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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

Historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

University of Wollongong Public Lecture 

Men, myth and memory | Dr Jen Roberts

UOW Alumni Knowledge Series | UOW | 20 April 2017

The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century. The contradictions that have emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any absolute sense.

Yet for one old gentleman at the inaugural lecture in the Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni, Dr Jen Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture ‘Men, myth and memory’.  The Alumni audience was a mix of ages, and interests and included past military personnel.

The camp administration block  at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942 A Bailey

 

Robert’s compelling presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of  Anzac and that there is far from just one truth.  Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades, and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.

The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. Its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots at those who question the orthodoxy.

The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

The tented lines at the  Narellan Military Camp in 1941 (AB)

 

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product on industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

 

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent all-round Aussie bloke.

The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

In 1941 an 18-year-old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up, and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’.

Bruce Guppy was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided for him. A lifetime member of the RSL he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.

Bruce Guppy and his unit at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March (I Willis)

 

Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in BCOF in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995  wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:

 

‘Memories of those dark days

Come floating back through the haze.

My memory goes back to my mother’s face

Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.

The heartache for mothers – we will never know

For it was for them we had to go.’

 

So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.

For Guppy Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The purpose of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.

Red Cross poster used for fundraising purposes in 1918 (ARCS)

 

While many lay claims ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft  (1942 LG Fromm)

 

The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry.

Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with UOW students. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 (RAAF Historical)

 

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

 

Anzac mythology and memory tend to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD) and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac.

Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and offering contradictions for some and realities for others. It is these members of the Australian community who need to make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.

 

Updated 27 April 2020. Originally posted 24 April 2017 at ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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Crisis relief in wartime and the peace

Book Review

Ministering Angels, the Camden District Red Cross, 1914-1945.

Author Ian Willis

Publisher: Camden Historical Society

ISBN 978-0-9803039-6-4

Ministering Angels  ‘is an example of innovative and groundbreaking work in local history, and succeeds in demonstrating a new way of linking detailed local studies to larger themes in Australian history’.  Dr Emma Grahame (Editor, Australian Feminism: A Companion, OUP, 1998. Editor, Dictionary of Sydney http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org, 2007-2012)

Ministering Angels, the Camden District Red Cross, 1914-1945 Ian Willis Camden Historical Society Inc ISBN 978-0-9803039-6-4
Book Cover for Ministering Angels (2014)

 

Ministering Angels is a peer-review publication that tells the story of conservative country women doing their patriotic duty in an outpost of the British Empire. From 1914 Camden district women joined local Red Cross branches and their affiliates in the towns and villages around the colonial estate of the Macarthur family at Camden Park.

They sewed, knitted and cooked for God, King and Country throughout the First and Second World Wars, and during the years in-between. They ran stalls and raffles, and received considerable community support through cash donations from individuals and community organisations for Red Cross activities.

 

Using the themes of soldier and civilian welfare, patriotism, duty, sacrifice, motherhood, class and religion, the narrative explores how the placed-based nature of the Red Cross branch network provided an opportunity for the organisation to harness parochialism and localism for national patriotic purposes.

The work shows how a local study links the Camden district Red Cross with the broader issues within Australian history and debates involving local history, philanthropy, feminism, conservatism, religion and other areas, while at the same time illustrating the multi-layered nature of the issues that shape global, national and regional history that can impact rural volunteering.

 

The book delves into the story of how Camden’s Edwardian women, the Macarthur Onslows and others of their ilk, provided leadership at a local, state and national level and created ground-breaking opportunities that empowered women to exercise their agency by undertaking patriotic activities for the first time.

In their wake Camden women created the most important voluntary organisation in district history, a small part of the narrative of the Australian Red Cross, arguably the country’s most important not-for-profit organisation. Their stories were the essence of place, and the success of the district branches meant that over time homefront volunteering became synonymous with the Red Cross.

 

Ministering Angels is a local Red Cross study of volunteering in war and peace that provides a small window into the national and transnational perspectives of one of the world’s most important humanitarian organisations.

Read the book here (free)

For more information contact the publisher:

secretary@camdenhistory.org.au

Secretary, Camden Historical Society Inc. PO Box 566, 40 John St, Camden NSW 2570

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1918 Australia Day

By 1918 the war had been dragging on into its fourth year. Soldier casualties were large and still growing.  Patriotic fundraising was a major focus for those at home and the Australia Day fundraisers had been important since their establishment in 1915.

 

The first Australia Day was held in 1915 on the 30 July as a fundraising for the Gallipoli casualties as they returned to Australia. January 26 was known as ‘Anniversary Day’, ‘Foundation Day’ and ‘Regatta Day’. Australia Day was not fixed on January 26 until 1935 when there was agreement of all states and territories and the imminent approach of the 1938 Sesquicentennial celebrations.

Australia Day in 1918 in Camden

In early 1918 Camden Red Cross workers supported the national Australia Day appeal, which aimed ‘to relieve the sufferings of Australia’s men who are suffering that Australia shall be free’. (Camden News 18 April 1918) Camden mayor George Furner called a public meeting on 23 March at a not so well attended meeting of the Camden Red Cross sewing circle. An organising committee was formed of the Camden Red Cross and  council officers. The fundraising activities were to include the sale of badges and buttons, a Red Cross drive, a public subscription, a prayer service, a lecture and a door-knock of the town area.

Red Cross Australia Day 1918 fundraising emu Pinterest
A Red Cross button sold on Australia Day in 1918 for patriotic fundraising for the Australian troops. This button was to raise funds for the Strathalbyn Red Cross branch in 1918. Every little town and village across Australia sold buttons for the same wartime appeal. (Pinterest)

 

The Australian Day activities started with the united prayer service (2 April) held at the Forester’s Hall in Camden run by the Protestant clergy. It started at 11.30am with Rev. Canon Allnutt from St Paul’s church at Cobbitty, Rev CJ King from St John’s church in Camden and Rev GC Percival from the Camden Methodist Church. All businesses in Camden were shut for the duration of the service and there was ‘an attentive and earnest gathering both town and country’. (Camden News, 4 April 1918)

 

A public lecture was presented by Senior Chaplain Colonel James Green (8 April) held at the Foresters’ Hall on his experiences on the Somme battlefield in France.  The Red Cross ‘drive’ started the same week (9 April) and resulted in the sale of Red Cross badges to the value of £54 with only 200 left to be sold before the market day (23 April).

 

A Red Cross market day was held on 30 April and the Camden press maintained that ‘with so many gallant sons in the battlefields; her women folk have since the very outbreak of war have nobly done their part of war work’.  Flags and bunting were draped around the bank corner and were supplemented with Allies’ flags and lines of Union Jacks in the ‘finest’ local display and music was provided by the Camden District Band. The displays were opened by Enid Macarthur Onslow and in her words touched a ‘solemn’ note when she spoke of the ‘sacrifices mothers and women’ towards the war effort and the responsibilities of those who stayed at home. The whole event was a huge success and raised £225, which made a cumulative total of £643 in the appeal to that point.

Red Cross Australia Day 1918 fundraising Vickers Machine Gun Pinterest
A button that was sold on Australia Day 1918 as a patriotic fundraising effort the Australian Red Cross. This button shows an Australian soldier with a Vickers Machine Gun ready for action. (Pinterest)

 

The Camden Red Cross branch then conducted a raffle, with first prize being an Australian Flag autographed by Earl Kitchener. The Camden press maintained

that if you haven’t got a ticket in the Kitchener Flag yet you will have one by the end of May unless you hide from the Red Cross ladies in town. They want to sell a lot and they are not going to let you go until they have extracted a two shilling piece from you. (Camden News, 9 May 1918)

And the reporter was not exaggerating. The total effort of the Camden Red Cross for the Australia Day appeal came to £748, which also included donations from Sibella Macarthur Onslow of £100, Mrs WH Faithfull Anderson of £25 and £100 from the Camden Red Cross. (Camden News, April and May 1918) [In todays worth that is about $100,000 from a population of around 1700]

Australia Day at Menangle and Narellan

The Menangle Red Cross decided that ‘a big effort’ was needed and a garden fete (18 May) was organised by Helen Macarthur Onslow, Enid’s daughter, at her home Gilbulla. The fete was opened in front of a large crowd by the wife of the New South Wales Governor, Lady Margaret Davidson. The New South Wales governor, Sir Walter Davidson, presented two engraved watches to two local returned soldiers. The fete raised a total of £85 and the total Menangle Red Cross collections were well over £100.

 

The Narellan Red Cross put on a concert at the Narellan Parish Hall (27 April) and tickets were 2/- and 1/- and raised £51. Together the sale of Red Cross Drive Badges and donations the branch  raised £80. Out at the Douglas Park Red Cross the branch ran a social and raised £22. (Camden News, April and May 1918)

 

Learn more 

Learn more about local Red Cross activities during the First World War.

Cover[3]
The story of the Camden District Red Cross  from 1914 to 1945 is told in this book published by the Camden Historical Society. It tells the story of Red Cross branches at Camden, Menangle, The Oaks, Bringelly, Mount Hunter, Oakdale and the Burragorang Valley.
First World War · history · Local History · Menangle · Menangle Army Camp · Red Cross

Menangle Australian Light Horse Camp

A little known military facility in the local area during the First World War was the Australian Light Horse Camp based on the Menangle Park racecourse in 1916.

Drunken riots at Liverpool

The establishment of the camp was the result of drunken unrest amongst the troops at the Casula and Liverpool military camps in February 1916 that was later called the Battle of Central Station. These events also contributed to the success of the campaign for 6.00pm closing in New South Wales that was not repealed until 1955.

After the soldier riots the Casula camp was closed and the ‘troops in training’ were distributed to other camps, including one at Menangle Park in February 1916.

Menangle race track

Military authorities leased the race track off the Menangle Racing Club.

The racetrack was first surveyed by military authorities in January 1916, although Campbelltown Showground had been inspected in September 1915.

Poor conditions in camp

The conditions of the Menangle camp in March 1916 were less than adequate. One correspondent to the Sydney press complained the camp was unprepared  and the men had to grub out stumps and  prepare the site for a permanent camp.

The writer complained that the men were busy on labouring duties when they could have been busy doing military training.

It would have been more effective, the correspondent felt, for a private contractor to clear the camp site.

The ‘discontentment’ amongst volunteers was caused by  ‘wasters’ who, apparently, were quite happy for labouring duties to continue for up to 6 months.

Manoeuvres

Training involved forced marches in the local area. In mid-1916 over 1000 men, accompanied by over 100 horses, marched to Camden through Campbelltown on manoeuvres headed by a military band.

They were marched to  Camden showground where they were dismissed for an hour where they had lunch.

Menangle Army Camp men on manoeuvres marching through Camden 1916 CIPP
Soldiers in training from the Menangle Army Camp on a forced march passing along Argyle Street Camden 1916 (CIPP)

The Camden press reported that it was an imposing spectacle having such a large number of troops marching through the town area. The mayor, GF Furner, welcomed the troops to Camden and he then hosted the officers at lunch.

1917 Officers of Light Horse Camp, Menangle. European War CIPP lowres
Officers of the Light Horse Camp, Menangle. European War, November, 1917. Back Row: Lt J Kemp-Bruce, Lt F A Jacobs, Lt R T Williams, Lt H W Veness, Lt R L Gates, Lt R V Moore, Lt N Cope. Second Row: Lt C H Bate, Lt M C Bowley, Lt D Drummond, Lt G D Donkin, Lt S L Molesworth, Lt R E McClelland, Lt J Bailey, Lt C Hely, Chaplain Capt Cock. Front Row: Lt M D Russell, Capt S F Betts, Capt RH Monro, Brig-Gen G L Lee, C M G, D S O, Lt-Col R W Lenehan, V D, Lt C A Mayes, Capt R A Lovejoy, Chaplain Capt Black. (Camden Museum)

 

According to the notes on the photograph:

Officers of the Light Horse Camp, Menangle. European War, November, 1917.
This photo was donated from “Camelot”. The Lt Clem Bate on the left end of the middle row was a friend of the Anderson Family and he probably gave them a copy. He was the uncle of Mr Jeff Bates who was an MHR for the Camden area for many years (as well as previously an MLA). The Lt R.V. Moore in the back row is Mr Val Moore of Glenmore, Camden. The Lt Veness in the back row is the other local in the photo. He came from Menangle.

Camel Corps

In June 1916 reinforcements for the Camel Corps were posted to Menangle camp  for training and exercises. The Sydney press stated the Abdul Wade of Bourke had lent 6 camels to the army for training exercises at the camp for members of the Camel Corps. Four of the animals were for riding, while the other two were pack animals. They were sent to Menangle camp by rail from Bourke under the care of an Afghan camel driver.

The Australian War Memorial states that the Imperial Camel Corps (ICC) was formed in January 1916 in order to deal with the revolt of pro-Turkish Senussi tribesmen in Egypt’s Western Desert. The first four companies were recruited from Australian infantry battalions recuperating after Gallipoli. Four battalions were eventually formed up and units saw action in Palestine in 1917 and 1918. Units were disbanded in mid-1918.

Menangle Army Camp Camel Corps 1917 [2] AWM
Camel Corps at Menangle Army Camp 1917 (AWM)
In July 1916 a further 1000 men from the Australian Light Horse and Trench Mortar Batteries at Menangle Camp did a route march through Camden. They stopped for lunch, after which they gave a demonstration of high explosives, grenades and bomb throwing for the amusement of the local community.

In July 1916 Colonel Lenohan, the officer in charge, stated the military band played at the camp every Sunday afternoon. He reported in the Camden press that he would welcome visitors and he offered to show them around the camp.

Red Cross

In early 1916 the Menangle Red Cross decided to donate a badly needed hospital tent to the Australian Light Horse at a of cost £34. It  measured 20 x 30 feet (6×10 metres) and  could be partitioned off and used for several purposes, or used as a whole for a camp hospital with a capacity of 14 beds.

The press report noted that it would ‘prove a boon to those recovering from sickness, or to any one ‘off colour’ and in need of a quiet rest and medical attention’. The cost of the tent ‘considerably diminish[ed]’ the cash reserves of the small Menangle Red Cross branch but was felt that it was greatly needed by the men.

In May 1916 Brigadier General Ramaciotti inspected the camp and stated that there was a fine billiard room for 10 tables under construction and a well-appointed canteen.

The Camden and Menangle  Red Cross branches supplied the camp hospital with eggs, cakes, scones, pyjamas, hand towels, pillow slips, sheets, towels, and cakes of soap in 1916 and 1917.

The men’s Red Cross branches at Menangle and Camden sent across trays and bed rests that they constructed at their carpentry workshops.

Closure

As the hostilities on the Western Front wound down there was less need for training facilities and  Menangle camp closed in May 1918.