In 1901, the six separate colonies of Australia united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia was a Dominion of the British Empire whose population was made up of indigenous Aboriginals and others from European, mainly British, lineage. It has been reported that the outbreak of war was met with great enthusiasm from the Australians, with their Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, declaring that Australia would support Britain to ‘the last man and the last shilling’. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to introduce conscription through referendums held in 1916 and 1917, enlistment remained strictly voluntary throughout the war – over 400,000 Australian men enlisted.
The Australians saw action early on in the war with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force taking possession of German New Guinea on 17th September 1914 and the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago (Islands Region of Papua New Guinea) in October 1914. The Australians’ most famous engagement was during the failed invasion of Gallipoli in 1915– this campaign was considered the ‘birth of a nation’ for both Australia and New Zealand. The Gallipoli campaign included 50,000 Australians and 9,000 New Zealanders, who suffered around 8,700 and 2,700 casualties, respectively.
The day of the invasion, 25th April, was officially named ANZAC day in 1916 and was marked by a variety of ceremonies and services including a commemorative march through London involving Australian and New Zealand troops. ANZAC day is commemorated annually around the world with a dawn service and has become the focal point for how we remember Australia and New Zealand during the First World War.
This is an Australian adaptation of the soldier-song ‘Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty’
Take me back to dear old Aussie,
Put me on the boat for Woolloomooloo.
Take me over there, drop me anywhere,
Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, for I don’t care.
I just want to see my best girl,
Cuddling up again we soon will be;
O Blighty is a failure, take me back to Australia,
Aussie is the place for me.
Australian forces fought all over the world including at sea with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and in the air with the Australian Flying Corps; following the Gallipoli campaign they fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East. The Australians fought in many of the campaigns along the Western Front including Fromelles, the Somme and Passchendaele. They suffered many casualties on the Western Front, particularly at the Battle of Fromelles on 19-20th July 1916 where the Australians suffered 5,500 casualties overnight on what was described as the worst day ever in Australian history. In the Middle East the Australians fought a mobile war unlike their counterparts on the Western Front, and had to endure extreme heat, harsh terrain and water shortages. The Australian forces participated in the Allied reconquest of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1916, the advancement into Palestine to capture Gaza and Jerusalem in 1917, and the occupation of Lebanon and Syria in 1918 resulting in Turkey suing for peace on 30th October 1918.
Australian Army Nursing Service
The Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) was formed in 1903 as part of the Australian Army Medical Corps. It was a reserve unit and during the First World War more than 2,00 of its members served overseas alongside Australian nurses working with the other organisations. Australian tolerance for high temperatures made them particularly well suited for climates in Greece (where the wounded from Gallipoli were treated), Egypt and India. The nurses were posted to the 1st Australian General Hospital (1AGH), established in the grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel in Cairo, or to 2AGH in Mena House, a former royal hunting lodge. There was a rapid influx of patients from Gallipoli in April 1915 which meant these two hospitals in Egypt quickly became overcrowded. 1AGH took over an amusement park, turning the ticket office into an operating theatre and the skating rink, scenic railway, and the skeleton house into wards. Within three months it was operating as a 1,500-bed hospital.