Following the lives of a dozen Australian soldiers who served in the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I.
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Season 1 Ep.1: Australia in 1914
Australia in 1914… Outbreak of war… Recruitment… Training… Gallipoli: Landing/stalemate/withdrawal.
1914. Western District of Victoria (Australia). Son of a wealthy British-born land-owner (who still thought of himself as a “Pommie”), Martin Barrington returns home from university studies with plans to move north to start his own livestock property. His best friend stockman Dick Baker wants to enlist to fight in the Great War which has just begun in Europe and Martin agrees to follow, joined by Dick’s sister (and Martin’s childhood sweetheart) Kate who will become an army Nurse. The two friends enlist and they form part of a platoon led by former schoolteacher and now Lieutenant Harold Armstrong and former football star and now Sargeant Tom McArthur. Other members of the platoon include quiet and studious Roly Collins, Englishman Bill Harris, cynical, wise-cracking drover Pat Cleary and the Danish-born Johanson brothers. Sgt McArthur soon becomes unpopular with his short temper and aggressive manner but whilst drunk one night off-duty, he tells of his miserable childhood growing up with an alcoholic father who had been crippled in the Boer War. 1915. The platoon, having trained in Australia & Egypt, take part in the Allied invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli on April 25th. The platoon experience the harsh and bloody campaign and the appalling conditions, suffering heavy casualties. Both of the Johanson brothers are killed on the first day and Martin is badly wounded that night. Amongst some new replacements is Private Flanagan, a confident and capable soldier. In August, the platoon (including a newly returned Martin) takes part in the bloody Battle at Lone Pine. Although initially detailed to be supply-carriers, Martin and Dick soon become embroiled in the close-quarters fighting in the Turkish trenches and an enemy rifleman shoots and kills Dick from behind. In December, the platoon, of which only six original members remain, are evacuated from the peninsula along with the rest of the Anzac forces. 1916. The platoon, reformed with many new faces, arrives in France. Amongst the new members are German-born Wilhelm ‘Kaiser’ Schmidt, unpopular ‘Dingo’ Gordon, slow-witted ‘Pudden’ Parsons, quiet Lewis-Gunner ‘Bluey’ and cheerful Private Upton. Pat Cleary soon proves himself an expert ‘scrounger’ of luxury-goods and he and a local cafe-owner run a thriving business. In London, Australian journalist Keith Murdoch meets with British Prime-Minister Lloyd-George who has a dislike of British Army commander Douglas Haig. The platoon are sent into a ‘Nursery’ sector of the Western Front to break them into trench warfare. During a raid on the German lines, combat-fatigued Sgt McArthur freezes in terror and Martin leads the mission, even though McArthur is given credit for it. In July, the platoon take part in the bloody Somme Campaign, attacking the French village of Pozieres. The attack breaks down in confusion and Armstrong is hesitant and in-decisive, forcing Martin and Flanagan to assume leadership roles. The platoon suffers heavy losses, mostly from artillery fire. Private Upton is killed and Roly Collins nearly goes insane from shell-shock. After a long battle, the dazed and traumatized survivors stagger back to the rear. Later that year, the platoon are sent back into the Somme sector, now bogged down in the cold and mud of winter. Back in Australia, the debate over whether to introduce conscription causes bitter political and social divisions which will resonate for decades to come. Reverend Lonsdale draws the ire of his parish for daring to question the conscription proposal and the conduct of the war. Pompous Australian politician Cyril Earnshaw pressures his timid son Max into enlisting. 1917. After the failure of the Somme, the Allied High Command plan new offensives to break the new German Hindenburg line. Max Earnshaw arrives as a new Lieutenant and proves to be a less-than-inspiring officer. The war-weary platoon takes part in the Allied offensives at Arras which soon bogs down in confusion. Sgt McArthur is killed, sacrificing himself to hold off a German assault whilst the rest of the platoon reaches safety. Injured by shellfire, Pudden deserts. The men are given a spell of leave in Britain. Kaiser Schmidt is self-conscious of his German heritage but Bill Harris invites him to stay with his family. Back in France, his nerves at breaking point, Armstrong is sent home as a psychiatric casualty and is replaced by pompous and unpopular Captain Young. Pudden is later found hiding out amongst a group of deserters and he agrees to return to his unit. The platoon takes part in the new offensive at Passchendaele which is bogged down in the Autumn rains. Captain Young proves to be a complete incompetenent and nincompoop and Flanagan knocks him unconscious whilst Martin assumes command. Whilst attacking an enemy bunker, Martin is badly wounded and Dingo Gordon later deserts after murdering several German prisoners. Lt. Earnshaw, just as he is showing signs of being a competent officer, is wounded and blinded by a shell. PM Lloyd George has lost all faith in Haig and yearns to have him removed from his command. At a field-hospital, Kate Baker manages to nurse Martin, with whom she has begun a romantic involvement, back to recovery. Winter 1917. The platoon is wearily holding the line amidst the mud of Ypres and low morale & disillusionment has infected much of the Allied armies. Word arrives that Russia has surrendered following the Communist Revolution, allowing the German army on the Eastern Front to be sent to France. Martin and Flanagan are both officers and the former has reluctantly become a Staff Officer to Australian General John Monash. Flanagan bumps into Gordon, now working as a pimp behind the lines and the two fight in an alleyway, leaving Gordon dead. Spring 1918. The massive German Spring Offensive begins in March and shatters the weary and depleted British 5th Army. For the first time since 1914, the Western Front breaks open and the fighting takes place in open countryside. Martin takes command of a rag-tag group of British survivors and he is impressed with their courage and fighting skills. The five Australian divisions are one of the very few intact Allied forces that can halt the German advance. Flanagan, now commanding the company, is ordered to a defensive position at Hazebrouck where they are instructed to hold off the advancing Germans which his men do so in a fierce battle. Bluey’s deadly skill with the Lewis Gun is put to good use. Now a Sgt, Bill Harris also displays considerable courage and skill and is revealed to be a former soldier in the British army who had killed a cowardly and inept British officer in Afghanistan in 1907 and had then moved to Australia under a false identity. Summer-Autumn 1918. The Anzacs are weary and yearn for the war to end. The refusal to allow conscription in Australia has reduced the supply of replacements to a trickle and all the Australian divisions are under-strength. Clumsy Private Carter is one of the few reinforcements the old platoon receives. American units (“Yanks”) arrive in the British sector and are trained by the Anzacs. The company takes part in the Allied counter-offensives organised by General John Monash, now commanding a unified Australian Corps. US General Pershing refuses to allow US troops to participate unless they are under independent US command. Eager to see action, some American troops wear Australian uniforms and join the attack. With superior organization, better co-ordination between forces and tank & air support, the attacks on Hamel achieve much success, sending the Germans falling back in retreat. Carter displays courage in charging a German MG post after Bluey is injured. The great success of the Allied offensives sees Monash showered in decorations and tributes from grateful Allied leaders, including a knighthood from King George V. Now engaged to Martin, Kate begs him to remain a staff officer but he insists on returning to the front lines. Martin recommends Flanagan to be awarded a VC after the latter single-handedly destroys a German MG-post. In October, whilst clearing out an enemy-held village, Martin sends the rest of the company on whilst he and Pudden Parsons linger to check the last few buildings. A group of fugitive Germans surprises them, killing both Martin and Pudden. The Armistice is declared a few weeks later. 1919. The surviving veterans reunite in their local town back in Australia for the unveiling of the new war memorial to the fallen. Kate and Flanagan are now business partners, Roly Collins is about to become a journalist working for Sir Keith Murdoch. Cleary, Harris, Kaiser and Bluey also attend, as does a fragile Armstrong who now resides in a rest home and Earnshaw, now permanently blind. Martin’s and Dick’s mothers lay wreaths and Reverend Lonsdale reads a moving tribute to the Anzacs.
Cast and Crew:
Directors: Pino Amenta, John Dixon
Writers: John Clarke, John Dixon
Andrew Clarke, Paul Hogan and Jon Blake
Original Air Date: 1985
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