Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand. It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.
At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations, engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:
We are the ANZAC Army
We cannot shoot, we don’t salute
What bloody good are we ?
And when we get to Ber – Lin
The Kaiser, he will say
Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !
What a bloody odd lot
to get six bob a day.
By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs. At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price. Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II. American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.
In 1918 four Australian divisions and the New Zealand division were locked in battle on the Western Front, grinding down the initial German offensives and then helping to lead the way in the battles of the Hundred Days that resulted in Allied victory. In the Middle East two Australian mounted divisions and a New Zealand mounted brigade performed prodigies in the battles that ended the Ottoman Empire. In 1919 Field Marshal Allenby praised the New Zealand troops who fought under his command:
“Nothing daunted these intrepid fighters: to them nothing was impossible.”
Let that stand as a tribute to all the Citizen soldiers of the Anzacs who fought in the Great War.