On 4 August 1914, the British Empire declared war on Germany and her allies. The outbreak of war was greeted with great enthusiasm in Australia, which at the time was still a young nation, and the government of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher pledged his country’s full support to Britain, the mother country. 400,000 Australians participated directly.
On 25 April 1915, troops of the first Australian Imperial Force were landed at Gallipoli as part of an allied contingent that would take part in a campaign that amidst terrible losses would serve to shape Australia’s perception of her own nationhood, as distinct from the bonds of empire.
These troops, and many more, would go on to serve in the great battles on the Western Front at a time when losses were heavy and gains were small. In July and August 1918, Australian soldiers would participate in a series of decisive battles that would ultimately seal Germany’s fate.
At the same time, Australian troops were making significant advances in the Middle East, where they, along with the British, would succeed in capturing Gaza and Jerusalem, forcing the surrender of the Ottoman Army in October 1918.
More than 300,000 Australians from a population of less than five million would serve in the Great War – World War I – which lasted for more than four years until the German Army surrendered on 11 November 1918. For Australia, the cost was high – more than 60,000 soldiers were killed and a further 150,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.