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Discovering the true story behind Anzac Boys

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“I saw a soldier leap overboard in panic. His heavy pack
pulled him down like a stone into the dark water.”

”“ Anzac Boys, Tony Bradman

On Saturday 25th April it will be 100 years since the brutal Gallipoli Campaign. Tony Bradman, author of Anzac Boys, always knew his grandfather served in the campaign, but with the anniversary approaching and new archive material being released, he has found deeper links that tie him ”“ and his story of brotherhood, loss and the horror of war ”“ to one of the most poignant Allied defeats in WWI.

Deadlocked and diseased
It was a year into WWI and the Allies were in trouble. There was no progress along the Western Front and, with the Russians threatened by the Turks in the Caucasus, the British forged a plan to take the Gallipoli Peninsula, on the western shore of the Dardanelles. The overall aim was to capture Constantinople, link up with the Russians and push Turkey from the war.

After a failed naval attack in February, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) ”“ along with troops from Britain, Ireland, France, India and Newfoundland ”“ were sent in on 25th April, to find their opponents well-prepared and determined. A deadlock dragged out into the summer, with men packed in hot and disease-ridden trenches, before reinforcements came ”“ though they too achieved little progress. In December 1915 and January 1916 the Gallipoli Campaign was ended and the troops evacuated. The Turks lost 300,000 men and the Allies 214,000 with what ended up as merely a diversion for the Turkish Force, distracting them from the Russians. Poor leadership, bad planning and subpar equipment condemned the Allies to seek a bloodier conclusion at the Western Front.

The real Bert Barker
9781781124345In Tony Bradman’s Anzac Boys, two young brothers, Bert and Frank, are orphans sent abroad from England to begin a new life in Australia. Bert promised to look after his younger brother, to always be there for him ”“ a promise he’s forced to break when Frank is taken to New Zealand. The years pass and war breaks out, bringing the two boys together once more in hellish conditions: the Gallipoli Campaign.

The book was inspired by events that took place within Tony’s own family and the stories he was told as a boy about his grandfather, the real Bert. With the National Archives of Australia releasing new documents, images and photographs in the run-up to the anniversary, Tony was able to unearth more details about his grandfather.

“It was very strange and very moving to see the digital records of my grandfather’s war service,” says Tony. “I’ve been living with his story all my life, but all I knew was what my mum had told me, there were very few details. I did look him up years ago on a website listing soldiers who had fought for Australia in the First World War ”“ I found his name, but that was all ”“ so I knew that a large part of what my mum had told me was true.”

Serving in the trenches at Gallipoli
With the new archive material, Tony has been able to access 35 pages of detail about his grandfather’s war service. “It’s absolutely fascinating. I know the dates of when he joined up now, where he lived in Australia, what unit he was in (the 1st Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force), how long he was at Gallipoli, and what happened afterwards; it seems he was sent to hospital because of an ear problem! It might not sound heroic, but anybody who was in the trenches of Gallipoli between May and July 1915 was a hero as far as I’m concerned.”

Although Tony does not know if his grandfather and great-uncle were reunited at Gallipoli, he has been given a deeper insight into his own family history. “I was particularly moved to see that my grandfather was the same height as me: five foot, five inches. I knew he wasn’t tall, but it was those physical details (he had brown eyes like me too) and his signature on some of the papers that made him very much more real to me.

“Of course I used the few facts I knew about my grandfather as the basis of a fictional story ”“ I made him and his brother Frank into characters and gave them feelings, but for me that’s the whole point of writing historical stories. Things in the past might have been very different, but the people were just like us, and some things ”“ family, loyalty, keeping your promises, love ”“ are always important. I think back on myself, a small boy listening to his mum tell stories about a grandfather he never met, but in a way I like to think that we have met now.”

 

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