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Belligerents and Participants
in World War One:
The Dominions of Australia & New Zealand


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The 1890’s saw a major effort in Australia and New Zealand to turn their dispirit states into a more unified federation. In 1901 this goal was achieved with the formation of the Australian Commonwealth. New Zealand decided not to join in at this time, but they became a dominion in their own right in 1907.




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At the outbreak of World War One, the British dominions of Australia and New Zealand were gripped with patriotic fervor in support of the Empire. Militia units were called up for home guard duty and to assist in defending prepared coastal defenses against German raids that would never come. Interment camps were set up in Australia under the War Precautions Act for those with German or Austro-Hungarian ancestry whose loyalties came into question.

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In early August 1914 the New Zealand Navy set sail for the German Colony of Samoa, which they captured without a fight. The Australians quickly raised the all-volunteer Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, and dispatched it to capture German New Guinea, which fell in September after brief resistance. During this campaign the First Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were also raised for service in Europe. While these soldiers were placed under overall British command once deployed outside of Australia, they would fight in their own national units. This was not only for the sake of cohesion; leadership in the Australian army was far less class based than that of Great Britain, and British officers feared the spread of egalitarianism if these men were integrated into their ranks.

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The New Zealand Expeditionary Force began leaving for Egypt by October with the Australians following in November to help guard the Suez Canal. While stationed there they were consolidated into the Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under the command of General William Birdwood.

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With the West Front stalemated, Allied leaders thought an attack aimed at Constantinople their best chance for victory. They expected this would quickly knock the Ottomans out of the War, and Russia would gain a secure supply line to fuel her war effort. The Allies planned a land assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula in coordination with the naval attack on the Dardanelles but the Australian New Zealand Army Corp (Anzac) assembling in Egypt did not yet receive all its weapons. While they waited to go into action they became the subject and customers for many postcards. Most of these were real photo cards because it was important for the photo studio to get their product to the soldier before he was shipped out. There are countless cards of soldiers posing at the pyramids, a theme so popular that it would be regularly repeated during the Second World War. Noticeably absent on cards are encounters with the local population outside of guides.

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The first major mission assigned to Anzac troops was to work in conjunction with to seize the entrance to the Black Sea from the Turks at the Dardanelles. When attempts by the Allied armada failed to reach Constantinople, a land campaign began to clear the shore batteries protecting the narrow straits. Multiple amphibious landings were made by British, Indian, and French forces, with Anzac units coming ashore at Gallipoli in April 1915. The failure to drive inland fast enough left them hemmed in on their beachhead, and the situation digressed into a war of attrition fought between closely entrenched positions. When General Monro took over Allied command he saw that the Gallipoli campaign was a disaster, and he evacuated all troops by the end of December.

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European, Australian, and even Egyptian publishers covered this campaign on postcards, but most of these seem to have been issued as real photo cards. Despite the potential accuracy inherent in photographs, few of these images capture the horrendous conditions found in combat against entrenchments positioned on the sides of high bluffs. The most dramatic depictions of the fighting here seem to be artist drawn cards for Austro-Hungarian Publishers.

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The story of Anzac’s participation in the Gallipoli campaign may be one of tragedy, but it became their best known engagement and plays an exaggerated role in both Australian and New Zealand’s National Identity. Even the date of their initial landing on April 25th is still commemorated as Anzac Day in both nations and its noting outpaces that of Remembrance Day (November 11th). The reason that such a great defeat can be so highly memorialized is that it has largely come down to us in terms of a myth. It is not the defeat that is celebrated but the tenacity of the soldiers who fought there, individual acts of bravery, and the overall sacrifice made. Monuments sprang up all over Australia after the War to honor their heavy losses.

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It is the sacrifice part of this equation that remains contentious and has divided the myth in two. While some remain content to remember those who fought there as heroes of the homeland and see their own identity in these acts of bravery, others have come to see these same events as an example of lives callously wasted in a struggle that never really concerned them. Both coping rationales stem from the enormous price paid to achieve so little. What needs to be considered is the latter attitude only slowly evolved after decades of more careless use of Australian troops by the British. After World War One most Australian veterans felt proud to have served the Empire and this sentiment is widely expressed on postcards.

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After being evacuated from Gallipoli, Anzac troops returned to Egypt where the Corp was split in two. Infantry units were shipped off to the Western Front in March 1916 while the cavalry remained behind. Since the war of mobility was over in Europe it seemed that the Anzac mounted division could be put to better use in the Middle-East. Under the brilliant command of General Harry Chauvel they fought with distinction in every major battle in the Sinai and Palestine, from Romani to Megiddo. Anzac cavalry was also added to the Western Frontier Force in Egypt fighting Senussi tribesmen invading from Libya. Small units would also take part in the Mesopotamian Campaign. Few postcards capture Anzac participation in the war against the Ottoman Turks, but this might just be attributable to the lack of cards from this battlefront in general.

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The Anzac Divisions destined for Europe arrived too late to take part in the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme, but they took part in the fighting at Fromelles before it was over. They would also fight in many other bloody battles such as Bullecourt, Messines Ridge, the Third Battle of Ypres, and Passchendaele. While they were noted for their fierce determination in battle, they achieved very little for the high cost they paid. Their leadership under General John Monash was good, but they were often asked to accomplish the near impossible from higher up the command. Few postcards honor their important role in these battles; instead we are often presented with images of Anzac troops in transport that express their willingness to defend the British Empire.

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Mounting casualties eroded recruitment back home, but referendums put forward in 1916 and again in 1917 to institute conscription both failed. Anzac remained an all-volunteer force until the War’s end. The conscription debate however increased political unrest as Socialists and Irish Catholics were accused of weakening the war effort. Anzac troops saw far more success in 1918 when they helped blunt Germany’s spring offensive, and pushed through the German lines toward the end of the War.

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Although their were some initial complaints about the Dominions of Great Britain Having seats at the Paris Peace Talks, an Australian delegation led by the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes would be seated. He was a strong proponent of punishing Germany while voicing equal concerns over the Japanese racial equality proposal, which he helped defeat. Australia was already upset over territorial concessions that Britain made with Japan in 1914, and now had worries over her future ambitions. The Versailles Treaty granted Australia a mandate over German New Guinea, and Ne Zealand received a mandate over Samoa.

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While Anzac troops played a significant role on the Western Front, their presence is generally underrepresented on postcards. It is difficult to say if this was specifically due to a bias against Anzac accomplishments by British publishers, because troops from other parts of the empire also seemed to suffer from chauvinistic myopia. Most depictions of Anzac troops on postcards seem to have been published by Raphael Tuck and Sons or the Daily Mail.

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Australia and New Zealand have been placed together in this section because their troops generally served together on the same battlefronts under unified Anzac command. Postcard publishers often took a similar approach when depicting territorial troops but for a different reason. Cards that displayed troops from many nations lumped together could be sold to soldiers of any one of those nations thus increasing the salability of that card. Likewise generic cards that just made reference to territorials could also find an audience among a wider selection of soldiers.




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The Australian illustrator L.L. Quarrrill published his own satyrical War Series early in the conflict entitled, Six Scenes from the Kaiser’s Life. A anti-German cartoon was placed on the backs of these cards to act as a divider.




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