Anzac Day. On that day 105 years ago Australian and New Zealand troops went ashore at Gallipoli, hence the term embracing Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. Nearly 8,000 Australians died from the bullet, disease and sickness during that campaign which continued to the end of the year. There were another twenty six thousand casualties. Yet, it was not the first action Australians saw nor was the first fatalities for our nation recorded at Gallipoli. It was during an action against a German signal station in New Guinea which was then under German control. It is called the Battle of Bita Paka (11/9/14). It was a successful Australian attack, navy and military, in which we incurred our first casualties. Seven Australians were killed.
Perhaps on this day, 25th April, we should remember Private Harry Hodgman, the first Tasmanian to die, perhaps the first Australian, on that fateful morning when he was being rowed ashore. A Turkish sniper put an end to his young life. He was twenty three years old and is buried at Line Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli.
We should remember Nurse Elizabeth (Lizzy) Orr, later Sister Orr, and then Matron. Lizzy hailed from near Hamilton and was Matron of the hospital ships that took the wounded and sick from Gallipoli, the Mediterranean and Salonika, over those many months. What a responsibility. That was not her first military experience as she was a nurse during The Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. Like all nurses at that time, she paid her own way to get the front.
And we remember, General Sir John Gellibrand, born at Ouse, not far from where Lizzy was. Gellibrand became Tasmania’s highest ranking officer during the war. Gellibrand, though always controversial, was a humane man and after the war started the Remembrance Club helping the veterans, widows and families. It became Legacy, a nation-wide organisation which still has the same principles commenced by Gellibrand.
From Gallipoli of course, men were evacuated to the Middle East, to be joined by many others, for recreation, re-training and to be sent to the battle fields of the Western Front, France and Belgium. Thousands of Australians remained in Palestine and Egypt as mounted infantry with the Australian Light Horse to fight the Ottoman Empire.
There were many battles and campaigns in the western front and Tasmanians were awarded eleven Victorian Crosses, one going to Henry William (Harry) Murray from Evandale, who became the highest decorated soldier in the British Commonwealth. Overall, 60,000 Australians died during WWI, including 3,000 Tasmanians and three as many, casualties. In all, a quarter of million men from a small national population of under five million.
The war ended 11th hour, 11th November 1918 and the Versailles Treaty was signed the following year. Just twenty years on, the scenario was repeated when on the 3rd of September 1939 WWII began. Australians served in all theatres of war, army, navy and air force and more than eight thousand died because of neglect, brutality and disease while POWs under the Japanese. The toll of our Air Force men was enormous, more than ten thousand.
In all, 14 Tasmanians have been awarded the Victorian Cross, our last in Afghanistan Corporal Stewart Cameron. By my reckoning, that’s 14 per cent of the hundred awarded to the whole of Australia. Yet, we make only up only 2 and half per cent of the national population. A huge sacrifice and record.
Many memorials dot our hamlets, villages, towns and cities calling us to remember those who made the greatest of all sacrifice and those who served. Post WWII saw Korea, Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam and the latter military campaigns, including Afghanistan which rages still.
They fought for freedom. Yet, freedom is not only won on the battlefield. The freedoms which we have and have inherited go back thousands of years. Freedom is not given; it is won by sacrifice backed by a hunger to treasure such a concept. War is not the only way to defend our freedoms. We, as a people, must be forever vigilant to maintain those freedoms, such as freedom of movement, thought and expression. Those treasured rights that our forefathers fought for – and won, are under severe threat, not by an enemy heading to our shores, but from our own legislators.
This year 2020 is a strange year in that our usual ANZAC services cannot be held. This is a tragedy. Never before, in my now long life or anyone’s for that matter, has this occurred. Still, we must not be deterred. We must remember those whom we honour on this day and reflect on for what they fought. They fought for their families, their community, Australia and their friends and our way of life. Let us reflect not only on their sacrifices, but also why they left our shores to do so.
Lest we forget.