MoboReader> Literature > Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights

   Chapter 22 THE HEROIC ANZAC.

Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights By Kelly Miller Characters: 16032

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Forces that Stirred the World in the Gallipoli Campaigns-Famous as Sappers-The Blasting of Messines Ridge-Two Years Tunneling-30,000 Germans Blown to Atoms-1,000,000 Pounds of Explosives Used-Troops that were Transported 11,000 Miles.

When the final history of the war is written, and the years have passed into ages, the story of the Anzac will form a brilliant passage in the book of nations. The Anzac in the campaigns at Gallipoli, the Dardanelles, and in Flanders served England with a loyalty and heroism not excelled by any other force. And what were the Anzacs? They were the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand. Let A represent Australia, N.Z., New Zealand, and A.C., army corps, and you have the basis of the word Anzac.

Generally in the news dispatches, the Anzacs have been referred to as Australians. They are described as fearless, daring and fierce fighters, whose presence added pep to every engagement in which they participated. No more picturesque group has ever been written into the history of armies. Composed of men who were bushrangers, cattlemen, miners and hardy outdoor workers, many of whom served in Egypt, India and wherever the British flag floats, their character is indicated by the fact that they have been at times called the "Ragtime Army."

The description of the landing of these troops at the Dardanelles, where in a rain of artillery fire, they dashed into the Turkish trenches, is one of the most thrilling of the war. With the shells from the ships falling upon the Turkish forces the Anzacs chased the Turks step by step inland, engaging in the most desperate hand-to-hand encounters.

Perhaps the story of that first battle might have been different had not Turkish reinforcements appeared upon the scene. As it was the British men of Anzac were temporarily driven back, retiring with terrible loss. For hours the Australians engaged in solid fighting through a broken and hilly country, digging at night to establish entrenchments, with a renewal of the defense at daybreak, and then repeating the program. This is what the Australians and New Zealanders did, living upon short rations the while.

In all of the campaigns in which the Anzacs have participated their work as sappers has been a feature. Sappers, by the way, are those men who, in modern warfare, burrow in the earth, planting mines, digging trenches, dugouts and fortifications. The Australians are fitted for this work for a large percentage of them had civil experience in the mines, and on extensive contract and excavation work.


Probably one of the most effective attacks of the English against a German stronghold in Belgium was made possible through the work of the Australian and New Zealand sappers. That was the blowing up of the Messines Ridge in June, 1917. In this action the Anzac shone in a manner that can never be forgotten.

On June 7, 1917, the British, with one terrible stroke, tore asunder the strong German position south of Ypres. This stroke was in a little corner of Belgium, where the armies of the Allies had successfully outgeneralled the enemy for two and a half years.

During almost two years of this time several companies of Australian, New Zealand and British sappers were busily but silently engaged in mining the hills of the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge, on which were the guns of the Germans which had been raking the troops of the Allies all this time. Nineteen great mines which contained a total of 1,000,000 pounds of ammonite upon their completion, had been dug into the vitals of these hills. Great charges of this new and powerful explosive had been placed in the mines nearly one year before their completion, yet no one except those actually engaged in the work knew of it. The secret was kept and the troops of Australia and New Zealand worked directly beneath the great German fortifications.

Then came the crucial moment. At exactly 3.10 o'clock in the morning of June 7, the whole series of mines were discharged by electrical contact, and the hilltops were blown high in the air in one terrific burst of flame, which poured forth as from craters of volcanoes. The ground for miles around was rocked as in an earthquake, and the roar emitted was distinctly heard in England by Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, listening for it at his country home 140 miles away.


The explosion of the mines was a pre-arranged signal for the beginning of a heavy shell fire by the artillery. The whole section affected by the mines was subjected to a most intense shellfire, and following up this death-dealing storm came the troops of General Haig, under Sir Herbert Plumer, who finished the work of the great mines and big guns with a brilliant charge of men, who used rifle and bayonet most effectively. Within a few hours the whole of the Messines Ridge was securely in the hands of the British, and they had captured 7000 prisoners and many guns. The German casualties were estimated at 30,000, those of the British being about 10,000.

Rushing the whole sector south of Ypres, from Observation Ridge to Ploegsteert Wood, north of Armentieres, the British forces succeeded in capturing that position with little loss. Then came the assault of the rear defenses, which were formed by the ridge itself. The natural formation of the land greatly helped the Germans in arranging their defenses, and the fighting was very fierce. The work of British troops, in which were many Australians and New Zealanders, together with English and Irish, all under the command of General Sir Herbert C.O. Plumer, was given great credit in the reports of the commander to the War Office.

The British War Office summarized the attack as follows in its report of June 8:

"The position captured by us yesterday was one of the enemy's most important strongholds on the western front. Dominating as it did the Ypres salient and giving the enemy complete observation over it, he neglected no precautions to render the position impregnable. These conditions enabled the enemy to overlook all our preparations for attack, and he had moved up reinforcements to meet us. The battle, therefore, became a gauge of the ability of the German troops to stop our advance under conditions as favorable to them as an army can ever hope for, with every advantage of ground and preparation and with the knowledge that an attack was impending.


"The German forward defenses consisted of an elaborate and intricate system of well-wired trenches and strong points forming a defensive belt over a mile in depth. Numerous farms and woods were thoroughly prepared for the defense, and there were large numbers of machine guns in the German garrisons. Guns of all calibers, recently increased in numbers, were placed to bear not only on the front but on the flanks of an attack. Numerous communicating trenches and switch lines, radiating in all directions, were amply provided with strongly constructed concrete dugouts and machine-gun emplacements designed to protect the enemy garrison and machine gunners from the effect of our bombardment. In short, no precaution was omitted that could be provided by the incessant labor of years, guided by the experience gained by the enemy in his previous defeats on the Somme, at Arras, and on Vimy Ridge.

"Despite the difficulties and disadvantages which our troops had to overcome, further details of yesterday's fighting show that our first assault and the subsequent attacks were carried out in almost exact accordance with the timetable previously arranged. * * *

"Following on the great care and thoroughness in preparations made under the orders of General Sir Herbert Plumer, the complete success gained may be ascribed chiefly to the destruction caused by our mines, to the violence and accuracy of our bombardment, to the very fine work of the Royal Flying Corps, and to the incomparable dash and courage of the infantry. The wh

ole force acted in perfect combination. Excellent work was done by the tanks, and every means of offense at our disposal was made use of, so that every arm of the service had a share in the victory."

A good description of the Australian soldier, as he follows up his victory, was given in a story of an American war correspondent, who wrote concerning Flanders:


"After these many months of trench warfare there is keen delight for the Australian soldier in this new land of warfare which the German retirement has opened up. The fighting is in open country now, over gently rolling downs of what looks like grass land. It is really most of it wheat or turnip land which has not been cultivated for a year or two. The country is as open as the Australian central plains.

"It is quite a new sort of battlefield for the Australians. They march down to it through valleys almost exactly like the valleys in the peaceful parts of France. There are whole acres in which one cannot see a single shell hole. Back across the green country or down the open roads come men in twos or threes occasionally, sauntering as one might find them on a country road. They are the wounded helping one another back to the dressing station. The walking wounded have to help each other back in these modern battles. It is no longer looked upon as meritorious for an unwounded combatant to leave the field and help a wounded comrade to the rear.

"Nearest the front the country becomes more feverish. Angry bursts of tawny color are seen in a haphazard sort of way dotting the horizon and the countryside. Here and there are Australians standing behind mounds of earth with their rifles pointed over the top, bayonets always fixed. Frequently, when there is no other shelter there are hastily scooped trenches. A quarter of a mile away another party is lining a roadside, flat on their stomachs in the ditch, bayonets peeping over the top. Shells are whizzing by at the rate of two or three a minute, high explosives bursting on contact behind their backs about as far away as the other side of a cottage parlor.


"Frequently one meets a prisoner being escorted to the rear. There is something very impressive about these little processions of two men, prisoner and escort. The prisoner, usually a young German private in neat gray uniform and steel helmet, walks in front. After him, grasping his rifle with both hands across his chest, his weatherbeaten brows puckered as he picks his way over the tumbled stones, comes the living embodiment of the Australian back country. Nine cases out of ten, somehow, the soldier who escorts a prisoner seems to be that bit of pure Australian, either Western Australia or South Australia, the Warrego or the Burdskin.

"He is an earnest man, intent on executing his errand with dispatch and exactitude. 'Can you tell me the way to headquarters?' he asks as he passes. Then he disappears slowly up the street on the heels of his silent companion.

"These Australians are just as good fighters in this new warfare as they were at Gallipoli or in the trenches, perhaps even better. They had their first encounter with German cavalry the other day, but it was only a feint at a flank and lasted but a few minutes."

Australia is ambitious, some might even say self-centered, and Germany undoubtedly made the mistake of considering that Australia was awaiting a chance to become unfriendly to Great Britain when she started to fight. But no nation ever made a greater mistake. As soon as the House of Hohenzollern placed the mother country in a perilous position Australia was at the command of Great Britain. Notwithstanding the fact that the Australians are primarily peace-loving, most intent on attending to their own affairs, the response to the call was immediate and whole-hearted.


The Australian centers buzzed with activity, and within two months after war was declared the Australian fleet, which consisted of five unarmored cruisers, three torpedo-boat destroyers, and three light gunboats, which had been built and manned at the expense of the Australians, were in possession of the German Pacific Islands-Samoa, Marshall, Carolines, Pelew, Ladrones, New Guinea, New Britain-had broken the wireless system of the Germans, and had captured eleven of the vessels of Germany. She also forced twenty-five other ships to intern, and prevented the destruction of a British ship in Australian waters.

Then came the scouring of the seas by the German ship Emden, and her trip to Australian waters, with the object of carrying on the work of destruction which had marked her career in South American waters. She lay in wait for Australian transports, with the result that the Australian warship Sydney sent her to the bottom but three months after war had been declared. Shortly after this the Australian fleet drove von Spree's squadron from the Pacific directly into the trap set by Admiral Sturdee at the Falkland Islands.

The fact that all the troops of Australia must be transported to London-a distance via the Suez route of approximately 11,000 miles, and through the Panama Canal of 12,734 miles-did not keep back these brave men from quickly enlisting. The great distance made fighting extremely expensive, but the task was loyally assumed by the military of the far continent. Universal military service was inaugurated for the first time by an English-speaking community, and war loans were offered and quickly accepted. Transports were immediately constructed out of seventy steamers which were requisitioned.

At the declaration of war in November, 1914, the entire Australian army, which consisted of 20,000 men, left Australia for Egypt, and at the end of the first year of the conflict there were 76,000 men in the field. By July, 1916, nearly 300,000 volunteers had been recruited and had crossed the seas. The creation, equipment, and supplying of this army by the people of Australia, a task involving enormous cost and personal sacrifice, constitutes a thrilling chapter in the history of loyalty.


To those who think that Australia is a little island situated in the Pacific ocean it might be interesting to know that this continent, in size and shape, is almost the exact duplicate of the United States. There are also outlying provinces, that of Papua, a tropical land, offsetting Alaska. Then there is the rich little Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island. The surface of Australia is the most level in surface and regular in outline of all the continents, and is the lowest continent, with an average elevation of Ohio.

There are 2,974,581 square miles in Australia, while the land area of the United States is 2,973,890 square miles, a difference of 691 square miles. This, of course, is only the continental United States. Only about one-twentieth of the total area of Australia lies in a latitude farther removed from the Equator than Chattanooga, Tennessee; Clarendon, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and there is less than one-third of the area of this unique continent which lies in a cooler latitude than the sugar-cane lands of Louisiana.

The streams of Australia are fewer and carry less water than those of any other continent. The heart of this great island is dry and barren and thinly populated. Most of the inhabitants are found within easy reach of the coastline. The population of this great land, at the census of 1911, was 4,568,707 persons.

New Zealand is situated a little more than 1200 miles to the east of Sydney, which is in the southeastern section of Australia. It consists of three fairly large islands, together with a number of small adjacent islands. The area is 105,340 square miles, the population being, in 1911, 815,862. The surface of the principal islands is diversified, being mountainous in some parts, and undulating in others. The best harbors are in the northern district.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top