12: The Anzac Legend interview
SUSAN CARLAND: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this series may contain images, voices or names of
deceased persons. [Music] BRUCE SCATES: Welcome to ‘Susan Carland: In Conversation’. This interview is the supplement to
Episode 12 in the Australian Journey series, ‘Anzac Legend’. SUSAN CARLAND: I’m standing where this series began, at the Twelve Apostles in Victoria, and this is the perfect place to introduce the last interview in this series. Over there is the Great Ocean Road.
It was built by returned soldiers in the lead-up to the 1930s Depression –
relief work for the hungry and the unemployed, men who had been promised ‘a land fit for heroes’. As they cut the road out of those cliffs many were
reminded of digging trenches on Gallipoli. Parts of the road were even named after parts of Anzac: Shrapnel Valley, Quinn’s Post, Monash Gully. The
Great Ocean Road is Australia’s longest war memorial. But like every war memorial,
it’s a way of making an imaginary journey, of building a bridge to the beyond.
And right now, back in Melbourne, Bruce and one of his graduate students
are retracing an actual journey to Anzac. And together they’ll reveal the identity
of our very first Gallipoli pilgrim. Let’s join them on the last Australian Journey. REBECCA WHEATLEY: My name is Rebecca Wheatley and I’ve always wanted to travel to Gallipoli, to see the place where this boat went ashore in 1915. And ever since I saw Russell Crowe’s film ‘The Water Diviner’, I’ve wondered if the story could be true. An Australian farmer who travels to
Gallipoli in search for his lost son, nearly 100 years ago. Today I’ll be
speaking with Professor Bruce Scates, an expert on those first Australian
journeys to battlefields overseas. I’ll find Bruce at the State Library of
Victoria, where one of Australia’s richest collections on the Great War is
held. And together we will solve the mystery of ‘The Water Diviner.’ REBECCA WHEATLEY: ‘The Water Diviner’ is all about the story of the missing. Why were so many men missing, Bruce?
Why were so many bodies never found? BRUCE SCATES: What you’ve got to remember about Gallipoli, Bec, is its chaos, its chaos and its carnage. Nobody expected a terrain like the terrain they found at Gallipoli, nobody expected those crazy ridges,
those crazy gullies. Men are simply swallowed up by that landscape.
They’re missing out on the ridges and they’re not actually brought in, they’re not
recovered, ’til well after the war in many cases. And those men, of course, can never ever be identified. REBECCA WHEATLEY: In the film ‘The Water Diviner’, the father believes that maybe his son survived the war that he was wounded and taken prisoner. Was that even remotely a possibility? And did families believe that that could have happened to their son? BRUCE SCATES: Yes, many did they go on hoping against hope, even though not many
prisoners were actually taken. But what’s so interesting about ‘The Water Diviner’
is, I think, it’s actually based on a piece of history. This is a picture of
Mr and Mrs Irwin and they’re making their journey to Gallipoli way back in 1926. What’s so interesting about this illustration is the story behind it. Mrs Irwin starts writing to the Red Cross Wounded and Missing way back in 1916. ‘My son,’ she says, ‘you’ve never found the body, my son may be found, maybe he’s
lost his memory, maybe he’s taken prisoner.’ And she goes on writing like that and hoping like that and praying like that, well into the 1920s. And in 1926, she is one of the first Australian pilgrims
to make that journey to Gallipoli. REBECCA WHEATLEY: Did many families make that journey in the 1920s? BRUCE SCATES: No, very very few and that’s not surprising because it was so expensive.
What we have here Bec, is a photograph album from the 1920s and it’s really quite rare and it’s really quite extraordinary.
It charts one of those early journeys to Gallipoli. It costs 100 pounds sterling for a family
to make their way to Anzac. And just to put that in context for you, that’s a
year’s wages for a skilled, white, male worker. So it’s really only the elite, like this woman, who can afford to make that particular woman. And one of the remarkable features of this album is it captures those images of Gallipoli in the 1920s,
before the beach at Anzac Cove has been swept away. So this is really a rare and precious image of what Gallipoli used to look like. And we see them making their way up to Chunuk Bair where the great memorial, the New Zealand memorial’s unveiled in 1925. And a pilgrimage in the 1920s, it’s very different to a
backpacker tour of today. There are no roads at Gallipoli, people make their way up to
the ridges in horses and carts. This is a difficult journey, it’s especially difficult for those old parents of the men who actually died. REBECCA WHEATLEY: The Irwins went to Gallipoli in 1926 and the Grimwades go in 1923, but the film is set well before that. Before the cemeteries are completed and when Turkey is again at war, this time with Greece. It sounds like an impossible journey. Can historians prove that one actually took place? BRUCE SCATES: I think we can. And in fact ‘The Water Diviner’ is based on a small fragment of history. This is ‘Gallipoli Mission’ and it’s Bean’s account of what Gallipoli is like in 1919,1920 and there’s a remarkable letter that’s written by Cyril Hughes. Cyril Hughes has stayed on at Anzac to bring in the bodies of his mates. Cyril Hughes did fight there and he stays on at Gallipoli to bury those men decently. And what does he say? ‘An old man came here,’ he says, ‘the sights of the
Peninsula are unspeakably distressing. We did what we could for him and then we
sent him on his way’. And it’s this fragment of evidence that
the whole film is based around. REBECCA WHEATLEY: So how do we discover that man’s name? BRUCE SCATES: Well, virtually all the Australians who went to Europe in the 1920s passed through
London, and when they’re in London they often keep a record of their journey. They visit Australia House, they sign the visitors’ book there and they provide us with a kind of itinerary, an
itinerary of what they’re doing. They recorded their journey for posterity and we can find a record of that itinerary here in this very library. [Music] BRUCE SCATES:This journal is called the ‘British Australasian’ and I guess it’s a kind of newsletter for the expatriate community, that huge community of Australians and New Zealanders who are living in London. And in these pages, these fragile dusty pages, we can find the record of that journey. REBECCA WHEATLEY: ‘Mr Thomas Murray has arrived from Victoria with the object of visiting the
grave of his son who fell in the charge of the 8th Light Horse at Walker’s Ridge,
Gallipoli and the graves of other relatives in France’. But can we trust a
newspaper account like this? BRUCE SCATES: Well the dates, the dates are roughly aligned and I think that description is just about picture perfect. The service
records of the Anzacs are now available online at the National Archives, and we
can check the records of Murray’s son. This is the record for Thomas Richard
Murray, Thomas Murray’s son. Young Tom’s a farmer, just like his father.
The two men worked the land together, an extensive grazing property between
Buffalo and Fish Creek. Unlike his father, Tom is intensely patriotic. He joins up
in November 1914, right at the beginning of the war. Tom dies on Gallipoli ten months later. He’s reported killed in action on Walker’s Ridge. Tom’s in his early 20s when he dies and it’s hard for a father to accept the loss of his son anyway, but to lose a boy that young is devastating
for Mr Murray. BRUCE SCATES: This is a letter he writes to Base Records in September 1915; that’s almost a month after that savage fighting on Walker’s Ridge. ‘My son served in the 8th Light Horse’, he writes, ‘but his service record, it was altered from 700
to 766. Is there any possibility a mistake could have arisen in consequence
of that change in number?’ We don’t know how long Thomas Murray clung
to that tiny thread of hope, Bec. But what we do know is that he
passionately loved his son. REBECCA WHEATLEY: But could a mistake with identity tags have happened? Could Tom, like the character in the film, have been wounded and taken prisoner? BRUCE SCATES: Well I think that’s where the film really departs from history, Bec. Because the charge that
they’re talking about on Walker’s Ridge, that’s the attack at the Nek. Two waves
of the 8th Light Horse are sent over the top, and they’re cut down by machine-gun
fire within yards of the trenches. It’s slaughter at the Nek.
It’s a slaughter that’s immortalised in Lambert’s painting and in Peter Weir’s
film ‘Gallipoli’. Many men are, killed many are badly wounded but none – none
are actually taken prisoner. So Tom Murray’s remains are buried in a
mass grave amongst hundreds of others. The bones of those men weren’t recovered
until 1919 and by then of course very few could be identified. REBECCA WHEATLEY: So, Thomas Murray
never found his son. BRUCE SCATES: No I’m afraid not.
That’s Hollywood, it’s not history. There’s no Australian soldiers swirling
with the Sufis, there’s no love interest with a dark-eyed Turkish woman. In a way,
what the film does is it offers us a false hope. A false hope just like those Red Cross Wounded and Missing files did. There are few happy
endings to the Great War, just lifetimes struggling with loss or
battling to cope with men and women damaged physically and psychologically.
And that’s true of all the nations caught up in that great catastrophe. To
my mind, ‘The Water Diviner’s’ great achievement is in reminding us of the
appalling loss that Gallipoli meant to Turkey, and all the years of conflict
that followed the official end of the Great War. REBECCA WHEATLEY: I’m back at the Shrine now,
at its very heart, the sanctuary. Images of the dead are carved in stone in the
ceiling. Here is the Light Horse. Like Thomas Murray, who was part of the 8th
Light Horse. He would have ridden a horse just like that. The Shrine became a place
of pilgrimage, even before it was completed. And Bruce, I want to ask you
about Thomas Murray’s pilgrimage. He never found a body, so could that
pilgrimage have provided any solace? BRUCE SCATES: He didn’t find a body, but in a way this place became a surrogate grave for his son. And in a way every memorial we
raised all across Australia is a surrogate grave, a surrogate tomb for men who don’t come home. Because the Australian Government’s decision not to
repatriate the bodies of our war dead meant that our war dead were buried
oceans and oceans away, and that families could never lay a body to rest. So it’s
here, to the Shrine, that Thomas Murray would have come to remember Tom. REBECCA WHEATLEY: Where else is Thomas Murray remembered? BRUCE SCATES: He’s remembered of course in the cemetery at Lone Pine, not far from where he lost his life up there
on the ridges. He’s remembered there in stone, his name’s carved on that great wall to the missing. And his name’s inscribed in parchment here, written in
parchment in the Shrine of Remembrance. I guess Bec we will never know if Thomas
Murray really came to terms with his loss after that terrible journey to
Gallipoli. We know that he returned to Australia and we know he continued to
work the family farm there. We know he would have seen his son’s name; it was etched
in gold on the war memorial at Meeniyan. A few hundred men from the district
volunteered for service overseas with Tom, and 55 of them, they never came home. So that memorial in Meeniyan takes the form of a broken column; it symbolises a
life cut short much like young Tom’s. And we know, we know that the old man who
made his way to Gallipoli outlived his son by 24 years. That’s a long time, isn’t it, to carry all that grief? But perhaps the epitaph on Thomas
Murray’s grave in Leongatha really says it all: ‘In loving memory of our dear father.’ That love sent him halfway across the globe, in search of the grave of his son.
And perhaps the date, the date of Thomas Murray’s death is particularly
poignant. Murray sacrificed his son in the Great War, the war to end all wars he
was promised. And in 1939, the year that Thomas Murray dies, the world goes to war again. REBECCA WHEATLEY: That must have been devastating for Thomas Murray to know his son died
in that futile charge at the Nek, and then to discover that the war itself was futile.
It’s such a waste. BRUCE SCATES: Yes and in fact, I think it’s the story of an entire generation, Bec. Look at all these names, think of all the names carved in all the memorials the world over and really it’s the same story isn’t it? It’s fathers without sons and it’s sons without fathers. [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music]