Yesterday (12 October) was the centenary of the First Battle for Passchendaele. This was the last major Australian engagement in the Third Ypres campaign on the Western Front. Australian, New Zealand and British forces unsuccessfully attempted to take the Passchendaele heights from the defending Germans.
For Australians, Passchendaele became shorthand for the slaughter and suffering of the Western Front. The fighting was ferocious, in heavy rain and on an endless pool of mud. The battle left seven thousand ANZACs dead or injured. Below is one of the many reports that appeared in Australian newspapers in the immediate aftermath of the First Battle for Passchendaele. This one was published on 16 October 1917 in The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW : 1873 – 1954).
Today, marks the centenary of the Great Strike of 1917. According to Joan Beaumont in Broken Nation the Australian eastern states erupted into industrial warfare in August 1917.
The catalyst was a dispute in the New South Wales Government Tramways Workshops in Randwick, Sydney. The railway management eager to cut costs introduced a new card system designed to measure the cost and performance of each worker. In response about 6,000 railway and tramway men stopped work on 2 August.
Within five weeks, almost 70,000 workers, across three states and numerous industries had joined the industrial action. Despite this initial energy, by September and October strikes at individual workplaces were broken and the union movement were left significantly diminished.
As Joan explains, the historical importance of the Great Strike of 1917 has largely been forgotten, overshadowed by the stronger story of the Anzac legend. Its centenary today is a good reminder that the search for historical truth is not always found in the headlines of history.
Do you think other events have been overshadowed by the story of the Anzac legend? How would you describe the Anzac legend?
Victorian Government railway engineering works, 1879
As Joan Beaumont explained in Broken Nation nearly 417,000 Australians enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the First World War. To enlist you had to take the oath (or make an affirmation):
I ….. swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lord the King in the Australian Imperial Force from ….. until the end of the War, and a further period of four months thereafter unless sooner lawfully discharged, dismissed, or removed therefrom; and that I will resist His Majesty’s enemies and cause His Majesty’s peace to be kept and maintained; and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service, faithfully discharge my duty according to law. So help me God.
More information about military oaths can be found in the Encyclopedia produced by the Australian War Memorial.
Can you imagine being one of the many Australians who took the oath? What meaning, if any, do you think it held for them?
Recruitment poster featuring Albert Jacka
In Gallipoli, the long and the short of it I recommended Gallipoli: A Short History by Michael McKernan for those interested in Gallipoli but time-poor.
For those who want to read more about Gallipoli, a good starting point may be the very comprehensive reading list compiled by Colin Simpson, a member of the Military Historical Society of Australia. You can find this in the Special Gallipoli Centenary Edition of Sabretache published by the Society in 2015.
The Special Gallipoli Centenary Edition doesn’t appear to be online but you should be able to find it at the library. At the National Library of Australia you can find Sabretache here.
Have you read a book about Gallipoli that you would recommend to others?
Today is Anzac Day. It is a day of national remembrance and the anniversary of Gallipoli — the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
Gallipoli must be the most written about event in Australian history. When I first became interested in the First World War I found the volume of information overwhelming. I am a slow reader and with not a lot of spare time I felt understanding Gallipoli was always going to elude me.
Gallipoli: A Short History by Michael McKernan was the book that explained Gallipoli for me. Published in 2010, the author’s intention in writing a short history was to make the Gallipoli story accessible to the general reader in the twenty-first century. I think he achieved it!
Besides the engaging narrative, the book includes: a comprehensive timeline; maps; photographs; and an appendix explaining Gallipoli place names. These additions really contributed to my understanding.
If you are interested in knowing more about Gallipoli this may be a book for your reading list.
Gallipoli: A Short History
In History, war and remembering in 2017 you can find details of significant Australian military anniversaries, including Anzac Day, that will be commemorated this year.
On Anzac Day and other days of remembrance a key tradition is the reciting of the Ode:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
After years of hearing the Ode I have only recently discovered that it is taken from a poem — the fourth stanza of For the fallen. Written by Laurence Binyon soon after the First World War had started and published in The Times in September 1914.
Looking at Troves Digitised Newspapers it appears that For the fallen was first published in Australia in The Ballarat Courier on 13 November 1914. After that it was printed in a range of newspapers during the war years and the fourth stanza started to feature in family notices — for the fallen.
Are these the words that made the suffering of the First World War bearable?
Australians commemorate Anzac Day, 25 April as a day of national remembrance for those who have died in war. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. This was the landing on Gallipoli, which happened 102 years ago, in April 1915.
Other 2017 military anniversaries
Other significant military anniversaries in 2017 include:
15 February 2017: 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore in 1942
19 February 2017: 75th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin in 1942
4 May 2017: 75th anniversary of the Battle of Coral Sea in 1942
4 June 2017: 75th anniversary of Bomber Command Operations in 1942
25 August 2017: 75th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay in 1942
14 September 2017: 70th anniversary of Australia’s first peacekeeping operation in 1947
26 September 2017: Centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in 1917
23 October 2017: 75th anniversary of Battle of El Alamein and the culmination of the North Africa campaigns in 1942
31 October 2017: Centenary of the Battle of Beersheba in 1917
2 November 2017: 75th anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign in 1942
11 November 2017: 99th anniversary of Remembrance Day in 1918
Early Anzac Day crowds at Anzac Arch, Adelaide
Is there an anniversary in 2017 that is particularly important to you?