “At training camp we are shown the ropes of combat fighting, just like when you ran around the yard playing soldiers. We are kitted up in army gear, with a striking uniform, and promised we’ll be home for Christmas, or so we’re told to tell our mums.

“We board a mighty steam ship. First port of call Egypt which we only thought we would ever see in the textbooks at school.

“And then we’re there, in that row boat, in a foreign sea, with our best mates, in the dark of the early morning, being towed towards the shore.

“Tzip, boom, crack, two of our mates slump forward, blood pouring out of their heads. Tzip, tzip, tzip, three more bullets fly past our heads… I take another look at my best mate lying next to me and he’s dead.

“And in one split second, just like that, we grow up.”  

On the frontline it is hard to imagine what happened almost 100 years or 36,500 days ago. What those boys faced and how they felt as they boarded the boats to shore.  

I travelled to Gallipoli for Anzac Day in 1997, as a 21-year-old backpacking scallywag. Two mates and I boarded a plane at Heathrow airport in London and set out on the pilgrimage, to experience the Anzac legend, to see what really happened and pay our respects.

You see, as an Aussie or a Kiwi, the bond is irrefutable. We hold a strong connection to the Anzac spirit and comradeship that is shown when our backs are against the wall. It is viewed as almost a rite of passage to see the place where, in that split second, a whole generation of Australians and New Zealanders characterised what makes Aussies and Kiwi’s tick. It is the one act in Australian history that forged our country’s position in the world.

In essence that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. As I read the best seller Gallipoli by Les Carlyon,
I can only imagine the horrific scene that it was. One all mighty cock-up from start to almost finish. A bloody mess and tragedy all rolled into one. A place of sacrifice and valour, where old school British officers made life ending decisions on a group of young men we know as the Gallipoli Anzacs.

In 1997, on that day at the Anzac Cove Dawn service, listening to the buglers sound the last post, huddled together with 3000 other young Aussies and Kiwis, shivering in the cold depth of the morning, an amazing sense of national pride and presence came over us all. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences

I will never forget.