For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict in its history in terms of deaths and casualties with the highest death-rate suffered by any national army in the war. From a population of less than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. In the Second World War over 993,000 Australians served in the armed forces, of those on active service, 27,073 were killed in action or died, 23,477 were wounded, and 30,560 were taken prisoner of war, 8296 dying in captivity.
The First World War was not the first major conflict in which the young men of Australia had fought, however it was the fiery crucible that saw the formation of the history and identity of the young nation of Australia through its selfless creed of mateship, sacrifice and service at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli then on the Western Front in France and Belgium, thus the famous ANZAC spirit and Australia's identity as a nation was born.
Australians had first fought in the South African war of 1899-1902 winning six Victoria Crosses (VC)- the highest award for bravery for British and Commonwealth servicemen.
The first VC was awarded to Captain Neville Howse a doctor with the News South Wales Medical Corps. On July 24, 1900 in an action at Vredefort, Orange Free State he saw a trumpeter fall wounded close to an enemy position – Howse galloped out to rescue him but his horse was hit. The doctor continued on foot treated the trumpeter's wounds and carried the man to safety. The VC won by Howse is doubly unique since it is the only one to be awarded to a member of the Medical Services in the Australian Armed Forces.
Many of the Australian troops were very experienced riders who were also capable of roughing it in the tough terrain of the South African veldt – this made them formidable opponents for the Boer troops who at the close of the war had adopted guerilla tactics to combat British and Imperial troops.
The Second South African war may have been the first time that Australian troops had been in action but it was following the nation's sacrifice and commitment in the First World War that Australia gained its distinct and proud national identity.
The focus for this is Anzac Day on April 25, a time to remember the 8,709 men from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand killed in the ill fated amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in southern Turkey in 1915 - as well as the 40,000 plus men killed on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
The ANZAC name comes from an Army Corps formed from men from Australia and New Zealand: hence the initials ANZAC. Celebrated in Both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day is a unique memorial day for two sovereign countries.
Nine Australian soldiers would win the VC during the Gallipoli campaign. The fighting in Gallipoli would not only establish the national identity of Australians and New Zealanders but also that of the post-Ottoman Empire Turkey set up by Kemel Ataturk.
The ANZAC spirit was time and time again tested on the Western Front in WW1, and in New Guinea on the Kokoda Track, Crete and Tobruk and all other battlegrounds where Aussies fought in WW2. It was also in huge abundance at at Long Tan in Vietnam when in over three and a half hours on August 18, 1966 where the guns of 161 Field Battery, 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery fired over 3,500 rounds of 105mm ammunition supporting the massively outnumbered men of D Coy 6 Royal Australian Regiment. Today in Australia August 18 is remembered as Vietnam Veterans Day.