Opening address

Associate Professor Uğur Ünal (second from left), President Erdoğan (centre), David Fricker (right). Photo courtesy of Mr Jussi Nuorteva.

Centenary of World War One Documents
Istanbul, 19−21 March

David Fricker
President, International Council on Archives and Director-General, National Archives of Australia

On 19−20 March, ICA President David Fricker attended the Centenary of World War One Documents event, convened and hosted by the State Archives of Turkey and held at the Congress Center of the Directorate of the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul. The event was attended by representatives of national archives from around 45 countries.

Opening addresses were made by the host, Associate Professor Uğur Ünal, General Director State Archives, David Fricker, ICA President, with a special address by the President of Turkey, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

David Fricker's address to President Erdogan and delegates was about the role of the International Council on Archives and the importance of archives for the world to 'learn the terrible lessons of war' and find a path to enduring peace. 

Esteemed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,
General Director of the State Archives of Turkey, Associate Professor Uğur Ünal,
National Archivists, and distinguished participants.

I am honoured to be here today in my capacity as President of the International Council on Archives in such esteemed company and to have the opportunity to remark upon this most significant international event.

The International Council on Archives is an organisation dedicated to the effective management of records and the preservation, care and use of the world's archival heritage through its representation of records and archive professionals across the globe. We have around 1400 members in 199 countries and territories, a truly diverse membership rich with talent and united by our shared values.

Thanks to the initiative and leadership of Associate Professor Uğur Ünal, a good number of us are gathered here today, and in particular I acknowledge the presence of two members of the ICA Executive Board: Karel Velle and Francis Mwangi.

We have the opportunity in the next two days to reflect upon the events of the First World War – but more specifically the role that archives play in the preservation of the collective memory of this profound turning point in global history.

We will have an opportunity to reflect upon the reasons we preserve the memory − and perhaps the most important reason of all is so that humanity can learn the terrible lessons of war and find the path to enduring peace.

There is no doubt that we will change the future for the better if we continue to recall the past, but we cannot restrict ourselves only to the received wisdom of published histories. We must continue the re-examination of the primary sources – the records.

Because history is never finally written. There are so many discoveries still to be made. Think of it − billions of records held within the archives of the world, individually and collectively offering new insights into the motivations, actions and consequences of the key events that have shaped the world we live in today.

This is the value of archives: bringing the past to the present. The value of living memory.
Archivists don't keep records just to glorify the past.

Nor do we keep records just to apologise for the past.

We keep records to remember the past – faithfully, honestly and completely.

But just keeping the records is not enough. Our responsibilities as archivists go much further than this.

We have an obligation, a duty to ensure the archives are promoted, made accessible and used.

And used by everyone − because no one can change the past, but everyone can change the future.

And so our job is to ensure the future is better than the past, to ensure that our children and grandchildren enjoy peace and prosperity. To do anything less betrays the service and sacrifice of those who came before us − those that still speak to us from the records in our archives.

Professor Ünal, all of us here are immensely grateful to you for the organisation of this historic event, and I speak on behalf of us all when I say we feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in this fascinating and informative program.

Mr President, I am very grateful that you have given us your time this morning. Your presence here sends a clear message to all of us in the ICA and the broader international community that you value archives and all that they represent, and your presence encourages us to redouble our efforts towards the preservation, promotion and use of the world's archival heritage.

Thank you.

Through the record they continue to serve

David Fricker
Director-General, National Archives of Australia

Presented at the Centenary of World War One Documents, Ottoman Archives Congress Center, General Directorate of State Archives, Istanbul, 19−21 March 2015

In 2014 the Australian Government commenced five years of commemorative activities marking 100 years since World War I. The program is known as the Anzac Centenary, and in the coming years we will remember not only those who Australians who served during World War I, but all those Australians involved in over century of service to their country.

'Anzac', as you may know, is a word that carries deep meaning for Australians and New Zealanders. Originally the letters A-N-Z-A-C stood for 'Australian & New Zealand Army Corps', which was the formation of troops that came landed at Gelibolu (known to us as 'Gallipoli'), beginning at dawn on 25 April 1915. The events of that day became famous in the history of all our countries – Australia, New Zealand and Turkey – and the cove which was the main focus of the landings is known now as 'Anzac Cove'. For Australians, 'Anzac' has become a way of referring to a place, a group of people, and a complex set of ideas and feelings about Australians at war.

Australia is an ancient continent and for many thousands of years was home to Indigenous people who fostered many rich and diverse cultures. European settlement began only in 1788, and only in 1901 did the six separate Australian colonies agreed to unite peacefully under one Constitution as the Commonwealth of Australia. Australians therefore considered themselves part of a 'young' nation, inexperienced in what many then believed to the greatest test of nationhood, that of war. So when war broke out in 1914, many young Australians volunteered eagerly and expected, after their training, to be shipped to Europe to face the German army on the Western Front. Members of the first convoys were surprised to find themselves landed in Egypt, from there to be put to fight in the newly opened up Eastern Front.

Few of those young men would have heard of Gallipoli, and most would have had only the slightest understanding of the Allies' campaign objective, which was to open the Dardanelles to the British Navy to capture Constantinople, and ultimately to remove Turkey from the war. When the Australians got to Gallipoli they were expecting to land on a grassy, lightly defended plain near Gaba Tepe, not the steep, scrub-covered hills and sharp ridges above Ari Burnu. In the dark, the Australians could barely see. Bugler Fred Ashton, originally a clerk from Geraldton in Western Australia, recalled that: 'With our officer lying on the beach with a gaping wound on in his chest … we were rather at a loss to know what our next move should be. So we fired at the rifle flashes'. Sadly, in the confusion, this fire hit some of the men further above them.

Watching from the heights were men of the Turkish army, the 27th Regiment initially. Sixteen-year-old Private Adil Sahin had been a shepherd until his recent call up from his village, Buyuk Anafarta, which was on the Gallipoli peninsula itself. He was still too small to handle his rifle or fit into his uniform. He and his companions opened fire on the shadowy figures below, but many years later Sahin recalled: 'I was not sure whether we'd hit them or they were taking shelter … we were outnumbered … it was confusing … We were very scared and retreated to the second ridge, firing as we went.'

Lightly defended as the country was, in very little time men of the Turkish 19th Division, under their commander Lieutenant Colonel Mustapha Kemal, were brought up to meet the invaders and it was Kemal's decisiveness that ensured that the ANZACs' key objectives that day remained in Turkish hands. Meanwhile, south at Cape Helles the British 29th Division also failed to gain any real ground after its amphibious landing. Stalemate set in and, ultimately, the eight month Gallipoli campaign was a failure for the Allies, who suffered more than 44,000 deaths, including more than 8000 Australians. The number killed in the Turkish Army is estimated at nearly 87,000.

For Australia, Gallipoli left a revered legacy. Our collective imagination is still gripped by the story of our young soldiers scrambling under fire up the steep hills above the beach and is remembered every 25 April as ANZAC Day. The actions of those men stand for qualities of endurance against overwhelming odds, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship which transcend the historical moment and have profoundly shaped Australians' sense of national character and identity.

In 1919 Australia's war official historian, Charles Bean, returned to Gallipoli. He had been there before; had gone ashore at about 9.30am on 25 April 1915 and stayed for the entire campaign. Now, on his way back, as his ferry arrived at Mudros, his eyes anxiously searched the horizon. He wrote:

Far away over the open sea to the north-east … under a line of clustered clouds, could be faintly seen some low grey hilltops ... They were the hills of the Dardanelles, and at that moment I, for one, was poignantly homesick for them.

With a group of other Australians, he wanted to walk the old battlefields again to better understand aspects of what had happened there. Guided by Major Zeki Bey, of the Turkish 57th Regiment, who had faced the Australians on the first day, Bean wanted to probe the many 'riddles of Anzac', as he called them, that had puzzled him ever since. In the years that followed, very few Australians were able to visit, for the long journey from Australia was expensive and difficult. Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce visited in 1924, but it was largely a private visit to pay respects at the graves of some old comrades, for he had fought with the British army on Gallipoli. Bereaved mothers often wrote to the Australian government begging for assistance to travel, but all were refused. Only the wealthiest families ever made it.

And yet Australians have never stopped longing to visit Gallipoli. In 1965, for the 50th anniversary of the landing, a 'pilgrimage' of ex-servicemen was organised by the Returned Services League of Australia, and in 1990 – 75 years on – the first government-funded veterans' pilgrimage took place, led by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. In recent years, although Gallipoli veterans have all died, many young people are eager to visit. For the 100th anniversary next month more than 8000 Australians will be present.

Visitors today never fail to be struck by the beauty and peacefulness of Anzac. The dead are buried and commemorated as close to where they fell as possible in 21 small cemeteries scattered across the Anzac area. This was done at Charles Bean's suggestion after his visit in 1919. Bean was deeply aware that Australians at home were suffering a 'cruel burden' of anxiety at not being able to see the last resting places of their sons, and thought the men's bodies would blend with the ground over which they had fought.

In 1934 Kemal Atatürk, the man who had commanded Turkish forces in 1915 and who was now, of course, President of the Republic of Turkey, expressed the same idea. He wrote these words to be spoken by his Interior Minister to a delegation from the Imperial War Graves Commission which was visiting Turkey:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

In 1985 these words were inscribed on memorials unveiled on Gallipoli, and in Canberra, Australia, near the Australian War Memorial. Recently, one young traveller to Gallipoli observed: 'Atatürk's message makes you realise that we are not Australian or Turkish, but simply people'.

There are other ways that the dead and, indeed, the survivors of war, are remembered. The National Archives of Australia holds rich collections of records which document many aspects of the history of Australia at war, in particular the experience of individuals. We hold the all service dossiers of the 376,000 Australians who served overseas with the Australian Imperial Force. Of those who returned, the National Archives holds extensive records relating to their post-war rehabilitation, pensioning and medical care. In the five years of the Centenary of Anzac, the National Archives is devoting substantial resources to enhancing the accessibility of these records, so that they may be easily discovered by new generations of researchers.

Our key platform for online engagement with National Archives' records is Discovering Anzacs, a website which is the culmination of many years' work to acquire and make accessible records associated with Australia's part in World War I. At the heart of Discovering Anzacs are the 376,000 service dossiers of the men and women (including 1,400 nurses) of the Australian Imperial Force. Discovering Anzacs is a partnership with Archives New Zealand and includes 141,000 New Zealand service records as well. Discovering Anzacs offers users the opportunity to input biographical and spatial data, transcribe records, and add their own images and stories. Records can be searched not only by name, but place of birth and place enlistment as well. With the support of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, we are developing a suite of education resources for use by teachers and students in Australian schools, in line with the Australian high school curriculum. Although service records comprise the bulk of the content on Discovering Anzacs, we are incorporating other kinds of records and records related to other conflicts, including the Boer War. The website has had 135,600 sessions since its launch in October 2014, and more than 61,000 contributions. More than 3540 people have registered as users.

Another major initiative is one we call 'Project Albany'. The National Archives holds a large collection of records which document health care, welfare services and pensions provided by the Repatriation Department (later the Department of Veterans' Affairs) to eligible people who returned to Australia after the war. 'Repatriation' in this context means the return and resettlement into civilian life of Australian service personnel who fought overseas. There are approximately 600,000 individual records, but until now only a few of these have been made accessible to the public. The National Archives has received $3.4 million over three years from the Department of Veterans' Affairs to describe as many records as possible on the National Archives' database, RecordSearch, and to digitise a selection of them. The selection is based on the records of those personnel who left Australia with the first convoy, departing Albany in Western Australia on 1 November 1914. Hence the name: 'Project Albany'. Nearly all of these people would have served at Gallipoli.

Together, service records and repatriation records provide a rich picture of the service and post-war lives of many Australians. In my allocated time today, I can tell just one story, that of Herbert Cornelius Bourne. Bourne was 21 when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1914, just weeks after the outbreak of the war. He was from Adelaide, in South Australia, and while he had trained as a jeweller and watch maker, at the time of his enlistment he was working as a clerk. After military training he was allocated as a stretcher bearer to the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance and landed at Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April 1915.

In the same unit was John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the man with who, famously, used donkeys to transport leg-wounded men to the beach. Simpson died on 19 May, shot by a sniper. Stretcher-bearing was extremely dangerous and exhausting work, but Herbert Bourne endured almost the entire campaign until finally in December he was evacuated, having suffered for months from influenza and typhoid. He saw no more frontline service, and was eventually discharged from the AIF, diagnosed with a heart condition, and returned to Australia in December 1917.

Bourne's Repatriation files record that his health was poor for the rest of his life. With financial support from the department, he established himself as a jeweller but as years passed was constantly troubled by heart problems, nerves, and varicose veins and ulcers which eventually became gangrenous, resulting in the amputation in 1968 of one leg. He died 1976.

What saddens me about Herbert Bourne is a letter his son, Donald, wrote to the Repatriation Department after Herbert died. 'Could you tell me the nature of my father's sickness and invalidity after he returned from Gallipoli?', Donald wrote. He explained that within the family there were stories that Herbert had been buried alive. His father had lived over 50 years with a 'dual personality problem', Donald said, and it would be a comfort to the family to learn that this could be attributed to the war, and not to some fundamental problem in his nature. However, the department replied briefly that it was unable to disclose any information. The family never received the answers for which they yearned. Pondering Donald Bourne's letter about his father, I wonder if the family believed that if they could 'blame' the war, it would have been easier to 'forgive' Herbert the suffering he had apparently caused them. Of course we shall probably never know.

By preserving records and making them accessible, stories like these are not forgotten. The men I have mentioned today are not mere statistics, or names on lists. Through their records we can know them, at least a little. Bugler Ashton, the young man firing blindly in the dark on the morning of the landing, continues to speak to us from his own service record. We learn through his own words how as the morning wore on he became lost and, wandering alone, was captured by some Turkish soldiers and made prisoner. He was imprisoned for the rest of the war. A statement he made to Australian authorities after his eventual release in 1918, describing his experiences, still reaches us in stark, vivid detail.

And that is our purpose as archives of World War I documents. The records we hold bear testament to the service and sacrifice of the men and women engaged in the war. Our job is to ensure that the records did not die when those brave individuals passed away. Instead, through our work, the records continue to live and to offer up new discoveries, new insights and understanding; to educate future generations and equip us all to make better decisions for a peaceful future. As archivists, we keep the records alive and through those records the men and women that selflessly gave their service to their nations 100 years ago will continue to serve in perpetuity.

However, I am conscious that not all history is contained in archives, and to close my remarks today let me tell you about a meeting that took place in 1985 between an Australian historian and broadcaster, Harvey Broadbent, and Mr Adil Sahin, the rifleman who as a 16-year-old found himself defending his home from attack by Australians 70 years before. Then in his 80s and still living in Buyuk Anafarta, Mr Sahin, with his wife and neighbours, welcomed the young Australian film crew into their homes. Mr Sahin had never forgotten the campaign; only three of the 33 men from his village returned. With his Australian guests Mr Sahin went to Ari Burnu, which had recently been officially re-named Anzac Cove by the Turkish Government, to talk about the campaign. He sent greetings to the Australian Gallipoli veterans whom he had met when they returned for the re-naming ceremony, and, carefully and with much emotion, he brought out for Harvey Broadbent a relic from the campaign that he had treasured for seven decades: a cap badge inscribed 'Australian Military Forces'. For her part, Mrs Sahin presented the Australians with a branch of an olive tree, a universal symbol of peace.

So let me conclude with that thought: with my gratitude for the opportunity to speak at a gathering which so amply demonstrates the abiding peace and friendship between Turkey and Australia and the other nations represented here today.

Thank you.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019