This is the speech which Max Solling gave at the Anzac Day ceremony at the Glebe Diggers’ Memorial in April:
This morning I would like to share some thoughts with you about aspects of the Anzac tradition. The cataclysmic upheaval of the First World War, where almost 60,000 Australians died, and the decision of the imperial government that there be no repatriation of bodies, meant that local communities across the country took the initiative to create and fund memorials, 1,445 altogether, which have become a familiar part of city and country landscapes. They remain a vehicle for social meanings, and a centre for public display of mourning and commemoration. Apart from the profound private and public grief the war caused, it is also remembered for a new sense of national consciousness, and the creation and resilience of the Anzac legend as the centrepiece of national identity.
What do we know about war memorials to be found within three or four kilometres of where we live? The earliest statements of public grief and pride appeared on inner city landscapes in 1916. Balmain’s Unity Square, was renamed Loyalty Square and on 24 April 1916 a memorial drinking fountain/light with four separate marble name plates on a pedestal was unveiled there. Featuring the words ‘Peace, Honour, Empire and Liberty’, it recorded the names of 38 men killed at Gallipoli. A monument surmounted by a white marble soldier, designed by Edward McGowan, was unveiled in front of Rozelle tram depot’s office compound on 26 November 1916, with the names of 34 tram workers who died. Part of the inscription is ‘Glory to God – Honor to the Dead’, ‘erected by their comrades’. About 150 tram workers enlisted.
But generally it was rare for memorials to be built during the war.
Memorial committees of three inner Sydney suburbs engaged English-born Gilbert `Bertie’ Doble (1880-1974), who chose the symbolic woman to the fighting man for monuments, outside the canon of high art. Described as ‘a hater of war’, there were no weapons or fighting poses in his work. Doble made allegorical female figures in bronze. The unveiling of his female Victory on a column at Marrickville on 24 May 1919 to 458 soldiers who died, attracted a crowd of 15,000. At Union Square, Pyrmont on 8 April 1922 a winged female figure holding a shield named ‘Peace’ was unveiled and Doble’s Leichhardt monument, now in Pioneer Park, was unveiled the next day on 9 April 1922, a tall tapering granite pedestal with a bronze female figure, named ‘Peace’ with a wreath on her head. It contains the names of 379 Leichhardt men who died. Doble’s design for a female trio of Victory, History and Fame at Wellington in Central Western NSW was described in 1923 as ‘one of the finest memorials in the Commonwealth’.
Stonemason Frederico Gagliardi created the Annandale obelisk type monument at Hinsby Place with pedestals supporting bronze lamp standards in 1921, and an Italian influence is also in evidence at the Glebe monument with the angel and busts of the soldier and sailor sculpted by Alessandro Casagrande from the Veneto region in Italy. William Martin’s design of the Glebe mausoleum in 1922 is a very Australian monument; neither the Empire nor Britain is represented. The dedication is simple and understated: ‘Erected by Glebe Residents in Memory of the Glorious Dead’.
The small Camperdown community funded a monument in bluestone in 1921 surmounted by a marble figure of a soldier in Camperdown Park, and at Darlington Public School four pillars of memorial gates, unveiled in 1924, was the site for local wreath laying for the smallest municipality ever incorporated in the state.
In the 1920s state governments read the public mood and began to erect public memorials. The Sydney Cenotaph was constructed of Moruya granite at Martin Place in 1927 with Bertram McKennal’s bronze sentinel figures of a soldier and sailor unveiled on 21 February 1929. His models were Private William Darby of the AIF and Signalman John Varcoe RAN. The impressive Anzac War Memorial at Hyde Park, designed by C. Bruce Dellit, was opened on 24 November 1934 with the exterior adorned with monumental figural reliefs and sculptures by Rayner Hoff.
Sydney University resolved to create a substantial memorial to the 2,036 students, staff and alumni who enlisted. It accepted a tender of £17,380 for a carillon of 49 bells in 1925 to be cast by John Taylor and Co Loughborough, England. It was installed in the clock tower and opened on Anzac Day 1928. The Great Bell of the Carillon, called AIF (weighing four and one half tonnes) ‘tolled 18 times for those who fell in the War’. 230 died in the war.
Government also supported the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission which allowed families to craft inscriptions for overseas graves of sons and husbands, and many acknowledged the sacrifice for King and Country. Others expressed feelings this sacrifice had been in vain; for them the futility of war overwhelmed any sense of national pride.
Prominent in creation and promotion of the Anzac legend in the popular imagination was Charles Bean. Official correspondent to the AIF, he went ashore at Anzac Cove and lived in the trenches with the men so he could understand their experiences. During the war his diary and notes filled 283 notebooks, and when appointed official historian in 1919, Bean began the monumental task of writing and editing the Official History of Australia in the war that took 23 years to complete. Bean was also responsible for publication of The Anzac Book during the war, a compilation of poems, anecdotes and writings by soldiers at Gallipoli which propagated an image of the Australian as tough, ironic, stoical, sardonically humorous, the archetypal bushman and committed to his mates.
Bill Gammage’s history of ordinary soldiers, The Broken Years. Australian soldiers in the Great War, a scholarly work published in 1974, avoids the bombast of popular history and uses diaries and letters of soldiers to provide a more complex picture of their fears, anxieties and hopes. Others have queried the Legend. Lloyd Robson’s 1970 study has shown the Anzacs were more likely to come from the city, and to have been born in Britain, rather than from the bush. And Peter Stanley explored the incidence of mutiny, desertion and self-harm to escape the front in Bad Characters. Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force (2010).
The resilience of the Anzac Legend is evident for contemporary Australians. Gallipoli and the Western Front have become popular sites of pilgrimage, a phenomenon explored by Bruce Scates in Anzac Journeys (2013). Stephen Garton’s The Cost of War (1996) reveals a dark undercurrent of stories of alienated, withdrawn and silent husbands and fathers, and the incidence of drink, unemployment and family conflict meant that for some families the scars of war ran deep, and across the generations. And Marina Larsson has researched in the story of families who welcomed home disabled soldiers, a poignant account of the grinding burden of looking after Shattered Anzacs (2009), the title of her book.