JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In the pre-dawn stillness, the Australian sailors stood in their ranks beside the Winged Victory monument at Memorial Park Friday to remember and to honor.
April 25 is ANZAC [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps] Day in Australia and it was fitting that the sailors of the Royal Australian Navy’s 725 helicopter squadron, on a two-year training mission at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, were away from home.
“We’ve been away from Australia for two years, but the ANZAC spirit was actually forged off our shores,” said Cmdr. David Frost. “It was forged in Gallipoli.”
What has become the equivalent of Australia and New Zealand’s Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, fought 99 years ago in the first year of World War I that would ultimately cost an estimated 37 million lives.
The great armies of Europe had already reached a stalemate in the trenches of Western Europe and Russia needed help responding to a Turkish invasion. Attempting to breakthrough to their ally, the British conceived a daring plan.
In an effort proposed by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, the British Empire attempted a naval, then land attack against the peninsula on the Aegean Sea near the modern day border of Greece and Turkey.
After the naval attack failed to break through the Dardenelles Straits, ANZAC troops were thrown against the mountainous terrain defended by German and Ottoman soldiers.
The AZNAC forces fought ferociously, but suffered over 8,000 casualties in the ultimately unsuccessful combined British and French campaign to take the forts commanding the straits.
Though Australia and her allies would go on to victory in the war, cutoff from its allies, Russia crumbled and Czar Nicholas II abdicated his thrown. By 1917, the Communists had seized power.
But through the battle, the Aussies had gained a reputation.
“That day was a time when Australia was a very young country searching for its own identity,” Frost said. “But through the horrors of battle in a failed campaign it became very clear, not only to Australia but to the rest of the world, that the ANZAC spirit was one of mateship, endurance and freedom.
“So really, it instilled our own identity as a young country and through that, we became the country we are today.”