Role Of The Anzac Legend In The Establishment Of Australia’s National Identity

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On April 25th, 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) fought at Gallipoli during WW1, in support of the British Commonwealth of the contingent of allied forces. These servicemen were proved to have shown characteristics such as resourcefulness, mateship, endurance and courage whilst at war. The traits these men showed, created what is known as the ANZAC legend that became their reputation and represents their persistent loyalty to Australia. This legend contributed to the establishment of Australia’s national identity after 14 years of the country’s federation. Though some contention has risen with some academic majors regarding the legitimacy of the legend, the courage and mateship shown by the Anzacs is a valid depiction of Australia’s fighting men. The Anzac legend is the embodiment of characteristics Australia’s fighting men showed during the war. They gained this reputation of courage, mateship and endurance as they served in WW1.

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The source of this legend was formed by some war correspondents such as Charles bean and Ellis Ashmead Bartlett, who created the legend that gave Australia a sense of national identity as a newly federated nation. Although 60 000 young Australians were lost to war, the legend provides closure to the grieving families. Walkens states: “Australians, at home and at the front, were developing a sense of nationhood and national pride.” Although Walkens is not widely known, Walkens can be established through corroborated with an oft-cited war correspondent, K.J Mason. Australians soldier gained a reputation for several qualities and traits, including; “Bravery, a defiant disregard for hardship, a dislike of authority, humour, especially larrikin humour, resourcefulness, mateship and a belief in equality, endurance and never giving up, a belief in democracy and a fair go for all”. It can be inferred that these traits exemplified by the Australian servicemen represented Australia of their unique characteristics.

The legend conveyed to Australians the sense that their servicemen fought and died with honour and distinction when they enlisted. It overlooks the failure of the Gallipoli campaign, instead focusing on the character and conduct of the men. Although the Anzac legend birthed the Australian identity, this perception can be contested through an orthodox view, Professor Manning Clark. Clark convincingly calls into question the argument that the Anzacs are not worthy of the legend. He suggests: “They burned belongings of local people, brawled, got drunk and rioted, and spent sufficient time in brothels”. Although Clark attempts to add a negative element into the legend, men did not do this whilst in war but during their leisure time. Also, this was viewed to be a part of the masculinity in their image of the Australian tradition. However, the Australian government also corroborates that Australians were worthy of the legend stating: “…courage under fire, grace under pressure, giving a hand to a mate.” As evident, Australia’s fighting men have earned the legend. Thus, Australia’s servicemen proved the legend’s characteristics is an accurate and true representation. A valid characteristic underpinning the Anzac legend is courage.

During life-threatening experiences, the Anzacs were persistent in showing great courage. 64 Anzacs were Victorian cross recipients. Though this number is not high in comparison to the number of Anzacs, the medal was an award of high distinction by displaying extreme courage during times of pressure. They were honoured also along with their neglect for danger as they put forth their priorities of serving their country in war with their duties. Although written after WW1, this view of great courage can be supported through a WW1 event, the Nek. Prior to the release of the fourth wave: “Without orders the troops on the right rose and rushed over the parapets”. An inference can be drawn that the men took initiative to help the surviving men of the third wave. Despite knowing their fate of death, they still ran suggesting their courage. These men were not ordered to but were courageous and took initiative to help and serve. Further evidence of a diary entry that was not a subject to censorship by the AIF, Charles bean, a war correspondent clearly supports the argument that the Anzacs were courageous. He states: “soldiers, even Australian soldiers, have sometimes to be threatened with a revolver to make them go on” (Bean cited in Kent). Bean implies that Australian servicemen set the benchmark for courage in the allied forces. Bean can be corroborated with statistics that show the effect of this courage.

Statistics showing the casualty rate for countries making up the British Commonwealth convincing supports the argument that Anzacs were willing to die to serve their country with great courage. Australia has the highest rate out of the casualties of embarkment with 64.98% while the second highest was New Zealand with 59.01%. Australia and New Zealand notably also had the smallest armies in the allied force. It can be inferred from statistical data that ANZAC soldiers were fearless and courageous in war as they are willing to sacrifice their lives and body to serve their countries by casualties. Therefore, the willingness and persistent acts of courage are exemplified by the Anzacs. Although courage is an important characteristic, mateship is shown to be another key element of the legend. This camaraderie was greatly valued by the Anzacs during the war and was used to sustain them during times of hardship. Mateship shared by the ANZACs was essential to their survival as it provided support for the mental and physical well-being of Australia’s servicemen. Many secondary sources cite mateship as a defining characteristic of the legend. Although not present during WW1, the credibility of such sources can be established through corroboration with a primary source who observed mateship firsthand.

According to Second Lieutenant Simon Fraser who asserts, “some of us rushed out and had a hunt. We found a fine haul of wounded and brought them in…” It can be inferred that mateship is evident in a general sense where men looked for the wounded in an attempt to save the soldiers’ lives. In a primary source letter written by Keith Murdoch, a war correspondent, to Andrew Fisher, the Australian prime minister during that time, Murdoch strengthens the credibility of Fraser suggesting the great value. He asserts: “It is no disgrace for an Australian to die beside good pals in Anzac…”. An inference can be drawn that Australians felt no shame dying beside mates who had such strong bonds. The effect of mateship in governing the actions of Australians during World War 1 is exemplified when 32 000 men enlisted in the AIF following the Defeat at Gallipoli. It is also worth noting that this was the highest rate of enlistment out of all the months. It can be inferred from this record enlistment figure that Australian men wanted to provide aid to mates in need. It is evident that mateship is an accurate representation of the Anzac legend.

01 February 2021

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