ANZAC Day irritations

Last year, to my astonishment, the mother of one of the strangelings’ school friends expressed surprise that we, as new migrants to Australia, from New Zealand, knew all about ANZAC Day. “Why yes,” I said, “ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. New Zealanders and Australians fought together at Gallipoli.” “Oh,” she said, clearly put out.

Then there’s a turgid hymn often dragged out at ANZAC Day ceremonials, God Bless Australia, which describes Australia as “home of the ANZACs.”

Funny that. I thought a fair proportion of the ANZACs lived in New Zealand.

And there was the line in an otherwise excellent book that irritated me some more. Australian travel writer and historian Tony Perrottet wrote a fabulous account of the first age of mass tourism in the Roman Empire, Route 66 A.D., since republished as Pagan Holiday. In it, he recounts the travels he and his long suffering wife took as they traced the standard tourism routes of the rich and even middle classes in the early Roman Empire. As it turned out, these routes took in the Dardenelles, and what we now know as Anzac Cove. Like many Australians and New Zealanders, he took the time to go and remember the fallen. He mentioned that soldiers from many nations fought there, but then he says something to the effect of, “But the Australians died in great numbers.” The implication is that the Australians suffered much the greatest casualties and deaths. So with casual language, he depreciates the losses suffered by other nations.

Through the magic of google and Wiki, it’s not too difficult to find death and casualty statistics for all the nations involved in the misnamed Great War. Look here, here, and here. For your convenience, I have summarised the death and casualty rates for Australians and New Zealanders (at the time, Australia had a population of about 4.5million, and New Zealand about 1.1million).


This is not supposed to be a pissing contest, and frankly, who wants to win this kind of contest. In any case, the numbers are a little fuzzy, but only around the edges. Nevertheless, they are good enough to show that around about the same proportions of New Zealanders and Australians were killed or wounded in World War 1, and at Gallipoli.

My plea is this – that if you are commemorating Anzac Day in New Zealand, you do not forget the “A” (not that I have particularly noticed this to be the case back in the old country, but if you have different experiences, please let me know), and if you are commemorating Anzac Day in Australian, do not erase the “NZ.” They are equally important parts of the Anzac story.


19 responses to “ANZAC Day irritations

  1. apparently the english get even more irritated. they lost a substantial number of troops on turkey, but this is often ignored by anzacs trying to make it all about them…

  2. Indeed. 21,225 deaths, and 52,230 wounded, at Gallipoli. Their total deaths in WW1 were about 885,000, and their population at the time was about 45.4million. That’s a horrendous death rate – nearly 2%.

    I don’t care for the religiousity of Anzac Day, but I do mourn for all those beautiful young lives lost.

  3. And so you should be irritated. If it’s any consolation, my generation (*leans on Zimmer frame, fluffs blue perm*) was emphatically taught in school that the ANZACS were a two-nation force. I’m actually really shocked by that first story you tell.

  4. A media release from Georgine te Heuhue reminds us of the Pacific Islanders who served too:

    ” . . . By the end of the war 458 Pacific Island men had served with the unit, alongside 2,227 Maori. Of these 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded.

    Mrs te Heuheu said Cook Island men also served in the New Zealand Rarotongan Company, raised in 1917 and deployed to Sinai and Palestine as a unit of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. . .”

  5. a friend’s doing research on the cook islands atm. apparently they disliked western europe, so were dispatched to work as naval support in the med, operating out of palestine.


  6. PC, I think as ANZAC day has become more about patriotism, we hear less and less about the NZers. I’m not as attuned to it as Deborah, but my NZ grandfather fought on the Western Front, so I notice the lack a bit.

    Deborah, when I was learning about WWI at school, I remember independently finding out the NZ had the second highest overall death rate after Russia (but it sounds like I was misled, given your British Stat above).

    I know that listening to the stories of those who came back made a huge impression on my dad (born in the early 30s), and he still goes to the dawn service every year.

  7. Although he didn’t die at Gallipoli I think my Mum’s Grandfather was a truly Anzac

    Born in South Australia, died age 37 on 12 September 1918
    29609, New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion

  8. Oh Deborah, we are cheering here in Sydney! My son, having recently moved here, cannot believe how NZ has been erased from the Aus version of the ANZAC story. My weary answer was “Get used to it”. I found it shocking when I first arrived 10 years ago, and it has got much worse since. And I want a picture of Dr Cat’s perm.

  9. my experience of anzac day in melbourne was one of barely fettered jingoism, and an incredible dumbing down of the ceremony.

    mainly it was the contrast to services in auckland, where they used to just read letters from people who had served, or their loved ones.

    but, it was the howard era, after all. hopefully things have changed.

  10. My Step Grandmother’s brother fought for the full war and was shot and killed…on Armistice Day.
    I remember him.

  11. And the majority of casualites in the Dardanelles Campaign — which can most charitably be described as a misconceived and failed military misadventure — were citizens of the Ottoman Empire.

    For something that’s not supposed to be a pissing match, it sure sounds like one. And might I disrespectfully suggest that New Zealanders do NOT occupy the moral high ground when it comes to history getting well and truly pissed on by mindless jingoism and an rather delusional belief that clenching one’s buttocks causes solar eclipses.

  12. Proportionally, Ottoman military deaths were roughly double the number of ANZAC deaths at Gallipoli. It was a terrible affair.

    Perhaps you could put more emphasis on the last paragraph in the post, Craig.

  13. Most Australians study very little formal history. What they know comes from newspapers (which have declined significantly in the last decade) and tv docos and news (which are crappy). So the national debate about our history and how we should celebrate/commemorate it is abysmal. John Howard certainly brought out the worst in people, and the Ruddmeister isn’t exactly putting his energy into improving it.

    At least when you point it out most people don’t continue to insist New Zealanders don’t exist/weren’t there/didn’t die/asked for it. Aboriginal Australians should be so lucky. For that matter, the many Irish catholics (and others) who suggested the war wasn’t such a great idea and maybe we shouldn’t go don’t get much of a mainstream mention either.

  14. There is a repetition in your table that makes me suspect a mistaken transcription, Deborah.

    Nowithstanding: it’s the tendency to replace a quiet mourning the dead with the jingoism of a sports event that has put me off Anzac commemorations in recent years.

    My generation, of course, had no need to mythologise our servicemen because we grew up with the often grumpy old buggers and had to deal with the aftermath of war. Not all old soldiers were cast in the same mould. My grandfather, wounded at Ypres, would never join in the RSA’s Anzac day boozeups, and hated the parades. He would have nothing but contempt for the idea of “celebrating our nationhood” on Anzac day, or turning Gallipoli into a pop concert venue. It was all too real to him.

    [Deb says: Thanks, Daleway. A mistaken copy and paste – I ‘ve fixed it.]

  15. Whilst i understand the frustrations of a New Zealander attending an Anzac Service in Australia,I wonder if i would have the same feelings if I attended one in New Zealand, surely I would hear mostly mention of your armed forces your history in fighting wars and we would be remembering your fighting men and women.I for one have never forgotten what the term Anzac stands for, the A and the NZ stand for an incredible bond that still exists even though it is often hidden under banter.

  16. In all honesty, Linda, having lived in both countries, I recall plenty of mention of Australians in the ceremonies and reporting in NZ, and very little the other way around. There does seem to be a difference. I’m inclined to attribute it to the influence of John Howard who seemed to me to be very jingoistic about Anzac Day.

  17. And the majority of casualites in the Dardanelles Campaign — which can most charitably be described as a misconceived and failed military misadventure — were citizens of the Ottoman Empire.

    Oh Craig, don’t try to get in the way of New Zealand’s sense of national victimhood! Everybody knows that those who truly suffered were the poor Kiwis. After all getting insufficient mention in speeches 100 years down the track is MUCH worse than getting murdered by imperialists invading your homeland.

    What I’ve always wondered is why Australians and New Zealanders commemorate the deaths of their countrymen, but not everybody else who died in the ‘Great’ War. Is the idea that the deaths of non-compatriots aren’t worth mourning?

  18. Yes, well – my post on ANZAC Day last year talked about the futility of war, and why I dislike the current form of Anzac Day ceremonials.

    This year, I think the best Anzac Day post I have seen was Anna’s post at The Hand Mirror.

    Lest we forget

    War is not a simple tale of noble men serving high principles. It’s a far more complex story of wealth and territory; kids who grow up without dads; women who raise families alone, unsure whether their partners will return; conscientious objectors; torture; deprivation and cruelty against civilians; a number of men who return home, physically and psychologically broken, to families that don’t know them; and some men who don’t make it home at all.

    The theme of ANZAC day is ‘Lest we forget’. If we treat war as some romantic, nationalistic boys’ own adventure, then we’ve already forgotten.

  19. I liked it better when it was just us and a couple of old blokes on the side of the road outside Burnham Camp. Before it became fashionable.