On this day in 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZACs as they have come to be known, landed upon the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula, now known as Anzac Cove. Upon those shores, the ANZACs met the harsh reality of the industrialised and trench warfare that they would continue to face on all fronts until the armistice on November 11, 1918.
Among the men who landed at Gallipoli on April 25th, was Lieutenant Victor Denne. Lt Denne was born at North Bruny and worked there as a farmer prior to enlisting with the Australian Imperial force in 1914. He served in Turkey until July 1915 with A Company, 12th Battalion and after a brief evacuation to Egypt due to illness and a promotion to corporal, returned to Gallipoli in late August 1915 where he continued to fight until December that same year. Throughout the remainder of the war, Denne fought in France, including the notorious Battle of the Somme, and found himself promoted to Second Lieutenant and then Lieutenant in 1917 after receiving the Military Medal for his actions at the Battle of Moquet Farm in 1916. Denne was wounded in action on two separate occasions in 1917 and 1918, and sadly, after two months in hospital, died of tubercular meningitis in May 1918 at 33 years of age; just months before the war ended.
Lt. Denne was one of sixty-seven Bruny Islanders to enlist in the First World War, and one of twenty-three to lose their lives at various points throughout the conflict. Among those casualties were Mervyn Blythe (Killed in action (KIA) at Magdhaba, Egypt), Gerald Butler (KIA at Pozieres, Somme Sector, France), and the first Bruny Islander to receive the Military Medal, Frederick Craig (KIA at Flanders). Additionally, William Cuthbert, Horace Lockley, and John Francis “Frank” Patrick Murphy, to name a few, were all killed in action at the age of 19 years.
Others survived the war, such as Private Frederic Oliver Gray who enlisted in 1916 at the age of 20, and after the completion of his military training served in the 3rd Field Ambulance in France fr.om January 1917. He wrote of his experiences: “I joined my brother Oberlin at Broadmeadows Camp in Melbourne. From there we proceeded to England, finally arriving in France in January 1917. I was with Oberlin when he died of shell wounds in August 1918. We were both members of the 3rd Field Ambulance.” Private Gray was one of only fifty-six
Australians to receive the France Medaille Militare and was praised by the Major General, Commanding 1st Australian Division for his “courage,” “devotion” and “valuable services [that] undoubtedly saved many lives.” Following the war, in 1919, Gray was discharged from the Army and returned to his home, Grasmere, at North Bruny. He was married in 1921, they had three daughters and he established a partnership with his brother, Arthur, known as the Gray Bros.. Frederic Gray passed away peacefully in 1994.
Perhaps the most notable figure among the forty-four Bruny Islanders to return home, however, was Sergeant John Dwyer, the only Bruny Islander to receive the Victoria Cross for his courageous actions and heroic service in the First World War. Dwyer enlisted in early 1915 and joined the Gallipoli campaign in August that same year. He went on to serve in France and Egypt and participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium as part of the 4th Machine Gun Company. He, like Denne, was promoted to Second Lieutenant in May 1918 and then Lieutenant in the August of that year. Lt. Dwyer returned home after the war and participated in various ventures including establishing a sawmilling business and was elected as an ALP member to the Tasmanian House of Assembly from 1931 until his death in 1962.
These are but a few stories of the many Bruny Islanders who served in the conflict that came to be known as the Great War for its great loss of life and its magnitude as the first total, industrialised and international conflict. ANZAC Day gives us, as Australian citizens, an opportunity to consider and remember the sacrifices men like Victor Denne, Frederic Gray, John Dwyer and the sixty-four other Bruny Islanders made in service of their country, as well as to acknowledge the service men and women who continue to do so as members of our Army, Airforce, and Navy.
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
- Laurence Binyon
Please note: The information provided was sourced from research gathered by the Bruny Island History Room and members of the Bruny Island Historical Society.
Additional information regarding the historical context of ANZAC Day was sourced from the following webpages: