25 April 1915
The Gallipoli campaign, which started on April 25, 1915, was the first major military action in which Australia and New Zealand participated as independent nations. Despite the fact that the allied armies suffered a significant defeat, Gallipoli is etched deeply into the Australian psyche and has become a symbol of our military identity, and a touchstone in our military history. The date is now commemorated annually in remembrance not only of those who fought and died in that campaign, but also to pay tribute to Australians who have given their lives for their country in all conflicts.
Starting with a naval attack followed by an amphibious landing that included 60,000 Australians, the goal at Gallipoli was to gain an important strategic advantage by capturing Constantinople (Istanbul). The campaign was a heroic but costly failure and, after eight months of heavy fighting, the troops were withdrawn. Although exact figures are disputed, casualty rates were enormous with nearly 60,000 deaths in each of the Turkish and Allied armies. A further 120,000 from each side were wounded. Nearly 9,000 of these Allied deaths were Australians, with 20,000 wounded.
Following Gallipoli, Australia continued to play a significant role throughout WWI, with participation in many major battles in France (on the Western Front) and the Middle East (especially Egypt and Palestine). The nation’s involvement in this lengthy war cost more than 60,000 Australian lives and many more were left unable to work as a result of their injuries.
Those who fought in WWI, like their contemporary colleagues, showed remarkable resilience when faced with the almost incomprehensible challenges of prolonged trench warfare. Equally, it is no surprise that those conflicts also had a substantial impact on mental health. The primary approach taken to care was very brief, consisting only of a few days of comfort, with the expectation that the soldier would rapidly return to duty. This was the beginning of an established military ‘psychological first aid’ approach to the stress of combat known as ‘PIES’ (proximity, immediacy, expectancy, and simplicity). Unfortunately, soldiers who acknowledged more serious problems were often accused of being cowardly and weak, although a small proportion of these men were repatriated and treated in psychiatric hospitals. Terms such as ‘shell shock’ and ‘war neurosis’ began to appear, setting the scene for our current understandings of the nature and treatment of combat-related PTSD.