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ANZAC DAY 2024 – ‘Rifle Shooters Remember the Sacrifice and Commitment’

Apr 22, 2024 | NRAA News

by Bruce A.R. Scott, CSC, ADC

ANZAC Day history began in the darkness before dawn, as Australian and New Zealand soldiers rowed towards Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.  On 25 April 1916, ANZAC Day became officially recognised and is a day for all Australians and New Zealanders to pause, reflect and remember those who have served our two nations.

The landing at Gallipoli was anticipated to be a quick action that would remove Turkey from World War I (WWI).  By the end of that first fateful day, the battle had claimed the lives of 754 Australians and 147 New Zealanders, and wounded more than 2000.  It escalated into an eight-month battle with heavy casualties on both sides.

It was the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during WWI, and it sent shock-waves through both the Australian and New Zealand societies that are still felt today.

One of the enduring gifts they, unknowingly, gifted us as a nation was a set of values that have come to be called the ANZAC spirit.  Charles Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent and historian for World War 1, when reflecting on the ANZAC spirit stated: “ANZAC stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.”

The ANZAC spirit is not something that ceased to exist when the guns eventually fell silent.

More than 100 years on, while there are no longer any living survivors of the Gallipoli campaign, our commemorations continue, eternal flames still burn as a symbol of our nation’s gratitude to those who gave their lives, and the ANZAC spirit they ignited burns brightly in the hearts, minds and lives of us all today.

These quotes, from those who served at Gallipoli, assist with understanding a little of what the ANZACs faced:

——————–

LT Thomas Grace wrote:  “If you … look seawards, the beautiful Aegean stretched for miles …. Turn around and all the horrors of the war greet you!”

On 9 November 1915 Arthur Currey, a Kiwi, wrote about his thoughts while recovering in the St John Auxiliary Hospital at Manchester UK:

            ‘Our trenches were full of infantry waiting to charge so the Turks turned their guns on to us wholesale and played havoc with our trenches.  Two men next to me were knocked out but I was missed.  The first Brigade charged at 5.30, and it was a grand sight.  They got across the open space alright but before they could get into the covered trenches the enemy shrapnel got them and mowed them down.  It takes a lot to stop our boys of ANZAC and fresh lines of men were still going across when the black smoke from bursting shells blotted everything out as soon as our lads were a few yards from our trenches.  I was kept busy all that night running between our post and the Brigade Headquarters.”

Currey also wrote:  “Words fail to describe the stench, flies and heat.”

Let us also remember our nurses.  In 1915, Lottie Le Gallais left her job at Auckland Public Hospital and became one of 10 nurses on the first voyage of the hospital ship SS Maheno.  The Maheno cared for wounded ANZAC troops at Gallipoli.  It was proudly described by Lottie as ‘an errand of mercy for all you men.’  Two of Lottie’s brothers Leddie and Owen, also served.  Leddie was killed at Gallipoli and Owen survived the war.  Lottie died in 1956.

Jim Ashton who served with the 2nd Light Horse remembered after watching the film Gallipoli in 1981- ‘It was an armistice day’ Jim said simply.  ‘It was called between the two opposing sides because the dead had to be buried…..  Maybe they were worried the disease caused by the rotting bodies may have made the other men ill, so they couldn’t fight each other.  The opposing trenches were only about 20 metres apart, and a human chain was formed between the two camps.  One Australian, one Turk and so on.  Behind these lines we buried our own.  It was unspeakable.’

Many ANZACs were dismayed to be leaving their fallen mates behind.  On 19 December, as he waited to leave, Company Quarter Master Sergeant A L Guppy, 14th Battalion, of Benalla, Victoria, confided his feelings about the withdrawal in his diary. His words probably spoke for them all:

‘Not only muffled is our tread

To cheat the foe,

We fear to rouse our honoured dead

To hear us go.

Sleep sound, old friends – the keenest smart

Which, more than failure, wounds the heart,

Is thus to leave you – thus to part,

Comrades, farewell!’

————–

What is not widely known is the role played, after war was declared, by many members of the rifle clubs across Australia at the time.  Australian rifle shooters willingly and in large numbers answered the ‘call to arms’ eagerly volunteering to do their duty and in so doing were actively involved in ‘defining our great nation’.

In the early 1900s many Australian country towns had rifle clubs and these clubs were an integral part of the social fabric of these small communities. The consequences of the Great War were enormous and many of our small towns were afflicted with the persistent pain of losing much loved members of their communities. 

As we look towards the Anzac Day commemoration in 2024, I ask all National Rifle Association of Australia clubs and members to remember and reflect on the commitments made by our club members during the Great War and the conflicts that followed, some of which resulted in the ultimate sacrifice.

We recall shooters who died during the Great War.  Among them was Private Edward Augustine Cahill of the Townsville Rifle Club, Private Harry John Graham of the Barcaldine Rifle Club and Private William Haswell Shelton of the Cloyna Rifle Club in the South Burnett.

These three diggers had several things in common, including they were all members of Queensland Rifle Clubs, all enlisted with the 9th Battalion as Privates, and embarked with their respective companies on board the Transport Ship A5 Omrah from Brisbane on 24 September 1914.

Sadly, they were all killed in action on the very first day of the Gallipoli landings – the 25 April 1915.

We must never forget the sacrifices made by Australians during the Great War and all other conflicts that followed.  Equally, we must never take for granted the losses suffered by the families that lived on without their loved ones after the various conflicts ended.

Today, ANZAC Day is set aside for us to remember those, including our rifle club members, who have served our country in all conflicts, to reflect upon their unselfish service and to embrace the history that has defined our country – at this time each year we keep that history alive through reflecting on the past. 

LEST WE FORGET

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