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Australia Marks WWI Centenary

  • Phil Mercer

This handout photo released by the Commonweatlh of Australia, Department of Defense on Nov. 1, 2014 shows New Zealand and Australian Chiefs of Defense Force during a commemorative event at Anzac Peace Park.

This handout photo released by the Commonweatlh of Australia, Department of Defense on Nov. 1, 2014 shows New Zealand and Australian Chiefs of Defense Force during a commemorative event at Anzac Peace Park.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded into the coastal town of Albany in Western Australia to mark the departure of the first fleet of troops to the battlefields of World War I. The soldiers became part of the Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) legend that was born from the savage defeat at Gallipoli in what is now Turkey.

One hundred years ago the whaling town of Albany, south of Perth in Western Australia, would have been the last sight of home for many of the young men sailing off to war. 30,000 soldiers were to make the journey to a far-away conflict.

Many would end up on the beaches of Gallipoli, where Australia and New Zealand, two former British colonies, fought for the first time as independent nations.

There was carnage on the battlefield. Troops from Britain, France and Turkey suffered terrible losses, while more than 8,000 Australians died at Gallipoli. Almost 3,000 New Zealanders were also killed.

Australia’s Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, says leaving Albany a century ago, few would have contemplated the horrors that would lie in wait.

“There would have been excitement, trepidation," he said. "I think there was also a sense of exhilaration because the rumor at the time was that this war would be over quite quickly. There was this naive perception that Germany would fall quickly and that everybody [would] be home for Christmas or so thereafter, and there was almost a sense that you had better rush if you are to join the excitement. And, of course, perhaps some of the older, wiser heads thought perhaps not. But I imagine that going over the horizon many thought ‘oh, we would be back in a few months.’”

The loss of so many lives during the disastrous allied Gallipoli campaign in 1915, along with the troops’ courage under fire, has become legendary in Australia and New Zealand. Many regard this defeat as the moment their young countries came of age and helped to forge the national characters of both Pacific neighbors.

Thousands of people have gathered in Albany in Western Australia for a parade and a memorial service to remember the heroism of the Anzacs.

Their sacrifice is also honored on April 25 every year. Anzac Day is arguably the most revered national occasion in both Australia and New Zealand.

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