I gave this address at the National Memorial Walk in Enoggera Barracks at the Dawn Service. It was 5 years ago (how time flies) but is as relevant now as it was then. It is particularly relevant for Queenslanders as the 9th Bn AIF, a Qld Bn, were first ashore at Gallipoli
Good Morning – we are gathered here today to commemorate those who have gone before us – those who have paid the supreme sacrifice in service to Australia. As a nation we have been gathering on this morning for a very long time – in fact for the past 87 years as we remember the men of Gallipoli and events that happened ninety five years ago. We also commemorate events subsequent to Gallipoli and are reminded that in many places across the world, Afghanistan included, we have troops in danger.
Where and when did the custom of Dawn Service begin?
Reverend White was serving as one of the padres of the earliest ANZAC’s to leave Australia with the First AIF in November 1914. The convoy was assembled in the Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound at Albany WA, my homeport. Before embarkation, at four in the morning, he conducted a service for all the men of the battalion. When White returned to Australia in 1919, he was appointed relieving Rector of the St John’s Church in Albany.
It was a strange coincidence that the starting point of the AIF convoys should now become his parish.
No doubt it must have been the memory of his first Dawn Service those many years earlier and his experiences overseas, combined with the awesome cost of lives and injuries, which inspired him to honour permanently the valiant men (both living and the dead) who had joined the fight for the allied cause. “Albany”, he is later quoted to have said, “was the last sight of land these ANZAC troops saw when leaving Australian shores and some of them never returned. We should hold a service (here) at the first light of dawn each ANZAC Day to commemorate them.”
Thus on ANZAC Day 1923, 87 years ago this morning, he came to hold the first Commemorative Dawn Service.
As the sun was rising, a man in a small dinghy cast a wreath into King George Sound while White, with a band of about 20 men gathered around him on the summit of nearby Mount Clarence, silently watched the wreath floating out to sea. He then quietly recited the words:
“As the sun rises and goeth down, we will remember them”.
All present were deeply moved and news of the Ceremony soon spread throughout the country; and the various Returned Service Communities Australia wide emulated the Ceremony.
Almost paradoxically, in a cemetery outside the town of Herbert Queensland one grave stands out by its simplicity. It is covered by protective white- washed concrete slab with a plain cement cross at its top end. No epitaph recalls even the name of the deceased. The Inscription on the cross is a mere two words – “A Priest”
It is the last resting place of Reverend White.
In that original convoy were local Queensland boys from the 9th Battalion, 1st AIF. Their good name, Battle Honours and subsequent deeds are held in trust today by the 9th Battalion, The Royal Queensland Regiment. It is fitting that we in Queensland place due importance on our local lads for not only are they among us in spirit and with their descendants but they were the very first ANZACs ashore at Gallipoli on that terrible morning ninety five years ago.
If the 9th Battalion was first ashore as a unit then we may well ask who amongst the 9th battalion boys was first ashore
We can never know for certain. C. E. W. Bean, official historian, concluded it was probably a Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Duncan Chapman, 9th Battalion.
The Queenslander wrote home:
‘I happened to be in the first boat that reached the shore, and, being in the bow at the time, I was the first man to get ashore.’
One of his men later confirmed this. Chapman was killed at Pozieres, France on 6 August 1916.
Bean, Chapman and the guy in the boat have been generally accepted as correct and 33 years ago today, as a young subaltern, I stood at the bar of 9th Battalion, The Royal Queensland Regiment, and heard it from the horse’s mouth . I spoke to two other men who were in Chapman’s boat and they backed the claim. Jim Bostock and Bill Clever were both in their mid to late seventies and were discussing who among them was the first ashore after Chapman .
These two old soldiers, both taller than me, one with a DCM, and one, a Pl Sergeant to Chapman, drank schooners with rum chasers . Discretion became the better part of valour and I declined the rum and undertook not to mention Vietnam…..not ever…..at least not while I was in their company. How could I – I was literally standing between two pages of sacred military history – I could only be a listener, a bystander.
Neither was I as tough as some of the younger ANZACs
Pte Gray came to the Regimental Doctor saying that he had received a wound at the Landing and, though he had been to hospital, it was again giving a little trouble. He had endeavoured to “carry on,” but had at last been forced to see if the doctor could advise a little treatment.
The medical officer found that he had had a compound fracture of the arm, two bullets through his thigh, another through diaphragm, liver and side; and that there were adhesions to the liver and pleura. He was returned at once to Australia, where he was eventually discharged from hospital and, re-enlisting, returned to the front in the artillery.
In today’s climate there are many historians who with the ink fresh on their BA (Whatever) degree, rested from years at school and in an air conditioned office write of the Myth of Gallipoli. They write of the folly of the landing, the abilities of the British Commanders and the fact that we were fighting for another power and not our own sovereignty.
And they totally miss the point. It is not always about winning; It is not always about the commanders; but it is always about the men..their courage…their mate ship…their lives……their sacrifice.
If we follow our Queenslanders; on this morning 95 years ago 1,100 1st/9th soldiers landed at Gallipoli. In that famous first boat, along with LT Duncan Chapman was the CO Col Lee, Major Robertson, Major Salisbury, Captain Ryder, The Regimental Medical Officer Dr Butler , the aforementioned Jim Bostock and Bill Clever and others whose names history has misplaced.
The doctor was Kilcoy born and Ipswich grammar educated and he had lost some of his stretcher bearers in the deadly fire of the first couple of minutes and in Clarrie Wrenches book “Campaigning with the fighting Ninth” it is said that this fact made the doctor very angry.
So angry that he yelled “Come on men we must take that gun” and started climbing the cliff with his revolver in hand. Soldiers followed, the gun was spiked…….the Turks bayoneted.
This is the RMO we are talking about. The doctors assault force dashed from the disabled gun to the next trench, the line growing stronger as the troops caught up with the rampaging medico.
“On and on we went up the cliff to the summit where we had to pause “for sheer want of breath”
Looking below we saw the British ships shelling the Turkish positions, while the Turks replied by shrapnel over the landing place. Boat after boat was smashed under our eyes and the occupants mangled or drowned
The sight maddened us; “on Queenslanders” came the cry and with bayonets fixed we rushed for the Turkish position. Then we saw the enemy coming up in force. Taking advantage of every bit of cover available, we emptied our magazines into them again and again. The Turks fell like leaves but still more come. Men dropped and our numbers began to weaken.
Where are the others? Have we come too far? were questions in the minds of all
I don’t know about you but if that had been my first 30 minutes at war my reply to the first question would have been a resounding YES
After these first heady hours Dr Butler dusted off his Hypocratical oath and over the next five days treated or interred 515 Queenslanders.
In the lottery of life and death that was Gallipoli this figure was second only to the 7th for casualties at Gallipoli.
Not surprisingly the good doctor was awarded the DSO and a couple of MIDs
The 1st/9th went on to earn the following battle honours that generally read like the chapter headings of the official military history of the Australian Army in WW1
Landing at Anzac,
Defence of Anzac,
France and Flanders 1916-18
I have stood in the mess at Kelvin Grove and talked with the original Anzacs as they looked at the colours and described how they were won……..how their small contribution mattered……..how their mates are still there.
It will stay with me forever!
Over all, had our erudite scholar penning books on the myths of the 1st AIF followed the Queenslanders at Gallipoli and then on to the Western Front he may have had occasion to pause at the gravesides of 1,022 of their soldiers. They also suffered 2,093 wounded and 329 gassed leaving them with a terrible total of 3.453 battle casualties!
One battalion…….Some myth
To place these figures in perspective; this one battalion, the 9th Battalion, the 1st AIF, our local Queenslanders, suffered twice the number killed and almost the same number wounded as the entire ADF involvement in South Vietnam
That’s no myth
Today we will hear the traditional Ode from Laurence Binyon’s poem” To the Fallen” more than once, but a piece of verse that stuck in my mind over the years of remembering and commemorating was this verse by A.E.Houseman
Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is,
……………………………..and we were young.
Lest we forget