25 April 1915 is a date etched in Australia’s history. Its anniversary is commemorated across the country each year as Anzac Day. To many this is Australia’s most important national day.
In the morning of 25 April 1915, troops, consisting mainly of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) made a landing on a hostile shore along the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Some saw it as Australia’s “baptism of fire” and “the birth of nationhood”. In the story of the Gallipoli landing Australians saw positive characteristics displayed by their troops that they would continue to identify with in later wars and conflicts, and in other crises and hardships.
Damaged 4.7 inch naval gun barrel, Heavy Battery, 1 Australian Division, AIF : Clarke's Valley, Gallipoli (1896) by Elswick Ordnance CompanyAustralian War Memorial
Made in 1896, this damaged 4.7 inch naval gun had been modified to serve on land in the Boer War. The gun’s lack of a recoil mechanism made it dangerous to be around when it was fired.
Troops were aware that all the new guns were being sent to the Western Front, and they would just have to make do.
In December 1915, the Anzacs departed for other theatres of war and left the gun behind. It was too big to move, so it had to be destroyed by setting off an explosion in the barrel. Soon after, the Turks began to work their way through the deserted trenches, saps, and tunnels, taking away anything of value.
This gun was still there in 1919, when the Australian Historical Mission was researching Anzac, and they recovered it as a memorial to the unhappy campaign.
The Dinkum Oil (1915)Australian War Memorial
The most thoroughly documented day in Australia’s history is the day of the Anzac landing. Australian official war correspondent Charles Bean devoted most of the first volume of his official history of the war, The story of Anzac, to the events of the day: nine chapters and over 90,000 words.
Additionally, Bean helped create The Dinkum Oil, an early example of the trench newspapers that appeared during the First World War, to quell “spy-mania” and the rumours constantly flying around the trenches. The idea, according to Bean, was that these damaging rumours would “be laughed out of court” through comic sketches and exaggeration. Eight editions pointing out the absurdity of life at Gallipoli were issued over just a month.
Reading The Dinkum Oil today offers a glimpse of life on Gallipoli, revealing not only the concerns and experiences of the men but also their spirit and humour.
[Head of Gallipoli soldier with cigarette] (1977) by Sidney NolanAustralian War Memorial
The portraits and landscapes in Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli series represent an attempt to define the Australian national character. They provide timeless images of the Anzacs: the young and the old, the innocent and the war-weary, the bushman and the city-dweller.
The 252 paintings and drawings from the series that Nolan (1917–1992) donated to the Australian War Memorial in 1978 chart Nolan’s 20-year struggle to create a visual language with which to express the Gallipoli tragedy.
Mounted horse's head and neck of 'Sandy', Major General W T Bridges' charger (1929)Australian War Memorial
Of the 136,000 Australian horses sent away to the First World War Just one horse out was brought back: General Sir William Bridges’s charger, Sandy.
Bridges died on Gallipoli in May 1915 after being mortally wounded by a Turkish sniper. Sandy was kept safely in a veterinary hospital in Egypt until 1918, when the Minister for Defence authorised his return to Australia.
Before he was put down in 1923, the Committee of the War Museum (later to become the Australian War Memorial) decided to have the horse’s head and neck mounted. He went on display at the Memorial’s Sydney Exhibition, where he represented both his lost master and all the other horses of the AIF.
After the main Memorial building opened in 1941, the head remained on display for many years as a tribute to the role these horses played in the war.
Dome for the Hall of Memory (1955-58) by Napier WallerAustralian War Memorial
Commemorating the sacrifices made by Australians in the First World War.
Australia’s war dead numbered 60,000, and a further 150,000 battlefield wounds were recorded. The decades of mourning that followed the war were given physical expression in the erection of countless war memorials. Across the country these became the focus of successive Anzac Days.
In 1937 the Australian War Memorial board commissioned Napier Waller (1893–1972), an artist and former AIF soldier, to design stained-glass windows and mosaics for the Hall of Memory that was intended to commemorate the sacrifices made by Australians in the First World War.
The mosaic inside the dome depicts the souls of the dead rising from the earth towards their spiritual home, represented by a glowing sun within the Southern Cross. The figures on the walls – a soldier, a sailor, an airman, and a servicewoman – recall the Australian experience of the Second World War.
This is one of the largest mosaics in the world. Over six million pieces of glass tesserae were used in the composition; it was installed by an Italian craftsman and took over three years to complete.
Further information and artefacts relating to the story of the Anzac legend see the Australian War Memorial online exhibit Dawn of the Legend: 25 April 1915