The Anzac legend
Even though the Gallipoli Campaign was deemed a disaster in terms of the loss of life suffered there and the failure to achieve a military victory, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZACs as they have become known as) became a legend. What happened at Gallipoli made them an important part of Australian culture at a time when the newly-federated nation of Australia had not yet established herself at an international level.
What is the legend?
In theory, the legend is that the Australian and New Zealand troops helped to establish their countries' reputations in the world through qualities of strength and bravery when faced with adversity. In fact, it is much more than that. The legend of these men who endured so much has given something of which Australians can be proud. It put Australia's mark on the world as something other than a nation descended from convicts.
How was it created?
It is not uncommon for the characteristics of soldiers to mirror the characteristics commonly found in the society from which they come. This has resulted in the emergence of a number of stereotypes for soldiers from each nation. The Australian soldiers, who had not had a chance to prove themselves on an international front prior to Gallipoli, found that their strong characteristics were revealed in the most challenging of times. It was through events such as the landing at Anzac Cove and the battle at The Nek (where ANZACs were slaughtered in their masses), that they acquired the image that has become synonymous with the word 'digger.' Digger has come to embody the stereotype of a patriotic Australian family man who has temporarily become a soldier and has spent his civilian life in a rural area. More importantly, it suggests a soldier with certain moral qualities, such as a good sense of humour and an overriding belief in mateship and equality. See image 1
There were five particularly 'digger-like' qualities which emerged from the ANZACs when faced with hardship during the Gallipoli Campaign. These qualities set them apart from soldiers from other nations and were said to be attributable to their rural backgrounds in the bush. Many of the World War I diggers were third generation Australians from the early days of pioneering. Their particular attributes included:
- the ability to remain cheerful with a good sense of humour, even in the most difficult of times
- the ability to be resourceful when they had no supplies, for example by making hand grenades from empty tin cans
- the spirit of mateship in which a soldier would risk his own life for his mate's
- Australian courage, which was shown on the very first landing at Anzac Cove where the soldiers continued to charge up on to the beach straight into the line of Turkish fire
- the notion that people all deserve the same amount of respect, no matter what their background is.
It is precisely this type of person and this type of soldier who gave the ANZACs their reputation which, in turn, instilled a new national pride in Australia and New Zealand. See image 2
Why is it important?
The Gallipoli Campaign was a particularly significant event in history because it came at a time when Australia had only just become a federal commonwealth, trying to assert her place alongside a collection of nations with thousands of years of history. In the eyes of the rest of the world, Australia had no eminent military history and no distinct cultural characteristics as a nation. Gallipoli was the first opportunity for Australia to earn the respect of other nations and to show the world her strong national character. See video
The Anzac legend is also important because it encourages Australians to remember the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country. The legend has made such an impression on Australians that we continue to commemorate the landing of the ANZAC soldiers on the shores of Gallipoli on 25 April each year.