The Anzac Myth – Was Australia born at Gallipoli?

Anzac Day is a day of observance commemorating the first major military action, the Gallipoli Campaign, fought by Australian and New Zealand troops during World War I. Although Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps it has also become synonymous with what is known as the “Anzac Myth”.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. This campaign was intended to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. A long fight, there were over sixty thousand Australians that fought Turkish forces alongside New Zealand, British, French, Indian and Newfoundland forces. Heavy casualties, including 8,000 Australians, were taken during this 8-month campaign and ultimately resulted in a definitive win for the Ottoman Empire.

The outcome of this defeat resulted in the idea of the Anzac Myth, the birth of modern Australian identity. This 1915 birth of modern Australian identity seems to conflict with the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia fourteen years earlier on January 1, 1901 which many people cite as the true birthdate for Australian identity.

Many authors, researchers and academics agree the birth of the country in 1901 was and should be considered the true beginnings of this notion of Australian identity and values such as sacrifice and standing by your mates. However, Anzac Day has become a popular tradition in not only Australia but in other parts of the world including Canada despite the country not participating in the campaign. At the time of the campaign, Newfoundland was a separate colony of the United Kingdom, the SBS reports.

Peter Fitz-Simmons, journalist and author of the book, “Gallipoli” was quoted as saying “the idea of a modern Australian identity emerging from Gallipoli was unfortunate, but true.” Furthermore, Mr. Fitz-Simmons noted “There was a tragic notion at the time that even though we had a constitution, even though we were federated, even though we had a parliament and all the rest, we weren’t a real nation until we had shed blood.”

And indeed, the first Anzac Day was commemorated April 25, 1916 and has been honored since. According to the Australian government’s website, commemorative services are held at dawn – the time of the original landing – across the nation. Later in the day, former servicemen and servicewomen took part in marches through major cities and in many smaller locales.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE