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Australians Renowned for Valor on Battlefield

September 20, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

Although Australia became a commonwealth on Jan. 1, 1901, it remained a close ally of Great Britain throughout the century. Whenever the British called in times of distress, the Australians rushed to the defense.

Such was the case during World War I, when Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher pledged support of the British cause to the "last man and the last shilling."

On April 25, 1915, British, French and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) made a predawn landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. The strategy, according to "A Traveler's History of Australia," was to gain control of a narrow strait, the Dardanelles, so that supplies could be sent to Russia on the eastern front.

But after strong winds foiled the invasion, the allied forces were never able to gain an advantage over the Turks. During several months of fighting, Australian casualties numbered 7,594 dead and 19,500 wounded.

The troops eventually were withdrawn, having made little dent in the Turkish defenses, but, according to the Traveler's History, "Australians, preferring to use cricket terms, preferred to see the Gallipoli campaign as a gallant draw rather than a defeat."

They might be correct. Gallipoli was the first major battle on the international stage for Australians, who were widely heralded for their bravery.

ANZAC Day, the Australians' version of Memorial Day, is celebrated each April 25. It is a solemn occasion. Christmas, New Year's Day and the morning of ANZAC Day are the only holidays on which bars are closed in Australia.

According to "Xenophobe's Guide to the Aussies," men march in the morning and remember the dead.

"In the afternoon, they drink."

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