Thursday, June 20, 2024

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HomeIssue 22A lonely ANZAC Day, but no less heartfelt

A lonely ANZAC Day, but no less heartfelt

The public dawn service, the march, the two-up, the beers (in a group of mates): The pandemic has put paid to these physical manifestations of remembering the fallen. The Town Council is encouraging the public to take part, from 5.30am in the National RSL Light up the Dawn, standing in your driveway, facing east for a moment’s silence at 6am on Saturday. But LYNNE SMITH has found another way to keep alive the spirit of the day. As a member of the Rotary Club of Alice Springs she spoke to its members about Richard Francis Fitzgerald (pictured), her grandfather, “to honour all ANZACs, and the men and women who have fought in the different theatres of war before and since Gallipoli, I am telling the story of one soldier who played his part”.

He was not a young boy of 15 or 16 who lied about his age or a young boy who ran away to war seeking adventure.


He was 35 years old, a father of two young children, an accountant and pastoralist from Orange in NSW.


He did not enlist at the outbreak of war. He enlisted in April 1915. So, he was not at Gallipoli for the Landing on April 25, 1915.


He joined as a Private in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) – raised in the time of war.


He sailed from Australia on the HMAT Berrima leaving Sydney on June 25, 1915. The journey to Egypt took about six weeks. Soon after landing in Egypt, he was shipped to the Gallipoli Peninsula and landed there on August 16.


In November of that year, it was decided that the Allied forces should withdraw. The campaign was not going anywhere! Troops began evacuating from the peninsula slowly over the next six weeks.


On December 17, having risen through the ranks, Major Richard Fitzgerald received his orders.


Operation Order No. 1


Information: (1) Orders have been received for the re-embarkation of the Brigade and the transfer to Mudros.


Intention: (2) The embarkation will be carried out at a time and on the dates to be notified later and during the hours of darkness on two nights.


Arrangements for embarkation: (4) All movements will be made in absolute silence. No smoking will be permitted.  Etc, etc.


Major Fitzgerald was in command at Russell’s Top at midnight on December 20, 1915. He blew the mines and was the last man to leave.


Lt. Caddy who was a member of the rear party wrote an account of the last night in 1932.


This is part of it:


The evacuation proceeded smoothly and by 7 pm, there were only 140 men left on Russell’s Top.


The evening was occupied in telling yarns. Major Fitzgerald OC (Officer Commanding), Capt. Hutchinson, Lt. Broadbent and myself decided to have supper.


During the last few days plenty of good food, the likes of which we had never had before on the Peninsula, was available, and the meal consisted of sardines, biscuits, pineapple and mock cream and soup.


After we finished the table was left laid for the Turks, with a note written by Major Fitzgerald, which read: “Goodbye Jackie, will see you later. You are a good fighter, but we don’t like the company you keep.”


At 3am Russell’s Top was the only front tine post held.   Everyone was now clear of the trenches and Major Fitzgerald, having received permission from the Rearguard Commander, Colonel Paton, by telephone, to fire the mines, instructed me to do so, after he had got on top of the dugout to see the effect. 

What courage!

After slabs of guncotton to destroy the exploders had been set off, and Cpl. Penny had lighted the fuse of the mine on the track leading down to the beach, we made as quickly as possible down the hill and embarked on the last lighter which at 4am conveyed us to the transport standing by a short distance from the shore.


When they fired the last of the mines (which was meant to look like the Australians were still involved in battle), they made their way down to the beach.


The big ships could not be moored close to the beach, too shallow and no piers large enough.


So lighters waited on the shore to carry the men to the larger ships which were anchored further out in the harbour, under the cover of darkness, so that the Turks would hopefully not guess what was going on.


Richard Fitzgerald went on to fight at the Somme. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for Conspicuous good service and devotion to duty as Battalion Commander during operations on the Somme. He held the rank of Lt. Colonel by then.


He was mentioned in Dispatches on June 1, 1917 and again on July 11, 1919.


Russell Crowe starred in and produced the film ‘Water Diviner’. I went to see this drama with a friend. The film was based on a novel by the same name and in the film, Crowe meets Ataturk who tells him that after the withdrawal he found a note left by an Australian soldier.


I couldn’t believe it and I just wanted to scream out to the packed house: “My Grandfather left that note!”



  1. I have complete respect for our Diggers, but Anzac only refers to WWI and not necessarily WWII, Korea, Vietnam Afghanistan and all that is recorded.
    Our relationship with New Zealand is not the best with their unwillingness to fund a defence force and total reliance on Australia for security amid most other things.
    If China threatened New Zealand they would be hopeless, in fact Fiji would be able to annex New Zealand in a week.
    We really need to remember all Australian defence forces such as Army, Navy and Air Force. I like Digger Day, at least that way all armed services can be remembered appropriately.

  2. @ Respectfully, Rename Anzac Day: What! Of course NZ has a defence force. It has all three services.
    The NZDF defends NZ.
    Unlike us NZ is not a stooge for the USA and they don’t host nuke targets like Pine Gap.
    They don’t even allow nuclear armed warships to dock.
    Rely on us?
    No, because they are not a target like us.
    They are independent and have a strong commitment to using their defence force to assist other small nations with peace keeping missions.
    NZ is a model for us to follow.

  3. @ Peter: In the States here, New Zealand banned nuclear powered ships in 1987 by PM David Lange, consequently the US terminated the ANZUS treaty, severing visible intelligence and military ties.
    That meant no funding since from the US which has reduced NZ to a token force.
    Australia and United States Alliance is concreted.
    NZ, well in comparison when Australian PM Morrison came here we gave Australia a state dinner, the highest honour.
    Scott Morrison is the second world leader afforded a state visit by Donald Trump, after French President Emmanuel Macron. New Zealand has never been afforded a US State Dinner in 50 years and its not getting one soon.
    NZ PM Ardern went to the US and was visibly angry at the United States who had snubbed the Christchurch Call.
    US military protocols did not properly salute NZ PM Ardern and was not missed by Australian officials who kept it quiet. A slow drop salute is disrespectful.
    Truth be known, the US will be slow coming to any call for help from New Zealand and this is ingrained in all US Armed Services, I can assure you.
    In regard to nuclear, 70% of France’s energy is nuclear power stations dotted all over France.
    Europe and the UK have huge nuclear power facilities.
    Where does his leave New Zealand if China comes around?
    NZ is not an ally of the United States or France for that matter.

  4. @ Peter: I think the Aussies will change their National Defence Force Day in the future and they should as Anzac does not cover all Australian services and periods, fair enough.
    For New Zealand Defence Force, it has flags from different armed services and that’s about it in my opinion.
    In the NZ Army we experienced humiliation after Lange basically told the United States to bugger off.
    Funding was cut to nothing and when we wanted to participate in exercises with other countries we had to borrow, beg and steal mainly from the Aussies.
    Navy squak about HMNZS Canterbury, an old frigate and the only one we have.
    For an island nation this is a disgrace, one warship, the other three hydraulic and diving ships.
    The United States ignore us as if we have a disease, Aussies have given up on New Zealand as we will not spend anywhere near enough to make us relevant.
    You wonder why on Oz TV we never see New Zealand featuring on Anzcac day, its because New Zealand is not part of the defence of the Pacific.
    I worry about China and New Zealand’s sovereignty. Three Chinese warships patrolled around New Zealand for weeks and we knew nothing about it until the Aussies advised us. Not good enough.

  5. The US State Dept describes NZ as an non NATO ally and the two countries have a long history of supporting each other in times of conflict.
    The US, Australia and NZ fought together in WW2, Korea and Vietnam.
    NZ is also a member of the Five Eyes intelligence system.
    It is true that NZ strives to be independent and that is not easy.
    While fundamentally an ally of Australia and the US it also seeks a positive relationship with China.
    The pressure for NZ to fall in line with US or China is immense.
    It takes the form of trade incentives and disincentives, diplomatic pressure and outright bullying.
    It’s true that NZ has not spent much on military equipment that could defend the South Pacific although it is ramping up diplomatic efforts to head off Chinese influence.
    That’s not all bad.
    Unlike us NZ wasn’t required to purchase military equipment such as the Joint Strike Fighter (72 @ AUD 130m+) that slots into the US military.
    NZ doesn’t host US forces and pay most of the cost.
    Nor does it host nuke targets like Pine Gap.
    Many Kiwis I have met are proud of their country and its politics.
    There are benefits as well as costs to NZ’s independence.


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