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Australia and New Zealand in the Great War
The Legend of the ANZACs

When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany at the start of World War I, the Australian government followed without hesitation. It was believed at the time that any declaration of war by Britain automatically included Australia, in part because of the very large number of British-born citizens and first generation Anglo-Australians at the time. By the end of the war, almost 20% of those who served in the Australian forces had been born in the United Kingdom, even though nearly all enlistments had occurred in Australia.

Because existing militia forces were unable to serve overseas, an all-volunteer expeditionary force, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed from August 15, 1914. The Australian government had pledged to supply 20,000 men, organised as one infantry division and one light horse brigade plus supporting units. The first commander of the AIF was General William Bridges, who also assumed direct command of the infantry division.

When Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Australia and the other members of the British Empire were automatically involved. on August 5, 1914, the Prime Minister Joseph Cook declared a war between Australia and Germany by stating When the Empire is at War, so also is Australia. Since most Australians were of British decent, there was unanimous support from all corners of the country. Australians flocked to recruiting centres in order to fight for country and empire. When Prime Minister Andrew Fishers Labor Party came to power in September 1914 Fisher reiterated Cooks statement saying, Should the worst happen' Australia would 'rally to the Mother Country' to help and defend her 'to our last man and our last shilling'.

Within the opening days of the war plans for an Australian expeditionary force were laid up by Brigadier General William Throsby Bridges and his staff officer Major Cyril Brudenell Bingham White. White proposed a force of 18,000 men (12,000 Australians and 6,000 New Zealanders), this proposal was approved by Prime Minister Cook but increased the offer to 20,000 men. The offer to the British was 20,000 men to serve in any destination desired by the Home Government. On 6 August 1914 London cabled its acceptance of the force and asked it be sent as soon as possible. Recruiting offices opened on 10 August 1914, men flocked to them. By the end of 1914 52,561 volunteers were accepted. The Australian government placed strict guidelines on volunteers, who had to have a high level of physical fitness.

Australians first saw action in German New Guinea, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force was a 2,000 man all volunteer force that was separate to the AIF. The force attacked and occupies the German territories with little opposition and forced a surrender on 17 September 1914. The losses of the AN&MEF were light, Australia's first military fatality of the war was believed to be Seaman W.G.V. Williams. The only major loss of the campaign was the submarine AE1, lost with all hands and never found.

The AIF departed in a single convoy from Albany, Western Australia on November 1, 1914. During the journey, HMAS Sydney destroyed the German cruiser SMS Emden, at the Battle of Cocos, the first ship to ship action for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The AIF was sent initially to British-controlled Egypt, to preempt any attack by the Ottoman Empire, and with a view to opening another front against the Central Powers.

The combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), commanded by British general William Birdwood, went into action when Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on April 25, 1915 (now commemorated as Anzac Day). The Battle of Gallipoli would last for eight months of bloody stalemate.

After Gallipoli Australian troops returned to Egypt and the AIF underwent a major expansion. In 1916, the Infantry Divisions began to move to France while the cavalry units stayed in the area and combated Turkish troops. Australian troops took part in many battles on the Western Front and managed to distinguish themselves many times.

A total of 331,814 Australians were sent overseas to serve, of those who served in the AIF, 18% (61,859) were killed the casualty rate (killed or wounded) was 64%. The financial cost of the war to the Australian government was 188,480,000.

During the war two referendums on conscription had been defeated, preserving the volunteer status, but stretching the reserves towards the end of the war. The AIF also had a desertion rate larger than Britain, mainly because the death penalty was not in force. It is also important to remember with regards to this statistic that the vast majority of deserters returned voluntarily to their units, unlike those of the other armies in the war.

     

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