Today is ANZAC Day, a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps – a unit set up in World War One for the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. ANZAC Day is a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember and give thanks for those who gave their lives for our countries. Dawn services are common throughout both nations and the popularity of these services has increased over the last couple of decades, even as the veterans die out. Although ANZAC Day originated from remembering those that died in World War One, all service personnel from all previous conflicts are remembered. The date of 25 April corresponds to when the land component of the Gallipoli campaign began in 1915 in the Dardanelles in the Ottoman Empire. To give you an idea of the impact that that campaign and the war had on our young nations, I decided to translate the casualty figures into comparable figures for today. Over the course of this eight month long campaign, 7400 New Zealanders were killed or wounded. Over 28,000 Australians were also killed or injured. Comparable figures today would be casualties of around 29,400 for New Zealand and 140,000 for Australia. Staggering figures over such a short space of time. During the course of the First World War, Australia lost 1.38% of its population killed, while New Zealand lost 1.64%. These figures are low compared to Serbia (16.11%), the Ottoman Empire (13.72%) and Romania (9.33%), although these countries all suffered horrendous civilian casualty rates that New Zealand and Australia were spared as we were lucky enough to be as far away from the fighting as it was possible to be. When it comes to overall casualties, we can see why this conflict had such a profound effect on the Antipodean nations. Nearly 5% of Australia’s population became a casualty (wounded or killed or captured) while the rate for New Zealand was over 5%. When we remember these casualties were all young men (most them younger than I am!) one can only imagine what the impact on society would have been like.
A final point is to mention the very surprising and saddening the casualty rate as a percentage of those embarked. According to Australian Campaigns in the Great War by Lt the Hon Stanisford Smith, over 50% of those embarked by the British Isles to fight were captured, killed or wounded in action. In New Zealand, 59% of those embarked were casualties, while 65% of Australians embarked were killed or wounded or captured. That is, you had only a one-in-three chance as an Australian to survive the war totally unscathed if you were sent overseas to fight. You can see why this conflict had such a profound effect on the Antipodean nations. Today we remember those who fought for our countries and died. May they Rest in Peace. May my son’s generation never have to emulate their sacrifices.