Anzac Day myths and the stunning story of an 'unknown soldier'

Author David Hastings didn't believe the official version of the 'unknown soldier' and dug deeper for his book.

David Hastings describes how he uncovered the story of George McQuay, a World War I veteran who 'disappeared' for 12 years.

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The first Anzac Day was held in 1916, a year after the Gallipoli landings.

Solemn commemorations for the casualties of that campaign were held throughout the country in a half-day holiday starting at 1pm.

By 1922, it had become a full holiday with all businesses, hotels and banks closed. Race meetings were prohibited. Dawn parades were introduced but public interest waned until the outbreak of World War II.

Anzac Day then took on a new meaning as a means of commemorating those who sacrificed their lives in all wars.

In 1949, Anzac Day was fixed as April 25 and dawn services rose in popularity. In the mid-1960s, hotels and cinemas were allowed to open at 1pm.

Historian Ian McGibbon said in 1965, the 50th anniversary held at Gallipoli itself was commemorated mainly by the UK, France and Turkey.

Media coverage at the time in New Zealand was limited to veterans’ memories. No mentions were made of the now common view that it was the date at which the sacrifices of New Zealand (and Australian) troops marked the beginnings of a national identity.

By the 75th, 90th and 100th anniversaries, thanks to heavy promotion in Australia, Anzac Day at Gallipoli has become a rite of passage for young Kiwis as well as a gathering for politicians and VIPs, being marked at home with all-day coverage by Maori TV, including specially made programmes.

Publishers have joined in, annually producing Anzac Day-themed books for adults and children.

This year, Auckland University Press has produced two serious volumes – a reprint of Alexander Aitken’s classic memoir, Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand Infantryman, first published in1963; and David Hastings’ Odyssey of the Unknown Anzac.

Both feature the long-term psychological impact of war, a subject that Mr Hastings’ research took him to the "stunning" story of one man, George McQuay, who had disappeared for 12 years and was effectively dead to the world until he suddenly reappeared.

He was at Gallipoli and later the Western Front where, in the official account, he was buried by an exploding shell in the trenches and, when pulled out, had completely lost his memory. In mid-1916 he was taken to a hospital in Britain and then to Sydney. He had identified himself as an Australian soldier called George Brown, who was also at Gallipoli.

“By this stage he was seriously mentally ill,” says Mr Hastings, who was not satisfied by the official version. “At the very best this is only part of the truth. He [McQuay] had deep-seated psychological issues that stretched back a long time – perhaps even before the war.”

In 1928, this Sydney Truth story about an “unknown soldier’s living death” was read by a close friend, who finally named “George Brown.” Media coverage was extensive, based on a flyer by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Auckland seeking the identity of an “unknown patient."

“The stories that were published at the time left lots and lots of unanswered questions,” Mr Hastings says. “It seemed like no one wanted to probe too deeply what had happened to him during the war and why it had taken so long to reunite him with his family.”

Through Mr McQuay’s niece, Vivi Cave, Mr Hastings obtained military and medical records to reconstruct the story,

He says medical staff took Mr McQuay to be incoherent and missed clues he was throwing out that he was a New Zealander.

“They weren’t listening and so they never assigned anyone to study the file to find out who he was. They even got to the point where they were assuming he wasn’t really a soldier at all, which is why they called him the unknown patient rather than the unknown soldier that he was.”

Back in New Zealand, Mr McQuay was admitted to Porirua mental hospital where it was said he would never recover. But his mother insisted he return home to Stratford. He lived out the rest of his life under the 24-hour care of his mother, Emma McQuay, and then his sister.

“If not for the fulltime care, which his mother bore at her own cost, he would have died in a psychiatric hospital,” Mr Hastings says.

His research has led him to conclusions about the way the mental victims of war have been treated and some myth-making about the Anzacs themselves.

“I am not convinced by the theory that ‘mateship’ provided a cohesion that regular army discipline couldn’t emulate,” he says.

This is the idea that the Anzacs were physically superior to their British cousins at Gallipoli, mentally tougher and better equipped to stand the stresses and strains of trench warfare.

 “Lots of Anzac soldiers suffered from ‘shell shock’ in its various manifestations,” he says, referring to what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Back in the olden days my old Sunday school teachers hand used to permanently shake. I found out that he had got shell shock in the war. He was a hard old fella that wouldn't think twice about slapping the legs on you if you dared to play-up, which I constantly did. I used to fear and hate him at the same time. Now on reflection thinking back to those days, I wish I had been a better behaved kid around him, as he didn't deserve the nonsense that he had to put up from me. I'm sorry that I didn't take the time to get to know him. I can still see him walking down the road shaking the way he did, the poor old guy.

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It's great to remember those who fought the two world wars and those in Vietnam Afghanistan etc

But most soldiers who actually fought the big wars went there for the adventure and regretted every moment thereafter. Those who fought right in the battles didn't want to remember the pain each year. They preferred to forget
It was the officers 10km behind the troops on safety and those who actually never went into battle who wanted to glorify wars that made no sense.

And most battle hardened soldiers who fought real battles like Casino in Italy never fully recovered menrally or physically

It is great to remind our young of the bravery of the past and the foolishness of most wars that are caused by politics and money.
And it is great today to remind the young what lunatics like the Bush presidents created for NO real reason and the current lunatic Trump could create

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“It is great to remind our young of the bravery of the past and the foolishness of most wars that are caused by politics and money.”

Nobody goes to war because they want to – they go to war because they must. The question isn’t: should we fight now? The question is, what is it about our ideas that have led us to war?

Peace an ambiguous concept. Since everyone supports peace, claiming to support peace does not communicate information. It conceals information. What pacifists mean by peace is actually the victory of righteousness. If you buy this theory, which was certainly quite popular among progressives, peace cannot be achieved except by the victory of righteousness. If the armies of righteousness fail to prevail, if they experience temporary setbacks, then it cannot be the final result. This is dangerous thinking.

Therefore, any outcome that is not righteous is a recipe for more war. And therefore, peace and the victory of righteousness are synonymous. This is why pacifism makes so little sense.

The irony of the postwar age is that this reign of global peace, this progressive millennium, was achieved by an Allied victory in the most ruthless war in modern history, in which neither side displayed the slightest respect for enemy civilians. So much for the legitimate revolutionary aspirations of the German people! If violence never solves anything, why is Germany such a pleasant and peaceful place today, even minus a few cathedrals and other flammable bric-a-brac? Why didn't the German people rise in revolt against this brutal military occupation? Well, because that wouldn't have been righteous, of course. And so on.

However, everyone sees his own cause as righteous, including progressives. Ultimately, a pacifist is just an activist whose strategy for victory is to suppress the military efforts of his enemies. If you have the same enemies as the pacifist, you are by definition on his side.

How do pacifists, or progressives in general, decide who is righteous and who is not? I guess you’ll have to ask the people at the State Department why they like some Syrian rebels and not others.

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People were very keen to go to war in 1914, they were volunteers. You should google jingoism if you have any doubts.

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Equal rations equal pay war's forgotten in a day - All quiet on the western front.

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War is hell.

Those who joined the wars in Europe did so for a variety of reasons - the principal reason seemed t be the sense of adventure and opportunity to escape the confines of Australia and NZ.

Irrespective of the reasons, they served the country and all of them sacrificed.

For their service and sacrifice, let’s salute them. Lest we forget.

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In the 1960's I worked in the Midlands of the UK and one of the office staff was a WW1 veteran who had suffered mustard gas poisoning. He had been the Office Manager prior to the war. He continued suffering which caused him to have frequent days when he found it difficult to breathe and was unable to work. He passed on and was given a military funeral.
My NZ father in law was wounded at Gallipoli, spent a year recovering in NZ and then was shipped to France where he was wounded at Messines.
He recovered in Military Hospital in Hampshire England and lived to 96 with his wounds causing some issues but with fortitude. My Grandfather served in the Royal Navy prior to WW1 and then in the Royal Engineers in France and was deafened by the guns.
Yes I remember them.

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There was an NZ veterans trip to Galipolli in 1965.

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