SIMTICS is headquartered in New Zealand, where April 25th is Anzac Day. It’s our equivalent of Memorial Day in the USA, so it’s the day when New Zealanders and Australians commemorate all men and women who have died in military service, and honor returned servicemen and women. (“Anzac” stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.)
The April 25th date itself is very special, since it marks the anniversary of the tragic Gallipoli landings in 1915. On that day – exactly one hundred years ago this year – thousands of young men, far from home, stormed the beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in what is now Turkey, and began an 8-month long campaign.
These New Zealand troops, alongside men from Australia and Great Britain, Newfoundland and Ireland, France and India, battled incredibly harsh conditions to fight Ottoman forces who were, in turn, desperately trying to protect their homeland. The fighting quickly degenerated into deadly trench warfare and, in that one campaign alone, more than 130,000 men died; both Ottoman soldiers and Allied soldiers.
Among the Allied dead were 2,779 New Zealanders, almost a third of those who took part from our country. It was the highest percentage of fatalities for any WW1 campaign in which NZ troops fought. The youngest was only fourteen years old.
That death toll may pale in comparison to other countries’ losses, however back in 1915 the entire population of New Zealand was only 1 million, and 1 in 10 of that population signed up to go to war. It was a huge sacrifice for a very young, and geographically isolated, nation.
Thankfully, many men did survive the campaign and were able to return to their families, but many were terribly wounded and faced horrendous conditions.
Medical treatment at Gallipoli was very difficult. The medical stations in the gullies and on the beach often came under fire because of their exposed positions. There was a lack of medical supplies, and not enough food or water. The troops had to endure heat, flies, disease, and the stench of unburied bodies. Dysentery was rife.
For the wounded men, the wait for treatment was long and agonizing because the evacuation framework could not cope with the sheer scale of casualties. Many seriously wounded were left on the beach too long, and once on board the hospital ships they found appalling conditions.
Reading about what the wounded had to endure, and the terrible conditions that the medics were forced to work in, is sobering. It is a huge testament to the dedication of the medics in the field, the physicians, nurses and orderlies on the hospital ships, and the sheer tenacity of the wounded soldiers, that some of those men did eventually make it back home to their families.
The official centenary commemoration services this Anzac weekend right around New Zealand and at Gallipoli, in Turkey, have been very moving. The motto for Anzac Day is “Lest We Forget”. It’s clear that, one hundred years on, New Zealand is determined to always remember all those young people, on both sides, who sacrificed so much for their countries.
And let’s also salute all the brave, resourceful and tenacious military medical professionals, and the lives that they saved. Not just one hundred years ago, but in all the years since then. We thank them, all of them, for their service.
[Image credit: Hero Home, artist not named, available at http://throughtheselines.com.au/media under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.]