Anzac Day

Apr. 26th, 2007 10:52 am
lederhosen: (Default)
[personal profile] lederhosen
My great-uncle, Gilbert Dyett, was born in a Victorian country town in 1891. By 1914 he was in South Africa (I think on business), but at the onset of war he came back to Australia to join up. He embarked for Gallipoli in April 1915.

On August 6th, Australian troops launched an attack on heavily fortified Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. It was intended as a diversion, to draw Turkish attention away from a New Zealand/British attack on Chunuk Bair. (In the end, the ANZACs won the diversion but lost Chunuk Bair.)

Over six days of battle - much of it tunnel-fighting with hand grenades - Australian and Turkey each lost about two thousand troops. Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded, which says something about the ferocity of the battle. Lt. Dyett was badly wounded, covered, and left for dead, but somehow managed to pull through and was repatriated; eventually he even managed to start walking again.

When he got back, and I know I've posted some of this before, he got involved in recruiting and then in the movement to recognise and look after returned soldiers. From 1919 to 1946 he was the president of the Returned Services League, and if you Google his name you'll find plenty on what he did. He had a reputation for honesty and diligence (enough so that shady businessman John Wren ('John West') hired him to give a respectable face to the Victorian Trotting and Racing Association, while largely tying his hands - at least, that's how Power Without Glory tells it). He never married - family gossip alludes to lasting injuries from Lone Pine, although it may well be he never found time or just wasn't interested - and he died in 1964, eleven years before I was born.

I find myself looking at his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and wondering what it might have looked like, if the war had been avoided. He'd probably have been a successful businessman (he was already active in that regard before he joined up), although I doubt he'd have caught John Wren's eye; 'returned soldier' counts for a lot when it's respectability you're after.

On 9 August 1915 at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, Turkey, Lieutenant Tubb held a newly captured trench which was being counter-attacked by the enemy. They blew in a sand-bag barricade, leaving only a foot of it standing, but Lieutenant Tubb led his men back, repulsed the enemy and rebuilt the barricade. Twice more the enemy blew in the barricade, but on each occasion this officer, although wounded in the head and arm, held his ground and assisted by two corporals (Alexander Stewart Burton and William Dunstan), rebuilt it. They succeeded in maintaining the position under very heavy fire.

I won't say that the Gallipoli campaign was pointless - if nothing else, it probably had an important if unintended role in Turkey's becoming a secular democracy ([ profile] silmaril can probably make more informed comment on that than I can). But I do wonder what those men - both those who died, and those who survived and spent the rest of their lives dealing with being 'returned soldiers' - might have achieved if that sort of courage and perseverance had been applied in a less grim direction.
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