ANZAC Day 2013


ANZAC Day Speech – Naval Aspects

written and spoken by Chief Petty Officer Jean Pyke

In the silence before dawn on 25 April 1915, hundreds of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand stormed the beaches at what later became known as Anzac Cove. Despite thick scrub and heavy waterlogged uniforms, these young, untested men advanced steadily onwards and upwards; towards withering gunfire, impossible terrain and a determined enemy who occupied all the high ground.

They faced this terrifying ordeal with courage, camaraderie and honour. They did not shirk their duty.

Sixteen thousand Anzac troops landed on the first day and more than 2000 became casualties. The bloody and bitterly fought campaign for possession of the Gallipoli peninsula would eventually extend for eight long months. It would require the troops to endure constant deprivation and bear up to the opposite extremes of summer heat and winter cold. It would result in more than 400,000 killed and wounded among the Turkish and Allied forces. Twenty-six thousand of these casualties were Australian.

The tenacious efforts of the Anzacs are echoed in the selfless exertions Australian defence personnel have continued to make in the service of their nation. It is only right that on Anzac Day we take pride in their efforts, reflect on their values and, most importantly, remember their sacrifice. They were all ordinary Australians, but they did extraordinary things. Our nation was built on the foundations laid by citizens such as these.

Yet if we are to truly honour their memory, then we should also understand something more of how the original Anzacs came to be at Gallipoli. More particularly, we should appreciate how the Australian armed services worked together then, and how they still work together to preserve and protect our nation’s interests.

It is widely known that naval activities provided the foundation for the wider Gallipoli campaign. A failed attempt to force the Dardanelles with sea power resulted in the desire to first secure the Gallipoli peninsula through an amphibious assault.

Less well recognised is that more general maritime operations in the South Pacific set up the conditions that allowed Australia to contribute to the global conflict in the first place.

In August 1914, it was the RAN’s flagship, the battle cruiser HMAS Australia, which deterred a German cruiser squadron from preying on Australian shipping or holding our cities to ransom. Her mere existence forced the German ships to flee across the Pacific to their eventual destruction.

A month later, it was the entire RAN fleet which escorted and supported the joint Navy and Army expeditionary force that took possession of Germany’s New Guinea territories. The successful amphibious campaign marked Australia’s baptism of fire in the Great War.  It was in New Guinea that the first Australian to fall, Able Seaman Bill Williams, received his fatal wound, and here also that the submarine HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands.

In November 1914, it was the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney’s moment when she destroyed the German cruiser SMS Emden. Sydney had been escorting the first Anzac troop convoy from Albany, and her triumph over an elusive foe removed the last enemy threat to the free passage of Australian men and materiel. No Australian soldier was ever lost to enemy action on his way to the Middle East.

Other Australian warships played equally important roles in establishing the Navy’s wartime traditions, notably the submarine HMAS AE2 at Gallipoli. She was the first Allied warship to succeed in a mission that many considered impossible – to penetrate the treacherous currents, minefields and heavy fortifications of the Dardanelles and reach the Sea of Marmara.

News of AE2’s success was received by the British Commander-in-Chief on the evening of 25 April 1915, just as deliberations concerning a general evacuation were underway. The news provided a tremendous boost to morale to the joint force, just when it was most needed.

More than this, however, AE2’s achievement was to show that the feat was possible. Although she was lost soon after, and her crew taken prisoner, within a month other Allied submarines had followed her, and severely disrupted Turkish sea communications to and from Gallipoli.

The combined Allied navies had transported the Anzacs safely to Gallipoli, but this was not the end of their role. During the landing and after, battleships smothered enemy troops and batteries with big gun salvoes, preventing the Turks from pushing the invaders back into the sea. Smaller ships were also active, cruisers closing the beach to provide rapid direct fire on enemy positions, and destroyers stationed on each flank using their searchlights at night to prevent a surprise attack.

Once the Anzacs had settled down to survive the appalling conditions, it was the Navy that continued to sustain them ashore. Everything required by the expedition came and went by sea; the men, mules, guns and ammunition, the wire and timber supports for the construction of fortifications and trenches, and of course the water and provisions.

The mere presence of the whole range of naval support vessels was of immense reassurance, not only because they kept the troops going, but also because control of sea meant that no matter how bad things got ashore, the Anzacs could never be cut off. It should never be forgotten that the final evacuation by naval forces is often described as the most successful aspect of the entire operation.

What might have happened, is best illustrated by the fall of Singapore in 1942, when more than 15,000 Australian troops marched into Japanese captivity.

Also worthy of recall, is the fact that it was an Australian naval engineering unit, the 1st RAN Bridging Train, who were the last Australians to leave Gallipoli. Not for the last time in our military history would naval personnel be the first in and the last out of an operation.

I am proud to be an Australian sailor. I am proud of the Navy’s contribution to the Anzac legend. I am honoured to carry on the legacy of those who fought and died on the far oceans of the world in defence of our freedom.

As we pause here in solemn commemoration, all servicemen and women, past and present, should hold their heads high, knowing that they are part of one of our nation’s greatest and most important institutions.

The men and women of today’s Australian Defence Force will always draw on the tradition of service and sacrifice that the Anzacs exemplified. On land, on sea and in the air, they continue to build on their values and strengthen the foundation established so many years ago.

We will remember all of them.      Lest we forget.