Australians in WW1 - a retrospective.


Book Reviewer
Rather than derail the excellent 'where you live - 100 years ago' thread, I saw this and thought it might be of interest:

The year that made us

I am well aware of the sometimes acrimonious to-ing and fro-ing amongst armchair historians over the ANZAC contribution to Gallipoli and have no intention of going there.

This look-back by The Australian newspaper came out last year, commemorating their part in the last year of the war in France.

No doubt @chippymick, @Crash and others with forebears who took part will take their own view.

Like most such articles it is intended for the general reader, rather than those with in-depth knowledge of Villers-Bretonneux , Hamel etc.

Anyway, for what it is worth.


Book Reviewer
It's a News Corporation site - did we expect anything else ? My apologies.

(by kind permission of Miss Rita Chevrolet, pp Lord Gnome )

It was the year of victory. The final year of the First World War was also the one in which Australia had its greatest influence on international affairs. It was the war that changed us, and 1918 was the year that made us.

Australia sustained more than 60,000 battle casualties, including more than 12,000 dead. Twenty-nine Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross.


Emerging from the bloody quagmire of Passchendaele of late 1917, in which 35 Australians had been killed for every metre of ground taken, the Germans took it all back in March 1918—dangerously close to Amiens and its vital rail infrastructure.

After desperate AIF fighting at Dernancourt in late March, Villers-Bretonneux had to be held at all costs. As boyish British soldiers fell back late on April 24, German artillery rained down. With buildings burning, Sergeant Walter Downing of the 57th Battalion described “sinister light ... men muttered, ‘It’s Anzac Day’ ... there was nothing to do but go straight forward and die hard”.

And die hard they did. Their blood was up.

Baying like hell-hounds, they counter-attacked with bayonets and grenades backed by machine-guns, oblivious to their losses. One German officer wrote: “The Australians were magnificent. Nothing seemed to stop them.”

And nothing did throughout 1918.

The article continues:

We emerged victorious, joyous yet inconsolably mourning our dead.

We were a deeply wounded and divided people, polarised around conscription, religion, politics, veterans and “shirkers”, living with another 60,000 who would die within a decade of returning to Australia.

Monash’s leadership of the Australian Corps to its stunning victories in 1918 laid the foundation for a no less significant civilian legacy. We remained true to our young, brittle democracy. It was possibly our greatest achievement.

Monash was the most widely respected Australian. In his leadership of everything from the Melbourne Anzac Day parade to Rotary, he was the pillar of the democracy for which so much had been given.

His words repudiating an overthrow of the government during the Great Depression speak truth to our future:

' The only hope for Australia is the ballot box, and an educated electorate.'

It still is. We are Australians.

Brendan Nelson is Director of the Australian War Memorial.
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