Alderman Gissing’s address – Wagga, April 25, 1937


An Anzac Day address given by my grandfather HE (Harry) Gissing as mayor of Wagga Wagga in 1937. Harry had served in the 1st and 3rd Field Ambulance from Gallipoli through to the end of the War. It is taken from a report in the local paper.

The occasional address by Mr Gissing was preceded by the singing of “The March of the Anzac Men.”

“Just 22 years ago this very day was born Anzac Day,” said Mr. Gissing, “for it was Sunday, April 25,1915, that Australia’s. young manhood, worthy descendants of a great people, vindicated their pride of race. Yet it was not left to them to be the only participants, for 30,000 Australians and New Zealanders at Anzac, 28,000 English and 17,000 French at Cape Helles all took part, but naturally we are chiefly concerned with our own part.

For weeks preparations were made at Lemnos, sorting out stores and practicing landing from ships - and ships there were in hundreds. It was an extraordinary collection of troopships and warships from the mightiest battleship afloat, the Queen Elizabeth, down to a humble trawler. And then the final passing out of the harbor on April 24, passing through lanes of crowded troopships, cheering and exchanging banter of all kinds, moving out to their rendezvous. And then, during the dead of night, once again getting under weigh, the sea as calm as a millpond, creeping slowly and silently to their final destination; thousands of men trained to the minute, ready to meet death if it came, "theirs but to do or die".

As the vessels approached Anzac the sound of heavy gunfire could be heard, for the great navy was there guiding, directing and protecting the great armada. Nearer and closer to the shore they crept. Picture the lining up on deck - men standing to arms, their tense faces, their complete equipment. Then by torpedo boats, launches, pinnacles and rowing boats, the human freight was eagerly passed ashore. But what came back? Shattered bodies! And only one properly equipped hospital ship was present.

Picture the case of one ship only: the Clan MacGilvray, a cargo steamer. Over 900 wounded men were placed on board during that Sunday without proper facilities for so doing, and during this time battleships were hurling their broadsides either alongside or overhead. The heroism and absence of complaint from these men was remarkable. Not the slightest preparation had been made on this ship for the treatment of wounded except the provision of two medical officers and some inexperienced men. In the way of dressings, etc., only what had been left over during a voyage from Australia as a troopship was available. And that vessel could not leave until Tuesday night for Alexandria, for it carried ammunition which had to be unloaded first, and it was not until the ship sailed that anything was really done for those suffering men.


On arrival at Alexandria only the very worst cases could be unloaded because all hospitals were overcrowded and the ship had to go on to Malta to unload the balance - and that is war.

But to return to the landing. Picture to yourself the first torpedo boat rushing its first load of eager straining men ashore, and then returning for more. But what do the waiting men on the transports see on the torpedo boat’s deck. Blood. Blood of their fellows struck down by the enemy’s shots, and at the sight strong men swore and cursed the Turk and wished for vengeance. That is war!

It takes blood to cement the foundations of a nation, and Anzac did that. To have fought at Anzac was throughout the war, the Australian soldier’s highest honor among his fellows, and on its first anniversary, each who had been present at the landing was issued with a piece of red ribbon, and those who had served at Anzac with a blue one.

Anzac was an epic, an undying inspiration, even a war cry, and so it remains.

A strange coincidence about Anzac is the fact that there is a Turkish word, spelt Anjac, meaning ‘almost.’ Its significance was not realised until later.

In what manner should Anzac Day be celebrated? Should it be with a feeling of pride and exultation on the glory brought on a nation’s name? Should it be devoted to sorrow? Or should we use it as a moral against future wars and preach an anti-militarist sermon. I will confess that when in the presence of the young I feel tempted to do the latter. To use a word expressive of my feelings I would ‘debunk’ the glories of war. I would ‘debunk’ anything which tends to raise in the present and future I generations a feeling of revenge or desire for war. For war is a bloody sacrifice of man, God’s creation.

Perhaps the best direction in which to view Anzac Day is, first by remembrance of those who fell, and secondly with a passionate determination to prevent the necessity for others to emulate their sacrifice. Pride there must always be, but it should be the basis for great hope and resolution to work for peace.

I would try this afternoon to give you some pictures, not usually given, which would recall the attitude of people to the Great War and their reaction later. I was in London when war was declared and recall two incidents for my purpose. The first was the declaration of war on August 4. All that day it was expected, and at night the streets were thronged with thousands of people eagerly awaiting it. Then some time after 8 p.m. there suddenly appeared on the streets, paper sellers and placards: War declared against Germany.

The populace received the news with joy and acclamation. Huge crowds gathered in Whitehall, Trafalgar square round Nelson’s Monument, etc., and after singing patriotic songs, proceeded with one accord along Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace. There, to the tune of post office dock chimes, they sang We want King George,’ and later he appeared on the balcony.

Then back to Trafalgar Square went the crowd, later to return to the palace where the King once again appeared, to be followed later by members of the. Royal family - and so it went on throughout the night - and then as the theatres emptied, processions were formed of taxis, cars, etc., most of the occupants being on top rather than inside. Flag sellers appeared as if by magic, and great was the jubilation. Perhaps the best reception was given to a party of Japanese sitting on top of a taxi waving their national flag. Within the month the nation was shocked by the casualty lists into a grim silence.

The other episode was the march of the London Scottish, a splendid body of men of the territorial army and one of the first to reach France, where they met the full onslaught of the German advance. For undemonstrative London they were received with enthusiasm, but on looking round I could see here and there women wiping their eyes - perhaps they had sons. It is the mothers who first pay the price in war.


There is another side of war which I would touch on following my desire to “debunk” the glories of war, and yet it is only a small part of the tragic whole. On our arrival in France, and no doubt on the arrival of all fresh troops in France, the authorities had included in battalion orders, read to the men each morning, something like I this: ‘Court martial, on such and such a day private so and so was tried by court martial for desertion in the face of the enemy, in that he absented himself from his company whilst taking part in a certain engagement. The verdict come to was, that he be condemned to be shot. The sentence was duly carried out on the sands at Boulogne at 5 am. on such and such a date. Day after day such reports were read, the object being to suitably impress on the new troops the result of desertion.

No Australians were shot In this way. They were saved only by the edict of a merciful government. Were these men cowards or were they highly I strung individuals temperamentally unfit to stand the strain? Only God can be their judge, but in war they are shot at dawn. Special hospitals were maintained to treat cases of self-inflicted wounds with a view to punishing the culprits and seeing that they were made to face the music later, if possible. That is war.

There is one great gift which the human race has been blest with to a more or less degree in different individuals, and that is forgetfulness. Grief passes. The greatest grief eventually passes or is healed by the hand of time. If this was not so It would be a sad, sad world. But it has its dangers. If only we could keep alive and transmit to the young only a part of the grief caused by the Great War, there would be no more war. To forget is dangerous. My young friends, there is no glory in war.

What a wave of sympathy flooded the country on the news that 13 miners had been destroyed recently by an explosion. Yet we calmly contemplate the possibility of literally thousands being destroyed by explosion, not only in mines but on land, sea and in the air. And the actions of dictators and others aims to prepare their young people for this destiny and guide their very thoughts that they may desire it. What a travesty of Christianity.

A certain bishop remarked the other day that he could understand babies refusing to be born under these conditions, and if this be the reason I readily agree.


To be cannon fodder is not the right destiny of man who was created in God’s image. Then what are we to do? Only God knows. My sympathies go out to our leaders and those men at Whitehall charged with the care of our Empire. Are we to refuse to fight? Are we to disarm? We have already experienced grave results of Great Britain’s action in disarming as an example to the world. We have seen a minor nation bent on glory by the sword, snap its fingers in the face of the proudest Empire on earth - and get away with it.

No! we must be prepared to fight, but we must educate our people to fight only in defense of right. We must ‘debunk’ the idea of glory being attached to war. Our men did not die to leave a legacy of hatred, internal quarrels, political strife and national bad manners. There is no glory in war. We must work for the day:

"When the Empire of right shall be founded,

And the sway of it’s sceptre increased

Till mankind shall stand shoulder to shoulder

In the ranks - not of war - but of peace.”

The address, listened to with rapt attention, was followed by the singing of Kipling’s “Recessional,” after which the gathering dispersed.

The musical accompaniments were provided by the Wagga Citizens’ Band, conducted by Mr W. S Hill.

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