Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Musings on ANZAC day

ANZAC day has been and gone for another year and I had not really intended on blogging about it, but rather interesting articles by Christopher Bantick and Michael Leunig made me reflect on the deeper, darker side of Gallipoli and WWI.
"What sort of person volunteers to devote their life to the skills of destruction and the business of hunting, trapping and slaughtering humans?"

By celebrating Simpson before Jacka, we choose a sanitised Anzac history...

As Australia commemorates the 90th anniversary of Gallipoli, what is being remembered is highly selective. It is unlikely that the name of Albert Jacka will be recalled today and it is easy to see why. Jacka stood for all that in peacetime is not welcome.

Jacka, a 22-year-old forestry worker from Wedderburn in Victoria, was Australia's first Victoria Cross winner at Gallipoli. He attacked a Turkish position and shot five and bayoneted two more. But there are no monuments in any capital city to Jacka save one small memorial in the Garden of Remembrance in the Springvale Cemetery. Why?

Like the blog title says, I am Thomasr. Thomas after my maternal grandfather Thomas Hugh Sarre. Now ol' Tom (b 1890) was a WWI vet. He didn't go to Gallipoli as the 10th Light Horse (of which he was a member- "Trooper" Thomas H Sarre) was sent to the middle east to fight Turks and Germans in modern day Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

He fought all over the Middle East, was wounded (right through the right bicep) and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. Now for those who don't know, the Military Medal is not far behind the Victoria Cross insofar as wartime medals go:

The Military Medal was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army, and formerly also to personnel of the armies of other Commonwealth countries, below the rank of Warrant Officer, for bravery in the battlefield.

The medal was established on March 25, 1916. It was equivalent to the Military Cross which was awarded to commissioned officers and Warrant Officers.

Now old Tom went to his grave and never said why he got his military medal. He had several reasons:
"For being the best looking bloke in the whole bloody army"
"For saving Phine (the bride!) from being an old maid"

After he died, my mum and my Aunt got a copy of the book "Westralian Cavalry during the Great War". This leather bound book details all of the 10th Light Horse's actions and movements during the war in Gallipoli and the middle east and has all citations and medals listed in the extensive glossary. We found old Tom's citation and it reads as follows [click for fullsize]:

click for fullsize

The handwriting is a little tough, so I'll try to re write:
"Trooper SARRE on the night 29/30 Sept. (1918) was one of Lieut. GWYNNE'S troop which stormed the rocky ridge south of SASA. He was in charge of a troop hoitchkiss gun with which weapon he did considerable damage amonmgst the enemy. During the pursuit at daylight on the 30th he galloped his horse forward to close quarters, brought into action and shot the [unreadable] of a leading field gun hereby causing its abandonment by the enemy. SARRE showed conspicous gallantry and dash throughout the whole of these operations"

His service details:

Wow. He was 26 years old. Younger than me today. He killed many enemy. I went to the Puckapunyal Museum and saw a Hotchkiss gun in situ on its saddle/horse mount and it was a serious piece of kit- essentially it's a light machine gun suitable for the Light Horse. My Grandfather was in charge of it and it would seem he was very good with it and therefore killed many men with it. He carried this burden for 60+ years. The "shame" of having gone and done his duty- his ultimate duty- killing the enemy. Contrast that with Simpson:

John Simpson Kirkpatrick of the 3rd Field Ambulance has become the acceptable face of Gallipoli. As Les Carlyon pithily observed in his book, Gallipoli: "Out of the thousands who did heroic things at Gallipoli, he would be the chosen one."

Now if you want brave (and crazy), Albert Jacka is your man. A natural killer, a real soldier. Reminds me of the stories about Wyatt Earp. It was said that Earp was not the fastest draw in the old west, but he was cool under pressure. He would draw his gun, fire and not miss. What gets missed in the Hollywood versions of the ol' west is that scared men often missed...

If you thought Jacka's exploits in Gallipoli were outstanding, his actions in Poziers stands alone as the single bravest and toughest actions by an Australian soldier- ever:

As dawn broke after a night of nerve-shattering shelling, the men underground only became aware that an enemy attack had swept overhead when a passing German rolled a bomb down the stairs. The concussion in the narrow confines of their shelter was tremendous but Jacka was first to recover and he immediately dashed to the surface, revolver in hand. The milling Germans he saw from the mouth of the dugout were the second line of a successful assault. A nearby group of them were escorting to the rear 42 prisoners from the Australian 48th Battalion. Only seven men from Jacka's platoon had recovered from the blast and while many may have considered surrender a reasonable option in these circumstances, Jacka began thinking how he and his party could fight their way back to Australian lines. After weighing the options, he made a cold-blooded decision to launch his seven men in an attack on the 60 or so Germans who were there. No sooner had they jumped up than two of Jacka's men were killed and every other man was hit but they charged on and belayed the Germans with rifle and bayonet. Jacka himself was hit seven times. Each time he fell to the ground he jumped up again "like a prize fighter", he later said, and ran on. After emptying his revolver, he picked up a rifle and bayonet and accounted personally for some twelve or more of the enemy.

If a character in a movie was based on this bloke, you'd swear it was bullshit, I am just in awe of the man. Sure, Simpson walked up and down those murderous hills taking men to safety, but Jacka did all that and did the ultimate duty to boot.

He went on to become Mayor of St Kilda, the place I now call home. It's truly an honour to have even tenous ties to such a great man. In my minds eye he is clearly out greatest war hero ever. His was anti-authoritarian, brave, tough and little mad. Perhaps you had to be.

When he died in 1932 (mostly due to his many war wounds) all 8 of his pall bearers were VC holders like Jacka.

Either way give me the genuine war heros as my heros. War is hell etc, but mostly it's about killing and if we sanitise, we make it all seem fun and games again.

Just like the boys pre WWI- "it's nowt but a grand adventure..."

The hero with a gun or the one with a donkey?
The story of Albert Jacka
Being a Sniper is a Dangerous Job
The 10th Light Horse
posted by thr at 9:48 pm


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