This morning I would like to share with you this Christmas card issued in 1915 to the Anzacs who served at Gallipoli.
The messages conveyed to the Anzacs by General Birdwood and General Hamilton could not be more different. I can imagine the lofty words of General Hamilton would have been met by grimace from some veterans, as he seems so removed from reality.
“MAY I, out of a full heart be permitted to say how gloriously the Australian and New Zealand Contingents have upheld the fine traditions of our race.”
However, upon some research I have discovered something of the man who commanded the Anzac forces in the Dardanelles. General William Birdwood, or “Birdie” to his friends, was the father of the Anzacs, in that he approved of the title of “Anzacs” in reference to the Australian and New Zealand forces. Despite his rank, he liked to appear to be one of the boys.
Unlike General Hamilton who resided at Lemnos, well away from the dangers of the conflict, General Birdwood’s headquarters was located in the hills behind Anzac Cove and was open to Turkish Shelling. According to Charles Bean, “many a man lost his life within a stone’s throw of the place”. The imminent dangers, however, did not deter the General as he was often seen walking around the Anzac’s position and along trenches on the ridges. He also frequented the beach for a swim most days, placing himself in harm’s way alongside his men.Charles Bean summed him up as:
“Above all, he possessed the quality which went straight to the heart of Australians, of extreme personal courage.”¹
The General’s words on the front of the card are very telling of his character:
“Good cheer boys, from all old comrades in the firing line. Return soon and we’ll see this through together.”
He identified with the common man. He was there in the thick of it with his men. He knew of their struggles first hand. He earned their respect by walking in their bloody shoes and put his life on the line with them.
- “The Story of Anzac, Vol.1”, by Charles Bean. P. 121