Monday, April 1, 2024

Anzac Reflections – Counting Casualties

drawing of old buildings backgrounded by pen-writing on old paper; image of young boy with cloth cap

Images: Canva


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photo of sun shine on sea with stony beach in foreground
The Aegean Sea from Anzac Cove at sunset Image: Lainey Myers-Davies

April 25th is known as Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. The day commemorates citizens of the two countries who were killed in war and honours returned and serving servicemen and women. It was on this day in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops, or Anzacs as they came to be known, had their first major military action of the First World War. That action was the landing at ANZAC Cove on the Dardanelle Peninsula in Turkey at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.


photo of naval ships in background with soldiers moving up steep gullies and hills at Anzac Cove

New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey.

Credit: New Zealand Free Lance: Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22768446

Counting Casualties

Battlefield statisticians were good

at counting Gallipoli's casualties – 


2, 779 died

4, 852 wounded

67 % missing 



for how our soldiers expired

were compiled – 


died of wounds

died of sickness

died of other causes

just plain killed. 


After, when the stench

from the trenches resiled

and the rats and the flies

ran out of flesh to defile

artefacts for the dead

were erected on the Peninsula – 




Memorials to the Missing 


With no bodies for burial

home soil saw proliferation of – 


War Memorials

Rolls of Honour

Gardens of Remembrance 


Other consequences

attributable to the Expedition

went uncounted – 


holes in the fabric of families

women unwed for the lack of men

bedrooms preserved in memory of sons

suicide of boys-school headmasters

(they’d blown the recruiter’s bugle)

premature ends of those at home

(and those who made it back) – 


died of despair

died of brokenness

died of sick in the head

Keith Westwater

I wrote this poem after hearing an anecdote about a headmaster at a large school for boys who, in response to all the jingoism at the start of the First World War, actively encouraged school-leavers to enlist in the NZ Army. As lists of 'Old Boy' casualties - particularly of those who had been killed - grew, the head became increasingly depressed and died in circumstances that suggested suicide. He was probably not the only headmaster to do so. From my experience in serving in the military, I was already aware of the way the casualties of war are counted and classified. I was taken with the notion that we don't put the same effort into counting and categorising those 'back home' who also become casualties of war.


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