The Smith family honours an Anzac

When he left Sydney aboard the “Afric” on 18 October 1914, Arthur Robert Elliott, aged 24, could have imagined little of what awaited him over the next four years. Arthur had answered the call to enlist in the Australian Military Forces the previous August.

In particular, he could not have foreseen that in April 2015, his grandson Robert (Smith), great grandson Todd and great great grandson Emmett, all of Newcastle, would travel to Turkey to commemorate the Gallipoli landing in which he participated on 25 April 1915.

Arthur served overseas for the duration of the war, and the “Afric”, as Robert Smith says, was “the first boat that actually left Australian shores to participate”. It sailed to Albany to join the rest of the fleet, and thence to Egypt. Arthur’s service number, 293, indicates that he was one of the earliest men to enlist; clearly he did not hesitate to put his hand up to serve his country.

Ironically, it’s only since Todd Smith, 35, determined that he would enter the ballot to be present at the ceremonies marking the centenary of Anzac Day, that the family has discovered a great deal about its accomplished ancestor.   

“We’ve learned more in the last year than we knew in all the previous years,” said Robert. “Pop was there for the entire Australian involvement; he was at Gallipoli, followed by the Somme, followed by Egypt.” Arthur talked little about the war, and given that he lived to be 78, perhaps the years 1914-18 receded in his mind as he married Elsie, established a home and raised four children.

Once Robert and Todd begin telling stories about Arthur, one tale leads to another and it’s delightful to witness a father and son enjoying their shared history, while little Emmett plays in the background, oblivious, at nineteen months, to his heritage. “I think it’s interesting that you’re finding out at the same time I am – and I actually knew the bloke!” says Robert to his son.

As Todd explains, “We’ve never been told much about that side of the family and so this is part of the experience of preparing to go to Turkey. Emmett, though, will grow up knowing his history, in a way that I didn’t.” However, Todd has long had an interest in the War and has clear memories of attending Anzac Day services as a child and a younger man. He will certainly never forget Anzac Day 2015.      

Todd and Robert both entered the ballot for selection to go to Turkey; Todd was successful, receiving two tickets. He offered the second to his Dad, who was quietly chuffed. Todd’s wife Sophie, along with Emmett and Todd’s mother Jann, will travel together to Turkey, and while father and son are present at Anzac Cove, the rest of the family will watch offshore. Robert would have loved his mother, Betty (Arthur’s daughter), to join them but her health would not allow. However, she is the proud custodian of Arthur’s medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Anzac Medal.  

One of the discoveries of this research, led by Robert’s sister, Heather,is the fact that Arthur was recommended for the Military Medal. As a driver in the 1st Divisional Train Company, he had saved many lives by transporting the wounded, often under fierce enemy fire, to safety. However, the medal wasn’t awarded because no suitably senior officer witnessed Arthur’s achievement.  

While preparing to travel to Anzac Cove, Todd and Robert have reflected, not only on their ancestor’s military service, but also on the significance of Gallipoli and other campaigns in Australia’s growth as a nation. “As well as their war service, those men came home and worked to build Australia, and I think we started to become more independent from Britain and more mature,” said Todd. It’s common to hear of returned servicemen who rarely spoke of the war years, suggesting that their focus was fixed on the future rather than on the past.

Families across Australia and New Zealand are making preparations for similar Anzac pilgrimages, just like the Smiths, and no doubt new stories are being discovered and old ones retold. While the sacrifice and suffering of what was, in military terms, a disaster, is very much part of the story, the Smiths are being drawn closer by sharing the past in order to enrich their family’s future.

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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