On 4 August 1914, the British Empire declared war on Germany and her allies and with that an enthusiastic Australia was at war. Within days white Australians were enlisting. Aboriginals were specifically barred from joining the newly federated Australia’s military forces though around 1,000 including Charles Blackman (picture 2) did mange to enlist.
Over four years later (the war was supposed to have been over before Christmas 1914), on 11 September 1918, the war ended. In the interim 61,514 (of around 330,000) Australian servicemen had lost their lives in the Great War and a further 150,000 were wounded or taken prisoner. Worldwide roughly 16 million people died in WWI. I leave it for the reader to ponder these figures.
Australia’s most famous, and indeed costly, encounter in WWI was the Gallipoli or Dardanelles campaign.
On 25 April 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula, ‘eliminate Turkey’ and end the war. The Australian/New Zealand combination became known as the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and so started an enduring military relationship between Australia and New Zealand and a spirit that continues to this day.
Between 25 April 1915 and 8 January 1916 almost 9,000 Australians lost their lives in the Dardanelles campaign. The campaign itself ended in complete failure with over 140,000 allied casualties. Even today, as I completely re-write this review on the 25 April 2015 exactly 100 years from the ANZACs Gallipoli landing, the Dardanelles campaign remains one of the most controversial of the World War I and is seen by many as one (of many) good examples of ‘lambs to the slaughter’.
The totally refurbished (late 2014) World War I galleries at the Australian War Memorial attempt to portray what life was like at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in the mud of Flanders and in the deserts of Sinai–Palestine during WWI through the War Memorial’s justifiably famous dioramas, relics such as a landing boat used at Gallipoli (pictured above) and perhaps most poignantly, the accounts of individual ANZAC soldiers, mainly recorded in their very personal letters and diaries.
While I have prepared a separate review on the Memorial’s 1920s dioramas, perhaps, more than any other exhibit in the Australian War Memorial, Peter Corlett’s 1989 diorama (my main image attached), “Man in the Mud”, gives us an idea of life on the Western Front. The image of the destruction, the desolation and the utter despair depicted by the soldier, head in hands, says, I feel, more than thousands of words could ever do.
As such, I will leave the reader with that image, though before I do so, I should comment on my final picture lest the reader wonder why I have included a picture of two German Iron Crosses. These medals, now on display in the Memorial, are from a box of around 100, destined for issue to German soldiers. On 8 August 1918 the medals fell into the hands of Australian soldiers many of whom returned home festooned in Iron Crosses with some worn in the most “undignified places” according to one soldier in a letter to his wife.
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