Screening: ABC, 8:30 Wednesday 9th May, 2001
After Gallipoli, the Anzacs felt they had faced the worst of war. But the next three years would see them thrust into a slaughterhouse, a “ghastly mincing machine”, as Charles Bean called it, whose like had never before been seen.
The AIF was re-grouped and reinforced in Egypt. The Infantry was sent to France in 1916 and the Light Horse remained behind to fight the desert war against the Turks. The Australian Flying Corps would do battle in the skies above both of them and the Royal Australian Navy would see action in most of the world’s oceans.
But it was in France and Belgium where thousands of Australians would die as great armies were thrown against each other in an endless circle of mud, cold and death.
Episode Three, “Mateship was the greatest thing”, has at its core the on-camera stories, opinions and statements of some of our last survivors of that terrible campaign. Without sentiment or sensationalism, they tell of the madness to which men descended and the bravery and endurance they exhibited, as the casualty lists jumped by thousands and the relentless lottery of trench warfare became all a man could consider.
At home, Australia was gripped by two bitterly divisive conscription referendums, when the government of Billy Hughes tried desperately to provide the Empire with more Australian soldiers. They failed, but the men enlisted anyway and in virtually every Australian home, death and suffering became all too familiar.
Using archive film, stills, interviews with the centenarian veterans of the war and performances by young Australian actors, both the humour and tragedy of 1914 – 1918 are given a vivid life. Many Australians believe we lost the best of a generation in those years, and if that is so, then these survivors, these men and women whose lives now span three centuries, are the closest thing we have to national treasures. They bring back into focus a time when we were perhaps a more open, generous nation, where a man could depend upon his mates; even at the very gates of Hell.
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