When I read the papers from April and May 1915 I was struck by a few things.
Firstly, it is amazing how little New Zealanders knew about what was going on in the Dardanelles. It isn’t until around the fourth or fifth of May that more detailed reports began to arrive in New Zealand about what was happening in Turkey, and not until the sixth that extensive casualty lists began to be published. This is partly due to the limits of the technology of the era, and partly due to the fact that New Zealanders weren’t very important in the British scheme of things.
The first “news” we received of the campaign in the Dardanelles was from King George, via our Governor General:
Look forward to hearing further details. Sure, that would be nice. You know, when you can get around to it.
The second thing that strikes me about reading the papers is that it is very important to have a free, fair and critical press. On 6 May this is the first eye-witness New Zealand based report we get of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April.
Which is an “interesting” account. There are a lot of “interesting” news stories in the papers. Lots of accounts of the barbarism of the Germans (“the mad dogs of Europe”), and the fiendish Turks. Of the gallantry, pluck and raw courage of the allied troops who appear to be on a ceaseless forward sweep to victory.
The final thing that is interesting is that most of the themes of what would become our national dogma about ANZAC day were already there (semi) hot off the presses in 1915. The Mayor of Wellington delivered a speech on 4 May, 1915 which is a first draft of a pro forma speech we have been saying in New Zealand now for close to 100 years.
Baptism of fire. Check. Flower of manhood. Check.
Field of honour. Sacrifice. For peace and freedom. Heroic deeds. Enshrined forever. Lasting memorial. Check.
A debt we can’t repay. Check.
What does the last sentence mean? Keep breeding? Keep sending your sons to death? Keep knitting for Empire? It is an ambiguous note to end the speech on.
Every ANZAC Day I feel a little bit sick. I feel a sense of dread. We are again on the dawn of the day we entered the world as fodder for a giant and destructive machine.
My great uncle who survived the war. He spent the rest of his life living in a shed out the back of his sister’s house shooting and trapping rabbits in the hills around Clinton. He never married. He kept to himself. One day, walking along the street with his young niece, (my father’s sister) he told her there was no God. Which I believe may be what he took from World War One.