ANZACS And YANKS
A Comet and the Possibility of War
Australians and Americans
1910 - 1914
Australians and Americans share a common heritage. We both have connections with Britain.
In both Australia and in the USA there were men willing to fight for freedom against British rule.
In both Australia and in the USA there were men willing to fight to keep Britain safe.
There were also men in both countries unwilling to fight if it meant, in the long run, supporting England against Catholic Ireland.
In 1910 there was relative peace in Australia and the USA. In the USA the wars against the native Indians were coming to a close. There was lots of construction going on in New York and in other American cities.
Australia had become a federation in 1901 and there was a feeling of national pride still in this. Australia would have its own army based on the colonial armies of Australia. Australia would also have its own navy.
The USA had recovered from its 1861-1865 Civil War and modernization and industrialization seemed to be the way ahead. In 1910 the motor car was taking over the roads.
Years later, people came to think of the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1910 as a dire warning of what was to come.
Did Halley's Comet really foretell the coming of the Great War in 1914?
Was it possible that a chunk of ice moving in outer space could point to a disastrous future for many of our planet's inhabitants? The answer of course is no.
In 1910 it was not quite so peaceful in Europe as it was in either Australia or the USA.
War Clouds on the Horizon
There was an arms race going on. The principle players were Great Britain and Germany but France was also involved. During the first decade of the 20th Century, friendly relations between Great Britain and Germany had frayed.
Great Britain was in the way of German expansion. The Germans wanted to be a real power in both Europe and elsewhere. German industry had never been stronger and, in terms of industry, Great Britain was doing quite well.
France was lagging behind. Belgium was a pretty little country offending no one.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was definitely showing its age and was trying to make up for this with its bluster and support for Germany.
Russia had been very quickly industrialized in an effort to catch up with the rest of Europe. This had put a great strain on the working class/peasantry.
The need for change in terms of social revolution was there already in Russia in 1910 and the movement toward social revolution would only grow.
Meanwhile industrialization in the USA was going more smoothly than the industrialization in Russia.
There were some industrial relation problems in places such as New York and there was some hardship on the part of the common worker. But not on the scale of what was happening in places such as Saint Petersburg in Russia.
Certainly by 1910 the Wild West had been tamed but memories if when it was wild were being dramatized on stage and, to some extent, on screen.
Buffalo Bill was still kicking. His Wild West show had brought a romanticized version of the noble North American Indian and the cowboy to cities back east. Then he did Europe, entertaining crown heads as well as massive crowds of young folk.
Queen Victoria saw Buffalo Bill and his show before her death in 1901 and thought the show a marvel of the age. Buffalo Bill and his cowboys and Indians had even been put on film.
Included on film was Annie Oakley, a sharp shooting woman short in stature but big in heart and large on gumption. Dim store novels carried the exploits of Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and other tough men of the Old West.
In Australia wool kept the economy going though coal also did quite well. Aborigines were still seen as second, even third class entities. They were yet to be included as citizens in their own country.
When the Great War broke out Aborigines joined up in the hope of improving their situation. Many of them served with distinction and honor but they served as foreign members of the empire attached to Australian outfits.
In the years leading up to the Great War, Australians were in search of an identity they could call their own. Steele Rudd (Arthur Davis) provided it with his writings about rugged individuals living on farms and taming the land. Comedy featured strongly in the stories.
Dad and Dave became so popular as characters in Rudd's books that they wandered off the written page and made their way onto radio and then the movies.
On Our selection came out in 1899 and sold over 250, 000 copies.
Our New Selection came out in 1903, Back at Our Selection (1906), The Poor Parson (1907), In Australia (1907), Dad in Politics (1908), From Selection to City (1909), On an Australian Farm (1910) and The Dashwoods (1911).
If nothing else, dry very Australian humor had come of age and was being celebrated.
Earlier on Banjo Paterson had also contributed to creating an Australian spirit with his great poem Clancy of the Overflow (1889) in which the author wishes he was out of the horrid city with its rat race and away somewhere as a drover.
For most Australians tea was the preferred brew and, in the bush, it was tea flavored with a gum leaf and a story.
There were still swagmen about going from country property to country property doing work here and there. They were envied by some because they they weren't tied down and, though there life could be hard, it was all their own.
One thing is certain. No one wanted a major war in which millions would die. Minor wars, yes, but nothing major. Any wars in Europe the powers that be there thought could be easily contained and be regional affairs. They were wrong.
There is the rumor that the English middle and upper classes saw the possibility of taming the working classes out of unions and other such ideas by bloodying them on the battlefield. A six month war would do the trick. A world war was out of the question.
There was even the possibility that the British war effort if needed would be restricted to the navy. Britain has a large, impressive navy at the time but only a small land army.
In Germany there were young men who were keen to come to grips with Germany's old adversaries, the French. Envisioned was a small war to gain new territory and teach the French a lesson they would not soon forget.
A prolonged war would not be in Germany's best interests. There was hope that Britain would either stay out of it or simply use her navy to try to block supplies from getting into Germany.
In Australia building up the country through rail and new roads seemed enough to be getting on with. No one really thought that Australians would actually be drawn into a major European conflict. The same could be said for the people of New Zealand and the people of Canada.
The British Empire will Defend France and Belgium from German Invasion
ANZACS and YANKS
1914 - 1918
On the 4th of August 1914 Great Britain declares war on Germany and, as a loyal member of the British empire, Australia is also at war with Germany.
With feelings for empire as strong as they were in many powerful quarters, the Prime Minister had little choice but to officially bring Australia into the war.
In 1914, at the beginning of hostilities, Germany circumvents French security measures by invading Belgium. Going through Belgium to get into France is a move not without its risks but it is a move not anticipated by the French.
Inexperienced German soldiers meet more resistance from the Belgium people than expected.
The Belgium people manage to slow German advancement but not stop it. This gives the French time to bring men into attack position. Small companies of British also help out. The end result? Trench warfare.
There was an impressive recruitment drive throughout Australia. The belief that the war would be a short one and that Australian soldiers sent overseas would arrive too late to participate in any of the major battles was rife.
Veterans of the Boer War might have known better. Also this was the first chance a federated Australia had been given to show what it could do in terms of defending the empire. The men who fought in the Boer War fought as Queenslanders, Victorians and New South Welshmen.
The word was also out that to gain a real understanding of culture one needed to visit France and England. Also, Australians tend to have the travel bug anyway.
It is part of our nature as is reflected in how the swagman has been and continues to be romanticized in poems, song and stories.
In recent years it has been argued that the idea of the swagman had its origins in Germany but I can't quite see it. Certainly in Germany in the 19th Century and even earlier there were people similar to the Australian swagman living and working in Germany.
Australian soldiers who thought they were headed for Europe landed in Egypt for further training. For many an Australian soldier this really was a strange turn of events. They were joined by the New Zealanders.
Film footage and photos show that the Australian and New Zeanders got along well in Egypt and a good time was had by all seeing the sights.
The Australians, for the most part, felt they were on a grand adventure. Some were beginning to realize, if they hadn't already, that their fate really was in the hands of the army and the British.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli peninsula at what is now known as Anzac Cove on 25th April, 1915. It was a bad move.
There wasn't much in the way of a beach and the high cliffs were perfect for the enemy. A small force could fire down upon an invading army, keeping them busy while reinforcements came up to really pound them.
There has been controversy over the years as to whether the soldiers were landed at the wrong beach or not. My impression is that higher command, which was British, at one point wanted to make out that it was the wrong beach to save them further embarrassment.
The whole thing was ill conceived but this seemed to be typical of British command throughout the war. It should be noted, however, that French command was even worse.
There was a time when the Turks might have remained neutral throughout the Great War.
The British, however, had seen to it that this would not happen. Two ships bought off the British and paid for by the Ottoman Turks through what was basically a national lottery were not delivered.
What's more, as far as I know, the Ottoman Turks were not given their money back. This more than anything else tilted the Ottoman Turks away from neutrality to actually siding with the Germans.
It can be said that the Turks were never going to side with Great Britain and France because of Greece.
The Ottoman Turks knew that any hostility between Ottoman Empire forces and Greek forces, the British and French would most likely side with the Greeks.
The Ottoman Empire was mainly made up of Muslims whereas the Greeks were primarily Christian. Also there was the possibility of the Ottoman forces using the war to extend into Russia.
It can be said that Russia was also primarily Christian. Since the Russians were our allies any attacks upon Russia by the Ottoman Empire had to be prevented.
Attempts had been made to send British and French ships up the narrow straights known as the Dardanelles to take Istanbul (Constantinople). With Istanbul taken the rest of Turkey would soon follow.
Cannon and mines got in the way. Battleships were sunk. Landings at various locales on the Gallipoli peninsula was then decided upon. Despite gallant efforts on the part of the ANZACs in their cove and the French and British elsewhere, this move also proved to be both costly and unsuccessful.
Winston Churchill was blamed for the whole mess and it wasn't until the 1930s that his reputation began to mend.
Even so, the ANZAC legend of courage in the face of tremendous odds had begun.
It was given a real shot in the arm in 1917 when the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade made up of Victorians and New South Welshmen attacked the highly fortified Turkish stronghold at Beersheba.
The mounted men came out of the desert desperate for water. It was possibly the only successful cavalry charge in the entire war. The Turks were taken by surprise because the Australian cavalry had done what was considered by the enemy to be the impossible on horseback.
When Australian and New Zealand soldiers did arrive in France it was to face barbed wire, machine gun nests and great stretches of no man's land. Small gains on the Western Front often cost thousands of lives.
The winter of 1916-1917 on the Somme was a real testing ground for the ANZACs. Rain quickly turned what had once been swamp land back into swamp land.
Rats that had grown as big as cats dinning on the dead were a menace. Men drowned in mud. Any hopes of a swift end to the war were truly over. One consolation was that the German soldier was also doing it tough.
In December 1917, thanks to the Russian revolution, Russia pulled out of the war. This freed up a great many German soldiers who could now be sent to the Western Front.
The USA had entered the war in April 1917 but it would be some months before a fighting force capable of turning the war would arrive in Europe. There was still time for a German victory.
It should be noted that in this period of time it was far from politically incorrect to call an American a Yank. In fact soldiers from the USA wore the name Yank with pride.
There was the song Over There by George Cohan that proclaimed large that "the Yanks are coming" meaning his own country men were going to Europe and that they won't return until the war is over.
Actually I have American friends from WW2 vintage who appreciate being referred to as Yanks. To them it remains a friendly term.
In late May and June of 1918 new tactics devised by the Germans were working well on the Western Front. Instead of going over the top en masse as in the past, special units exploited allied areas deemed weak. Once the special units had succeeded in taking the nearby allied trenches then the regular army would be brought up to secure it.
For a while there it looked as if the Germans might just win the war. The only thing stopping them were a few British and ANZAC outfits. The ANZACs dug in, buying time for the rest of the allied forces to regroup. If not for the tenacity of the ANZACs the war might have ended differently.
American forces came to the fore and, though they suffered heavy loses, did well at The Battle of Belleau Wood in June of 1918.
An armistice came into effect on the 11th day of August, 1918. The fighting was over.
Blindness brought on by gas, the shakes brought on by shell shock
Some of the Hazards of the Western Front:
1. Machine gun nests
2. Cannon fire
3. Trench foot
6. Bombs dropped from planes.
7. Poor diet.
8. Lack of proper sanitation
9. Sappers digging tunnels and planting explosives.
10. Rifle fire
11. Shell shock
12. Hand grenades
The machine-gunners on the German side were hand picked for their accuracy. What's more, they were positioned in such a way as to create a crisscross of machine gun fire that was virtually impossible to get past. It was insane to try but that's what was expected of the allied soldier. The allied machine-gunners were also set up in a similar fashion making it equally hazardous for the Germans to advance.
Cannon fire from the enemy could be deadly but cannon fire from your own side could also be deadly. Too often soldiers advancing upon the enemy were in danger from cannon shells launched by their own side as well as those launched by the enemy.
Continual rain plus the continual wearing of wet socks lead to a condition known as trench foot. It could lead to gangrene and the loss of toes, an entire foot or, if gone untreated for a long time, loss of life.
In the middle ages the French drained swampland and so the Somme area became more habitable. Trees helped to keep the soil in place. In the Great War many, if not all, of those trees were destroyed by fire power and explosions. The result? When it rained the swamp returned with a vengeance.
Men drowned in bomb shell craters. Walking in mud that tended to stick to you and prevent easy movement was exhausting. Duck boards were put down to give the men some relief. Rats sought shelter from the rain in the bodies of the dead or in the trenches. Lice wasn't so much a problem in the dead of winter but it was certainly a problem come the spring and summer. Silk was the only known material at the time that lice would not live in.
Gas attacks were frightening and the gas masks issued by the British were not as dependable as those used at the time by the Germans. The Germans used mustard gas and the British chlorine gas. The effects appear to be similar. If gas got into your lungs it could literally eat you from the inside out. If it got into your eyes it could send you blind. It also burned any exposed skin.
Back in the 1980s I worked for a few weeks for a company that made pool chemicals. The active ingredient was chlorine in powder form. If you were working closely with the powder you had to wear a mask and you were issued with a bottle of milk to drink just to be safe.
Every day I was given a new pair of rubber gloves to wear and by the end of each day the rubber gloves worn would be half eaten away by the chlorine. This gives me some idea of what concentrated chlorine gas must have been lioke on the Western Front in the Great War.
Bombs were dropped from planes but, for the most part, they were light and not very accurate. They were so light, in fact, that an updraft at the wrong moment could land the bomb right in the pilot's lap and he's have to scramble to get rid of it before it went off.
The bombs dropped from German zeppelins (large balloon airships) were, for the most part, larger and could do more damage. The zeppelins could also travel further from base than the planes. London was menaced by zeppelin raids. Toward the end of the war the Germans had created a bomber plane capable of traveling across the English Channel and terrorizing England.
The diet of the average allied soldier consisted mostly of what could come out of a tin. This included jam and bully beef. Flour in packets to make bread as well as tea were also essentials. Fresh fruit and vegetables were a luxury, even on leave. Potatoes could sometimes be had to make a stew with the bully beef. Biscuits issued to the men were often hard enough to stop a bullet. They had to be softened in a mug of tea in order to be eaten.
Digging proper latrines was not always possible. Lack of proper latrines and poor diet could and did lead to wide spread dysentery.
Sappers on both sides dug tunnels. The idea was to dig to and be under the enemy trench and then plant explosives. Setting off the explosion would coincide as much as possible with the advance of your own troops. This was a tactic first used in the American Civil War.
There were very few saber wounds or death by saber in the Great War. You were more likely to be shot by machine gun fire, hot by a riffle bullet or ripped apart by a hand grenade. Toward the end of the war flamethrowers were brought into service.
Tanks only showed themselves to be a practical weapon in 1918. Before that they proved useful in a few dust ups but were useless in muddy conditions where they could get bogged down.
It was General John Monash, a meticulous planner, who saw the potential in the tank. Under his leadership, the Australian 4th Division performed very well at the Battle of Hamel in July, 1918. Credit also should be given to British 4th Tank brigade and a detachment of U.S. troops.
Shell shock was not well understood by doctors during and after the Great War. Men were buried alive during explosions and had to literally dig themselves out or be dug out by fellow soldiers. Sometimes in digging themselves out they came across bits and pieces of their dead comrades. This sort of thing naturally had to have some kind of an effect on a person's mind.
Modern psychology was still in its infancy. People who got the shakes bad from prolonged periods of helplessness while the world blew up around them were not understood. How to cure them was still in the experimental stages. Sigmund Freud for one was searching for answers.
The WORLD was Changing, the British Empire was Changing
YANKS and ANZACS
1919 - 1920
The peace deals struck in Versailles in 1919 were more designed to punish the losers of the Great War and reward the winners than create a peace that had any chance of lasting.
American President Woodrow Wilson understood the problems better than anyone else of creating a lasting peace and tried to be the calming voice of reason. His efforts, however, were in vain..
In signing the treaty of Versailles members of the Weimar Republic had signed the republic's death warrant. Hitler and others were to use the signing against the new democracy.
The League of Nations, a peace keeping force, came into being in 1919. The League held its first council meeting in Paris in January, 1920. With the USA not immediately involved it was already shaping up into being a toothless tiger.
Meanwhile the Middle East had been parceled up between Britain and France. The nations of Europe that had enjoyed colonies were not only reestablishing old holdings but pushing for new ones. Many of the present day troubles in the Middle East can be traced back to this period.
My grandfather came to Australia from England before the Great War. He got a job in Queensland as a Jackaroo (an Australian cowboy). He may, in fact, have been the original Pommy Jackaroo. When war broke out he had the choice of going home to join up or joining the Australian Light Horse. He joined the Australian Light Horse with his Australian Jackaroo mates.
My grandfather fought at Gallipoli and at the Somme.
On the Somme he was hit with shrapnel in both lungs and not expected to live. He made it through a grueling operation and convalesced in England where he made as full a recovery as it was possible for him to make.
For the rest of his life he would carry some shrapnel that was safer to leave in than take out. He met a barmaid in London, my grandmother, married her and headed back to Australia. My grandfather and grandmother settled in a small, outlying suburb of Sydney. Was he an adventurer? I would say so. Does his story deserve to be told in greater detail? I would say so.
I have made a study of life in England circa 1902 - 1918 for my novel Ghost Dance.
I hope you have enjoyed my run through of the 2nd Decade of the 20th Century.
For a different but good slant on some of the topic areas here covered and some that are not check out Jane Bovary's hub 1920.
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