ANZAC day is one of the most important national occasions for Australia and New Zealand as it marks the anniversary of the first military engagements fought by the nations during the First World War (WW1). The true history of ANZAC day is incomplete without the story of Gallipoli and the incredible legacy of leadership from General Sir John Monash.
In 1915 Colonel John Monash (a civil engineer) was appointed commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade in WW1. He commanded 200,000 troops including soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States. The Gallipoli campaign was a failed mission that lasted eight months and saw thousands of troops die. It was the very first battle that Australia (and New Zealand) had taken part in as sovereign nations. Monash was tasked with the operation of withdrawing troops from Gallipoli, which he described to be every bit as critical and dangerous an enterprise as the first landing at ANZAC cove. Despite the odds, he succeeded in withdrawing 45,000 men without a single casualty. The strain being over, the reaction came in wild and hilarious greetings and hearty handshakes all around. Upon their safe arrival in Egypt, Monash reflects:
Serapeum (Egypt), 26 April 1916
‘’I must tell you about the celebration of ‘Anzac Day’ yesterday. I turned out the whole brigade with all attached units at 6:45 AM. Every man who had served on Gallipoli wore a blue ribbon on the right breast, and every man, who, in addition, had taken part in the historic landing on 25 April 1915, wore a red ribbon also… Alas, how few of us are left who were entitled to wear both. We then had a short but very dignified service, ending with a fine stirring address by Chaplain Lieutenant-Colonel Wray (who landed with us). Then the massed bands of the brigade played “The Dead March in Saul” while the parade stood to attention, then the massed buglers blew the “Last Post.” For the rest of the day everyone was given a whole holiday.”
Images are courtesy of The Australian War Memorial
Monash’s letter reveals the proceedings of the very first ANZAC celebration, which formed part of his plan in rehabilitating the health and morale of his troops in Egypt, following the harrowing events at Gallipoli. This benevolent example of leadership was one of the many creative approaches that he employed alongside his strategic military planning.
From here, Monash went on to command several of the first World War’s most famous battles, most notably that at Hamel, which led to victories in France and Belgium. His Majesty King George V knighted Lieutenant General Sir John Monash in 1918. Upon his return to Australia, Monash persuasively campaigned to ensure all troops would be enshrined in Australian history. He became widely regarded as the ‘father’ of The National War Memorial of Victoria – The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Monash floated the idea for a formal memorial in 1918, however, he endured many years of persuasive negotiations and planning to get the project off the ground. It was not until 1934 (16 years later) that Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and son of King George V officially opened the Shrine before a crowd of 300,000 people. Without the ongoing campaigning of John Monash, today there may not be a Shrine or even a national ANZAC day at all. Monash’s words are inscribed on the east wall of the Shrine:
“THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED BY A GRATEFUL PEOPLE TO THE HONOURED MEMORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF VICTORIA WHO SERVED THE EMPIRE IN THE GREAT WAR OF 1914-1918.”
Today, ANZAC day is not only observed in Australia and New Zealand but in other countries around the world and commemorates the lives of those taken both in the first and second World Wars with the traditional observation of one minute’s silence to remember all of those who tragically lost their lives in military service.
Learn more about the life and legacy of General Sir John Monash –