This post looks at the celebration of Anzac Day in 1918. At the same time, it also traces the intimate relationship between the celebration of Empire Day and Anzac Day over the course of the War and notes how Anzac Day grew from, and eventually eclipsed, Empire Day.
Post 3 looked at Empire Day (24 May) in the Shire of Alberton in 1914 when celebrations for Empire Day in 1914 were relaxed, even if the spectre of trouble in Ireland – potentially even civil war – was present.
One year later, Australia, as part of the Empire, was at war and Empire Day was celebrated almost exactly one month after the landing at Gallipoli. The timing inevitably raises questions about how much of the Anzac story was known by that point and how did the very recent events at Gallipoli influence the celebration of Empire Day.
In terms of what was known of the events at Gallipoli by the time of Empire Day 1915, it appears that there was certainly sufficient detail for at least the core of the Anzac story to have been fashioned.
First official word of the landing on Gallipoli came in the Federal Parliament on 29 April, 1915. The Australasian on 1/5/15 reported the PM (Fisher) stating,
Some days ago the Australian War Expeditionary Forces were transferred from Egypt to the Dardanelles. They have since landed, and have been in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula. News reaches us that the action is proceeding satisfactorily.
Fisher quoted the cable message he had received from the (British) Secretary of State for the Colonies. This cable also spoke of the success of the operation and the ‘gallantry’ of the men. Fisher also quoted the response from the Governor-General:
The Government and people of Australia are deeply gratified to learn that their troops won distinction in their first encounters with the enemy. We are confident that they will carry the King’s colours to further victory.
Overall, the first official commentary on Anzac, less than a week after the landing, presented the action as a success and hailed the fighting quality of the AIF. Critically, there was also official confirmation that the Australian troops had proved themselves in battle. The more expansive and laudatory descriptions of the AIF in action at Gallipoli began to appear within a week. For example, Ashmead-Bartlett’s account appeared in The Argus on 8/5/15. Casualty lists began to appear from early May. However it was not until mid to late June that the papers were full of personal accounts by soldiers recovering in hospital in Egypt. Further, Bean’s account did not appear until mid June. It appeared in The Argus on 18/6/15.
In the Shire of Alberton, the basic story was picked up very quickly. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published Ashmead -Barlett’s account on 12/5/15. The comprehensive account appeared under the headlines: Gallant Australians. Full Story Of Their Fight. Troops Landed In Darkness. Attacked On Seashore. Heroes Of Mons Equalled.
Both nationally and locally, May 1915 saw an increasing flow of information on the Gallipoli campaign. The basis of the Anzac story was established very quickly and universally. The essential features of this story were: the campaign had been a success, even if the notion of ‘success’ had to be increasingly qualified and portrayed in terms broader than military objectives; the AIF had ‘proved itself’ in battle as at least the equal of British troops; the AIF had shown itself to have a distinctly Australian character; Australia’s national identity and the essential character of its people were tied to the AIF; Gallipoli had been a defining moment in Australia’s short history; Australia was robustly and selflessly defending the Empire; and, lastly, it had always been Australia’s manifest destiny to fight for the Empire, and therefore the death and sacrifice of Anzac were inevitable. Critically, Anzac and Empire were intimately linked. The story of Anzac was an extension of the story of Empire.
One way of demonstrating how the Anzac story was so intimately tied to the fundamentals of love for and duty towards the Empire is to look at how, just one month after Gallipoli, the story of Anzac was handled at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram in 1915. These particular celebrations were directly driven by the local community, in the sense that several prominent locals, despairing that the local council had not taken the initiative to highlight the importance of Empire Day that year, had come together to ensure that due recognition was given. In their planning session – reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/5/15 – they referred to the belief that Empire Day that year had … far greater significance and there were references to the ‘present crisis’ and the fact that this year was … more than an ordinary occasion. The present crisis was both the parlous situation in Europe and, of course, the fighting at Gallipoli. Both events underlined the fundamental link between Australia and the Empire or, more accurately, the seamless whole of the relationship.
The celebrations took place on the evening of Empire Day (Monday, 24/5/15). They were reported in the local paper on 26/5/15 under the bold headline: Monster Public Gathering. At the outset, the local council was again criticised for its lack of patriotic spirit. Post 59 has already looked in detail at this event but it is worth recalling just how strong the commitment to the Empire was.
On the night, there were numerous accounts of the greatness of the Empire. In fact, there were so many speakers lined up that several had to give up their turn because the event was proving too drawn out for all the children there. One stirring speech was made by a visiting Presbyterian minister (Cadwallader Jones) who extolled the 1,000 year Empire:
There was something about the British Empire which appealed to Australians, and in the present crisis a sense of its power and grandeur was felt by all. It sent a thrill of independence through us, and we gloried in the legacy which our forefathers had left us; they who had shed their blood to overcome every hindrance which beset them. The flag that had braved all breezes, and all wars for the past thousand years would still be kept flying, and vindicate our right to the Divine possession. (Applause).
After promising that in the present fighting the allies would … triumph as sure as there is a God in heaven, Cadwallader Jones turned his attention to the very recent events at Gallipoli, praised the great deeds of the AIF – the idea of the Anzacs deeds living forever was already clearly apparent – and located the fighting in terms of a broader Imperial struggle against evil, in this case the corrupt Ottoman Empire. At this point the revision of the status of the Turkish enemy – Abdul – was still some time away. Specifically, Cadwallader Jones condemns the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, an unresolved issue 100 years on:
We have reason to be proud that our nation is having vengeance on the Turks for those awful Armenian atrocities, and will wipe out the Ottoman Empire. He [Cadwallader Jones] never dreamt that he would live to see the day when the Australians would go forth to avenge that awful wrong. What magnificent deeds they had done in the Gallipoli Peninsula cutting off the enemy and trampling them under feet, though at terrible cost, for we are overwhelmed with grief when we read the casualty list. Though our men are laying down their lives to avenge the wrong we will not forget them, their names will be engraved in the hardest tablet of stone, so that our children, and our children’s children, shall know of the heroism and noble deeds of our men in the cause of justice, ever ready to face death itself. (Applause).
The resolution passed by those gathered that night clearly placed the triumph of Gallipoli within its proper Imperial context. Gallipoli had realised the Nation’s Imperial destiny:
This meeting of citizens of Yarram and district, affirms its confidence in the solidarity of our Empire and the integrity of our cause, and while expressing its unbounded admiration of the gallantry of our representatives at the front, and its deepest sympathy with those bereaved, urges upon (sic) all our people to rise to a realisation of our Empire as exemplified by the conduct of our men upon both land and sea.
Besides the speeches and songs that night, there was plenty of visual reinforcement of the ideals of Empire.
A pretty scene was presented when over thirty Yarram school children marched on to the stage, each carrying Union Jacks. The girls were attired in white frocks, and the boys wore red, white and blue ties. The popular songs “Red, White and Blue” and “Sons of the Sea” were given with considerable vim, the choir and audience taking up the chorus.
Whereas the first Anzac Day was, in effect, celebrated as part of Empire Day, by 1918 Anzac Day was a national day in its own right, even if it did not become a public holiday in all states and territories until the end of the 1920s. Moreover, while Empire Day continued to be celebrated it was obvious that in just 3 years the celebration of Anzac Day had already eclipsed that of Empire Day. However, there was a major qualification to this observation, in that it was definitely not the case that by 1918 the celebration of the Empire had in any way diminished. Rather it was just the case that it made more sense – seemed more natural – to focus on the celebration of the Empire as part of Anzac Day. In effect, Empire Day, even though it continued to run as a separate and distinct celebration until the late 1950s – morphed with Anzac Day, just as Anzac Day had been celebrated as part of Empire Day in 1915.
The shift to Anzac Day is very evident in the local paper. There are very few reports of specific Empire Day activities in the local district for May 1918. The paper reported on 31/5/18 of Empire Day Celebrations held at Stacey’s Bridge. The report was very brief and just noted that a … social evening and dance was held on Empire night to raise funds for the Education Department’s April-May appeal. On 5/6/18 there was a report on the success of fundraising by the local Methodist church for Empire Day. There was also a special service for the Methodist congregation for ‘Empire Sunday’.
The detailed reporting of local celebrations for Anzac Day offered a stark contrast. On 19/5/18, the paper published the full school program for Anzac Day. Two days earlier, the paper had published a report of how the (Federal) Minister of Recruiting had requested state education departments to promote bonfires on Anzac night:
… in addition to any other celebration that might be proposed, the head master of public and private schools be asked to arrange that bonfires be erected in school grounds or selected positions with due regard to safety and in charge of responsible officers, and all to be lit simultaneously at 7.30 on Anzac night. He suggested that patriotic songs be rendered by the children, and in view of the seriousness of the present position [The German Spring Offensive], the ceremony be made as impressive as possible.
The 2 references to the schools serve to remind just how important the (Victorian) Education Department was, not just in establishing the practice and form of Anzac Day but in also fashioning the very story of Anzac. There were obviously other influences – for example, the 1916 publication of The Anzac Book edited by Bean – but the role of the various state education departments was critical. Triolo (2011) covers the role of the Victorian Education Department in great detail. And prior to Gallipoli, the Education Department had fashioned and taught the Empire story. Essentially, the state education departments over the course of WW1 – and before and after it – were highly influential in shaping the attitudes of not just the students but their families and the wider community to the War. These departments through their own publications – in Victoria it was the School Paper – also provided an ongoing commentary, if not narrative, of the War. The account was unmistakably Imperial.
As well as the school preparations for Anzac Day, the local paper gave notice (24/4/18) of what was planned by way of other activities on the day. There was advice that between 12 and 2.00 pm local stores would be closed and that a united (Protestant) church service would be held in Thompson’s Hall. In the afternoon, attention was to shift to the school (Yarram SS) for its program and at the same event a number of district soldiers were to be formally welcomed home. At night, a bonfire had been arranged at Port Albert. Lastly, the local Returned Soldiers’ League was to stage a smoke social in Thompson’s Hall. There was concern that the bonfire at Port Albert was going to keep some returned men from the smoke social in Yarram. The smoke social will be covered separately in a coming post as it revealed yet more division and conflict over the issue of repatriation.
The report covering all the events appeared in the local paper the day after Anzac Day.
The welcome home ceremony was a central component of the prescribed school celebrations for Anzac Day 1918. On the day there were 12 returned soldiers present and of this number 4 were very recently returned. The welcome home meant that a large crowd of locals also assembled at the school for the ceremony. Having the school as the centre of the celebration obviously raised the status and gravitas of the day. As well, the presence of the returned men helped formalise the solemnity. Their presence also had an obvious impact on the speeches made. The opening remarks made by the head teacher – E A Paige – were full of praise for the Anzacs. Their efforts had not only been comparable to the best of the Empire but had in fact exceeded them.
Mr. E. A Paige, head teacher, extended a cordial welcome to all, and addressing the children impressed upon them the importance of commemorating Anzac Day. It was the day our Australian boys landed at Gallipoli against well-armed enemies. They had read of the charge of the Light Brigade, but what the Australians had done put that feat in the shade, when they landed against such odds on 25th April 1915. He extended a hearty welcome to the returned men, and hoped Anzac Day would be solemnly celebrated every year.
Another speaker that day was the Rev C J Walklate, the local Methodist minister and another leading Imperial Loyalist. Walklate made the claim – commonly being made by this point – that Anzac Day was not just a significant event in Australia’s history it was in fact the beginning of Australian history, which history, at least in his view, was very simplistic:
… the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. They had read of the exploits of our explorers, who mapped out the land for civilisation to come and make homes for the present generation. But the tragic landing at Gallipoli eclipsed everything else.
The presentation of Gallipoli as some form of ‘tragedy’ had been well established. Sacrifice had been an essential element of this tragedy and the ideal of sacrifice had been instilled in the Anzacs as young boys at school – just like the school children there on that Anzac Day in 1918 – who had read of the glories of the Empire. The Anzac story was the next inevitable chapter of the Empire story. As Walklate put it,
The spirit our boys displayed [at Anzac], was moulded by reading the doings of other brave men in past years.
Another speaker that day was Inspector Greenwood. He told the students that, On 25th April 1915 Australia leaped into history. He spoke about the … records of the deeds of these brave boys. And he described them in an Australian style as ‘dinkum Anzacs’.
Clearly there was an emerging nationalist focus evident: Australian history only begins with Anzac; the AIF is not just the equal of the British Army its troops are better; Australia has effectively ‘come of age’.
However, just as Empire Day and Anzac Day were intimately connected, the new sense of Australian nationalism was still most definitely contained within the broader commitment to Empire. For clear evidence of this seamless connection consider the song – For England – which was prescribed in the formal school program for the day and was to be was sung by the students. Arguably, it was even more suitable for Empire Day than Anzac Day. Moreover, it had been written by an Australian – James Drummond Burns (1895-1915). Burn’s poem had been set to music by L A Adamson, the headmaster of Wesley College. Burns, a corporal in 21 Battalion, was killed at Gallipoli in September 1915. He was 20 yo at the time. He had been born in Victoria and had been a student of Scotch College. In many ways the young Burns embodied the qualities of the Rev George Cox’s ‘Soldier of Christ’ (Post 26).
The song, For England is reproduced below. Its Imperial sentiment and sentimentality are unmistakable. It was created within the environment of the Victorian elite public school but it was sung on Anzac Day in 1918 in all state schools.
The bugles of England were blowing o’er the sea,
As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me;
They woke me from dreaming in the dawning of the day
The bugles of England – and how could I stay?
The banners of England, unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me;
Storm-rent and battle-torn, smoke stained and grey,
The banners of England – and how could I stay?
O England, I heard the cry of those who died for thee,
Sounding like an organ-voice across the winter sea;
They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way,
England, O England – how could I stay.
There are uncanny similarities here with the comments made above by Rev Cadwallader Jones at the Empire Day celebrations in Yarram on May 24,1915. The poem itself appeared in the school’s paper, The Scotch Collegian in May 1915.
One hundred years on, our own celebrations of Anzac Day do not recognise the Imperial basis for the history of the event – indeed, we celebrate it as a distinctly national and nationally-defining event – but in 1918 its Imperial genesis was fundamental, unmistakable and unchallenged. At the time, Anzac Day was an extension of Empire Day. Over time, it effectively replaced it; but the historical drift from Imperialism to Nationalism took a long period of our history. In another irony, in a post-Brexit world, the UK appears keen to reach back to an earlier version of its relationship with Australia, when it was still its ‘Mother Country’.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Triolo, R 2012, Our Schools and the War, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne
For more detail on James Drummond Burns and For England see The Scotch College World War I Commemorative Website