The battle that shaped a nation
Our Anzac centenary series launches today
Jack Hunter died fighting for the Allied Forces on Belgium’s front line during the Great War. His story, along with many others, is being told now – 100 years later – in honour of their sacrifice. Over the coming months local stories will mark the centenary of the war and its impact on the people of the South Burnett.
ONE HUNDRED years ago, the world changed forever.
With the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo a month earlier, Austria-Hungary had the reason it had been looking for to strike against Serbia.
The Austro-Hungarian leadership had suspected the Serbian government of fuelling a wave of nationalism believed to be destabilising its influence in the Balkans, and – following a month of threats and ultimatums issued by various European powers – war was declared.
But this was not a simple matter of one country versus another.
A complex and decades-old system of treaties and alliances among the major powers in Europe had meant that once one country had declared war, others would be forced into supporting their allies.
The Dual Alliance had been formed between Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1879 and, on the understanding this would be a defensive alliance, they were later joined by Italy.
In 1907, the Triple Entente was formed between the British Empire, the Russian Empire and France.
And so it was that Austria-Hungary’s strike against Serbia ignited a chain of war declarations, drawing much of Europe into a full-scale conflict the likes of which had never been seen before.
What would later be coined as the Great War would leave more than 16 million dead and more than 20 million wounded.
Australia was in the middle of a federal election campaign when war broke out, and the two leaders of the main parties were quick to pledge their support for the British Empire.
On July 31, the day after the Australian Governor-General received advice that war was imminent, then Labor leader, Andrew Fisher, spoke the famous words vowing to defend Britain: “Aus- tralians will stand beside our own to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.”
Two days later, a secret alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Empire would be the catalyst for the first battle the young Australian nation would fight for the “Mother Country” – forging the legendary and lasting spirit of Anzac.
The Ottoman Empire – with Turkey at its heart – lay in ruins. Having lost several conflicts and territories to go with it, it was in desperate need of friends. Strategically important because of its link between Europe and Asia, allowing access up to the Russian Empire through the passages to the Black Sea, and with Greece constantly breathing down its neck to capture territory – Turkey was at a crossroads.
Interior Minister Talat Pasha later wrote: “Turkey needed to join one of the country groups so that it could organise its domestic administration, strengthen and maintain its commerce and industry, expand its railroads.”
Germany saw an opportunity to gain easier access to its African colonies and Indian trade routes.
Thus, when a plan would later be hatched to attack Turkey on the Gallipoli Peninsula, the British – supported by troops from Australia, New Zealand and France – would find themselves facing a Turkish force backed up by the capable and powerful Germans.
When Andrew Fisher became the Australian Prime Minister on September 17, he stood behind his pledge to defend Britain by creating the Australian Imperial Force. Thousands upon thousands of young Australian men would sign up. Of the almost 417,000 men who would enlist, more than 60,000 would be killed and about 156,000 would be wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. And that was from a population of fewer than five million people.
NEXT, ON AUGUST 12: The recruitment for troops begins
MOMENTOUS TIME: Crowds wait outside the offices of the Melbourne Argus newspaper awaiting news of the outbreak of the war in Europe.
Follow our series marking key milestones in the build-up to the Gallipoli centenary