On our second day in Albany we put Mr Tilley into doggy day care so as to be able to visit the National ANZAC Centre. The recommendation is that at least two hours would be needed.
Our last visit to Albany was early in 2014, and this interactive, museum experience wasn’t opened until November 2014 so this was our first opportunity to take a look. I’m pleased we did, and yes, at least two hours were needed.
Upon entry each visitor is given a card with the details of an actual service man or woman who left for Gallipoli, from Albany, with whom to identify. There are little screens throughout the centre on which to place the cards for details of that persons life to be revealed. We were taken through their lives from enlistment to their eventual death.
My soldier, Alan Duncan Stitt, was from Ashburton near Christchurch in NZ. I’m from Christchurch, I wonder if he served with any of my ancestors. Stitt enlisted for service on 14 August 1914. They departed from Lyttleton Harbour and sailed into King George Sound, Albany, to join a convoy of ships ready to sail away to the war. They expected to be heading to England and to be fighting on the Western Front.
They were informed whilst at sea that they would not in fact be going to England and the Western Front as anticipated. Instead they were to sail to Egypt and await further orders. The orders came and on the 25th April 1915 they landed at Gallipoli. Stitt was amongst the first to land.
He participated in all the major battles of the Gallipoli campaign and was wounded three times. In November 1915 the decision was made to abandon the peninsula. On the night of 17th December, almost eight months since the first ANZACS landed at Gallipoli, 10,000 New Zealand and Australian soldiers were evacuated. Stitt was in the last group. He was there from the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign right up until the end.
Having survived Gallipoli Stitt then moved on the the Western Front where he was wounded for a fourth time. He finished his service as one of the youngest Lieutenant Colonels of the NZEF.
After the war he moved to England to marry his english sweetheart, and the two moved to Kenya in Africa. Stitt returned to active service during the second world war serving with the British forces in East Africa. He died in 1950 at the age of 56, from causes unknown.
We all know about the war, we all know about the Gallipoli landing, and we all know about the terrible toll it took on the Australian and New Zealand soldiers. To have a real soldier to follow through the campaign brought it all to life in way that no movie, nor any book has ever brought it to life before.
Not only can you follow your own man or woman, the museum provided a small hand held radio which links into all the photos of other soldiers and nurses and plays the relevant account of their war experiences. Some of the accounts were from letters with a voice reading the words. It was easy to imagine the accounts given were first hand.
The war to end all wars – most of us have only a vague idea what the first world war was all about. Who knows if the solders knew why they were fighting. But fight they did, and many died for their efforts. Those that survived came back with both physical and mental scars, and many lived for long enough, as did my soldier, to realise that the Great War that was supposed to end all wars, whilst won by the allied forces, didn’t end all wars. When will mankind learn!