Tag Archives: anniversaries

History, war and remembering in 2018

100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice

The 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice will be one of the most notable anniversaries commemorated in 2018.

On 11 November 2018 it will be one hundred years since the First World War Armistice. On this day,  at the eleventh hour, all military action ceased — four years of global war ended.

In allied countries, like Australia, the news of the Armistice and their victory was greeted with immense joy. Reconciling the real cost of the war would come later.

The Australian War Memorial will commemorate the centenary of the Armistice with a creative public program, which will combine public activities, displays, installations and events for the five-week period from 5 October to Remembrance Day, on 11 November 2018. Details can be found here.

The centrepiece for the commemorations will be the installation of 62,000 knitted red poppy flowers on the Memorial’s grounds. Each poppy represents an Australian life lost in the First World War, who are individually listed on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour.

Other 2018 military anniversaries

Other significant military anniversaries in 2018 include:

1 May 2018: 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943
13 May 2018: 50th anniversary of the Battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral (Vietnam War) in 1968
27 July 2018: 65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice in 1953
16 October 2018: 75th anniversary of Australian work on Hell Fire Pass and completion of the Thai Burma Railway in 1943

What will you be remembering in 2018?

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Armistice Day, 1918, Swanston St. Melbourne




Remember this is a voice from the tomb

James Wilson was one of the last convicts transported to Australia. His words below are from a smuggled letter sent in 1874 to John Devoy, a Fenian leader, in America. James Wilson’s desperate appeal led the American Fenians to organise the 1876 Catalpa rescue — the liberation of six Fenian convicts from Fremantle gaol.


Now, dear friend, remember this is a voice from the tomb…we have been nearly nine years in this living tomb…it is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain…one or the other must give away.
— James Wilson


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The last convicts transported to Australia

Very best wishes for the New Year.

Today, is the anniversary of a significant date in Australian history.

One-hundred and fifty years ago convicts stopped being transported to Australia. The last convicts arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia on 10 January 1868, on the ship Hougoumont.

According to Richard Reid in Sinners, Saints & Settlers, 62 of these last convicts were Irishmen who would not have accepted their criminal status. They were Fenians, part of the revolutionary 19th century movement to establish an Irish Republic, through physical force if necessary. Forty-five of the men were political prisoners, tried for treasonous acts or taking part in attempted uprisings in 1867. The remaining men were military Fenians —  soldiers in the British army court-martialed for mutinous conduct.

You can find interesting articles about the Hougoumont and the end of convict transportation in Troves Digitised Newspapers. One article, that caught my interest was the Perth newspaper, the Inquirer and Commercial News, listing on 15 January 1867 of the Fenian convicts and the sentences they received. See below for this or you can find it here.


list of convicts

2nd list of convicts

The sentence hanged, drawn & quartered must have been underlined in the original newspaper. It is a bit disturbing knowing this sentence was actually given to convicts. Agree or disagree? 

100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba

Yesterday (31 October) was the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba. One hundred years ago Australian light horsemen charged against Turkish defences to capture the town of Beersheba.

The account below explaining the Battle of Beersheba is taken from two books that I often reach for when I am trying to understand Australia’s military involvement in the First World War — The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles by Chris Clark and Broken Nation by Joan Beaumont.

Australians were in Palestine as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). The commander-in-chief of the EEF, General Sir Edmund Allenby had been told by the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George to take Jerusalem as a Christmas gift for the British nation. To do this the EEF needed to break the Turkish defensive line focussed on Gaza and Beersheba.

Allenby decided that this would be done by capturing Beersheba and its valuable water wells and then moving onto Gaza. The plan had British infantry troops attacking Beersheba and Gaza simultaneously, while the Australian and New Zealand horsemen of the Desert Mounted Corps would come in from another direction to also attack Beersheba.

By the afternoon of the 31 October the Desert Mounted Corps were in place for the final attack on Beersheba. Taking the town had become critical because of the desperate need for water. Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps called upon the fresh troops of Brigadier General William Grant’s 4th Light Horse Brigade to lead the attack.

It was decided that given the urgency of the situation the attack would be a high risk cavalry charge across open ground. The 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments formed three lines about 500 metres apart, with five metres between each rider. Not having cavalry weapons, the lance or sabre, the troops made do by carrying their long bayonets in their hands.

As they approached the Turkish trenches the light horsemen broke into a gallop, drew bayonets and yelled wildly. Turkish field guns, machine guns, rifles and even German aerial bombing were unable to stop the charge. The unexpected speed and momentum of the light horsemen allowed them to quickly overtake the Turkish defenders. Within an hour all resistance collapsed.

For Australians the successful charge at Beersheba was welcomed news after the frightful stories of futility coming from the Western front in 1917. Below is one of the early news reports of the breakthrough at Beersheba. This understated account, with map, appeared in Hobart’s newspaper  The Mercury on the 3 November 1917. Later accounts like this one in the Singleton Argus on the 8 November 1917, which highlighted the ANZACs feats, would help to build the national memory of Beersheba as a moment of Australian exceptionalism.


Beersheba report


Centenary of the First Battle for Passchendaele

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).

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Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History

When does history begin? raised questions about when modern events like 9/11 move from news to historical event.

My prompt for this was, in part, an engaging new documentary series on SBS, Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History. Eight key events in recent American history are explored through the popular music that influenced the event and defined the collective memory of that time.

SBS kicked off the series with the episode exploring 9/11. The use of music to understand 9/11 and its aftermath seemed to work brilliantly. Gold star viewing!

The show started with songs like The Rising by Bruce Springsteen that calmed and comforted people dealing with overwhelming shock and grief. It highlighted how classics like New York State of Mind by Billy Joel and We are family by Sister Sledge, played at Benefit concerts were reborn as anthems of strength and solidarity.

Later when shock and grief turned to anger country music caught the national mood, with Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue one of the angriest songs. Against this trend Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks, just before the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq, made a throw-away comment, that she was ashamed of President Bush a fellow Texan. Conservative Americans were outraged. Three years later The Dixie Chicks  told a polarised America they were Not ready to make nice.

The show also featured the songs of commemoration. The segment on the ten-year anniversary and Paul Simon singing The Sound of Silence made me cry. The 2009 Empire State of Mind by Jay Z and Alicia Keys a song representing a renewed and resilient New York gave the story of 9/11 an upbeat ending, a story of survival.

I think this is a great series to watch if you are interested in popular music and recent American history. Also a great example of how we can make history that is entertaining, informative and important!

What are the soundtracks that have defined Australian history? Suggestions?