Monday, November 9, 2009


The Eleventh of November is Remembrance Day. Commemorating the end of World War One, Remembrance Day is the second most important Memorial Day in Australia.

As it was in many places, WWI was greeted with enthusiasm in Australia.

Initially the Australian government promised 20,000 men as its contribution to the British Empire’s war effort.

Australia was never directly threatened during WWI, our involvement was entirely based on loyalty to the “Old Country” (Britain) and “Empire”. Patriotic events were held all over the country to drum up recruits, the most famous of which were recruitment marches such as the “Cooee march”. Men flocked to the call and by the time the war dragged to an end in 1918 over 330,000 recruits had been raised from a population of only 4.5 million. All Australian recruits in WWI were volunteers, as two plebiscites on conscription were defeated during the war.

The Diggers ("Digger" is Aussie for an Aussie soldier) first went into action alongside Kiwi troops as part of The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign of 1915.

Gallipoli landings 25 April 1915

As a slight aside, ANZAC Day, commemorating the Gallipoli Landings, is easily the most significant memorial day in Oz. In fact ANZAC day is probably the most important public event in Oz in any given year. For many if not most Aussies ANZAC is more important than other times such as Easter, Christmas, or for that matter Remembrance Day.

Following the Failure of the Gallipoli Campaign the Diggers fought in the Palestinian Campaigns in the Middle East, with the 1st Light Horse Regiment playing a significant role.

Australian Light Horsemen

Diggers also played a role on the Western Front in France and Belgium, with five Australian Divisions eventually being formed into the Australian Corps under General John Monash.

Monash was a significant figure in a number of ways. Unlike many senior officers of the time, he argued a General’s primary responsibility was the safety and well-being of his men. Monash was also a great tactician and became a pioneer of combined operations. Finally as an Aussie of Jewish faith, the reverence he was held in post-war helped increase tolerance in Australian society.

The casualty rates for Australians soldiers in WWI were horrendous as the Diggers were often used as "shock troops", 64% of Aussies serving overseas in WWI became casualties.

Australian society, like so many others, was traumatised by the carnage. Arguably as the war came so soon after Federation (1901) the war may have had a deeper effect than elsewhere. Every Aussie town, city and state has a war memorial of some kind.

Here in Melbourne the Shrine of Remembrance is the memorial to Victorians who served in WWI. Situated South of the city on a raised point in “The King’s Domain” The Shrine looks up an avenue into the heart of the city.

Like so much of early Victorian Architecture The Shrine is built to a classical theme.

The whole structure is supposed to be based on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus while the Northern and Southern entrances are reminiscent of the Parthenon.

Four Goddesses stand, one at each corner of the Shrine.

This is “Patriotism”

And this “Sacrifice”The Forecourt of The Shrine holds Victoria's WWII memorial.

While a short distance away Sir John Monash contemplates the changes that have come to his city.

As to Aussie society, in some ways we have changed immeasurably, in other ways not at all.
Loyalty to "Empire" has taken the Diggers to many wars in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Since 1951 loyalty to "ANZUS" has taken us to many more, the latest in Iraq and Afghanistan where so many are still dying.

So I for one will pause for a minute on the "Eleventh hour, of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month" to contemplate all those who fell in "The War to End All Wars" and also those who continue to fall until today.


image_of_purity said...

still got interesting picture...last week i went to the australian memorial here but not yet post it...haha...

Wendy R said...


I was really touched by your account of these events from the Aussie perspective. Such bravery. Such loyalty. Such shocking losses. In a changing world we still share so much...


Amanda said...

What a great post! It's a great tribute to those who fought and those who are still fighting.

The Rainbow Bank said...

A fine post Al,the Aussies have given much in the defence of freedom.My country owes a great debt to those who came to our aid in two World Wars.Field Marshall Erwin Rommel regarded Australians as some of the finest fighting me in the world.Let us hope and pray that they are not needed again.

Al said...

Hi Opoie,
Thanks for the comment. Was that memorial at Labuan or Sandakan or somewhere else?

Hi Wendy,
Everything changes, and nothing changes. And somehow through it all humanity learns nothing.

Hi Amanda,
Thank you. So many gave so much. So many are still on the line. No one should forget.

Hi Simon,
If I remember rightly Rommel thought the Kiwi's pipped us, particularly their Maori contingent? Sadly Diggers, like British Squaddies are still mired in Afghanistan today.

Walk Talk Tours said...

Inetesring post, Al. Sadly, the continuing sacrifices of Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and other Commonwealth troops do not always get the coverage they deserve in the UK media. The only known British survivor from World War One, Claude Choules, lives in Australia. He is 108.

Lisa said...

So interesting to get another perspective. A lovely tribute to men who fight and died.

Al said...

Hi Phil,
Thanks for your comment. I had heard of Claude, last of a multitude.

Hi Lisa,
Yes everywhere has a different take on it all.