IV Cultural Legacies: Remembrance and Representation

Decentering Anzac: Gallipoli and Britishness, 1916-39

Jenny Macleod

The First World War set in train the development of ideas and traditions that had profound implications for nations and for national identity. At war’s end, the defeated empires were broken apart. By contrast, the British Empire actually grew in size as it mopped up mandates and colonies created in the post-war settlement. And yet revolution and war beset the United Kingdom, the very heart of that empire, resulting in the establishment of what ultimately became the Republic of Ireland. This was a violent rejection of Britishness. Elsewhere within the empire, a shared British identity was simultaneously reaffirmed and undermined by the war. One of the ways in which this manifested itself was through commemoration. This chapter uses the early years of the commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign as a means to observe both continuities within Britishness and the seeds of its decline.

In Australia, the experience and the portrayal of the Gallipoli campaign during 1915 and afterwards, and its subsequent commemoration, had a profound effect on how the nation saw itself. Charles Bean, Australia’s war [1]

correspondent and official historian, led the way in this. Towards the end of his official history of the war he declared: “Every Australian bears that name proudly abroad to-day; and by the daily doings, great and small, which these pages have narrated, the Australian nation came to know itself.” An identity that was distinct from Britishness had been discovered; a white and masculine set of characteristics derived from the Australian soldiers—Anzacs (after ANZAC: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps)—was projected on and embraced by the nation. Bean concluded that their story was, “for their nation, a possession for ever.”2

This concluding phrase resonates strongly in present-day Australia, and it is frequently referred to in the overlapping arenas of commemoration and public history. It was used in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s dawn service address on the centenary of the first landings at Gallipoli.3 It is used to conclude a revisionist version of Australia’s military history.4 This author has witnessed them delivered as if by revivalist preacher, the Australian speaker’s arms stretched wide in acclamation, at the conclusion of an academic paper. As Ken Inglis has argued, Anzac is Australia’s civil religion, and Anzac Day is at the heart of Australia’s national calendar and indeed functions as Australia’s de facto national day.5 It is the reason Australia is spending far more on the centenary of the First World War than other nations.6

The memory of Gallipoli has undoubtedly played an essential role in forging a version of Australian national identity that replaced, to a large extent, a pre-existing Britishness. It has therefore been extensively examined by historians: from closely focused studies taking the aforementioned words from Bean’s last paragraph as their jumping-off point, to critiques of Anzac’s impact on contemporary society, and from vast collaborative projects to magisterial overviews.7 Such works seek to examine the memory of Anzac with a view to understanding the nature and development of Australia’s national identity. They do so in an historiographical context which recognises, as Neville Meaney has noted, that “nationalism was socially constructed and historically contingent,... a product of a particular set of social conditions and a particular time in history.”8 As a further contribution to this disavowal of a teleological view of nationalism, this chapter seeks to explore the Britishness that came before the expression of distinct national identities within commemoration. It thus examines the ways in which a shared culture across the empire shaped responses to the campaign. This is an inherently transnational approach, the better to appreciate the remarkable and distinctive aspects ofthe local and national versions of Anzac Day. In doing so, it draws out one of the threads of my recent book in order to make the points of comparison more


explicit by focusing on the interwar years, and thereby teases out where Australia sits in this important cultural legacy of the First World War.9

  • [1] am grateful for the comments from the editors and the anonymous reviewer, andfor the discussion with colleagues that followed my original conference paper.These have all helped to improve this essay. J. Macleod (*) University of Hull, Hull, UKe-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © The Author(s) 2017 K. Ariotti, J.E. Bennett (eds.), Australians and the First World War,DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51520-5_11
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