ANZACs: the War Down Under (1985)






Director:   Pino Amenta, John Dixon, George Miller

Starring:  Andrew Clarke (Cpl. Martin Barrington), Paul Hogan (Pvt. Pat Cleary), Megan Williams (Nurse Kate Baker), Mark Hembrow (Pvt. Dick Baker), Jon Blake (Pvt. Flanagan), Christopher Cummins (Pvt. Roly Collins), Tony Bonner (Lt. Harold Armstrong), Shane Briant (Sgt. Wilhelm 'Kaiser' Schmidt), Alec Wilson (Sgt. Alec 'Pudden' Parsons), Patrick Ward (Sgt. Tom McArther), Jonathan Sweet (C.S.M. Bill Harris), Peter Finlay (L.C.P.T. Bluey), Jim Holt (Pvt. 'Dingo' Gordon), David Bradshaw (Keith Murdoch), Edmund Pegge (Captain Young).

TV miniseries


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Victoria, Australia.  July 1914. On a cattle ranch Martin Barrington comes over to the corral where his friend Dick Baker is busy branding cattle.  Martin is home from the university.  He says he has been dodging his father since he got in.  Martin joins in helping Dick with the branding.

Martin's father is angry with his son and tells Martin that he owes him an explanation.  Dad says he wanted his son to go to his old college at Cambridge, England.  Martin asks his father for a breather of one year and then he will go back for a degree.  Dad says there's going to be a war and Martin replies that's none of their concern.  Europe is 12,000 miles away.  Dad says that they are British, but Martin says they are Australian.  He finally just tells his dad that he is not going back.  Dad says he accepts that.  He also hints about something big coming down their way, but he will talk about it after he gets more information. 

Nurse Kate Baker tells her mother that she is going over to see her brother Dick for a few days.  Mom complains about her son being thrown off the Barrington Ranch.  Kate reminds her mother that they got a small cottage for life and a pension from the Barringtons. Mom says that doesn't bring her father back.  Mother goes on to say that Martin in back and he probably got kicked out of that fancy university he was going to. 

The Barrington family is holding a dinner party.  A message arrives for father Barrington.  He announces:  "Great Britain has declared war on Germany!"  Dad toasts:  "To the king, the Empire and the land we love, Australia."

Martin comes to see Dick, but finds Kate instead.  He is impressed that Kate looks so good and he tells her so.  He says he has heard that she is a nurse now.  Kate says yes and that will be her ticket out of the Bush. The two start kidding each other and having fun when Dick comes in.  Martin says he wants Dick to go with him to Queensland, but Dick says that there's been a change in plan because he and the boys have decided to join up. 

The guys are signing up for the Australian army.  Martin is one of those signing up to go.  He meets a man named Pat Cleary, who has a very sarcastic wit.  Soon enough the fellows are in uniform.  Their immediate commanding officer is Lt. Harold Armstrong.  The Lieutenant explains that the unit has formed so fast that there is a shortage of non-commissioned officers.  So he will select two temporary NCOs and asks for volunteers   Tom McArther volunteers for sergeant.  There are no volunteers for corporal until the Lieutenant says that the job pays an extra shilling a day.  Now many men step forward.  Armstrong selects Martin Barrington, saying that the man was once a cadet lieutenant. 

McArther speaks to his unit of soldiers.  He learns quickly that Pat Cleary is a wise-ass and he doesn't like it. He has some of the men tell the unit their occupations.  The Johanssons are dairy farmers, Harris is a roust-about, Collins is a boot maker and Baker is a stockman.  Cleary says he is middle-weight champion of North Queensland, all time champion horse breaker and the breaker of women's hearts everywhere.  He adds that he is also a liar.  Barrington says he is a student and McArther says he's a little old to be wearing short pants to school, but Barrington says he was a university student.  McArther makes fun of Barrington being an "educated" man. 

Some nurses arrive and Dick Baker goes over quickly to introduce himself.  A nurse is getting her bags out of the car and Dick goes up to meet her.  When the nurse turns around Dick realizes it's his sister Kate.  He wants to know what is she doing here and Kate says mom told her to keep an eye on her brother. Dick may not be happy to see Kate, but Martin is very pleased.  He asks her if she is going to France with them and Kate says yes.  Now Martin is really happy.  But he has to step back when he sees that Kate is going into the officer's mess.  (There is to be no fraternizations between the officers and the enlisted men.) 

Barrington has already been to France and the men ask him what's the country like?  He especially praises Paris where the night life flows into the light of the next day.

Collins narrates that on the day their transports were getting ready to leave Australia, Turkey joined the war on the side of Germany.  So the fellows head for five more months of training in Egypt and then off they will go to Gallipoli (part of Turkey) to attack Turkey through the backdoor.  He also says ANZAC stands for the Australian-New Zealand Army Corps.   

Gallipoli, 1915.  The group lands on the wrong beach.  The men run up to the base of the cliffs.  In the process, they lose a number of dead and wounded.  They are pinned down and can't easily move up the cliffs.  Lt. Armstrong's platoon gets the order to move along farther down the beach.  One of the Johansson brothers is mortally wounded.  His brother has to move too.  He kisses his brother on the forehead and then leaves.  The platoon goes up a small cliff, but takes a lot of casualties. 

Finally the ANZACs start inflicting some heavier casualties on the Turks.  By himself Dick Baker takes out a Turkish machinegun nest. Now the Turks charge the ANZACs and pay a heavy price in casualties.  The guys are eating dinner when a shell explosion interrupts their meal. 

First Australian Division HQ, Anzac Cove. One of the officers tells the ranking officer that they should consider evacuation.  They have landed on the wrong beach and have failed to takes any of their objectives.  If one part of the line breaks, the Turks will be on the beach in great numbers. 

Lone Pine, August 6th, 1915.  Dick and Martin are pulled from their positions to go to an area of heavy fighting.  They pass by lots of dead ANZAC bodies and then they run into Turks in the the trench.  They have to shoot and throw grenades as fast as they possibly can in order to stay alive.  A Turk sneaks up on the trench where Dick and Martin are.  He shoots Dick in the back and then prepares to shoot Martin, but his rifle just goes click.  Martin grabs his rifle (having been busy throwing grenades) and shoots the Turk.  He checks on Dick, but he is dead.

The men bury their dead.  At night Martin goes to see Kate.  She has already heard the bad news, but cries on Martin's shoulder as if she just heard the news for the first time.  Martin cries too.  He says that things just won't be the same now.  Kate replies:  "Nothing's going to be the same after all this."  She also tells him to stop thinking about what happened, sayings:  "That's enough."

Martin and the guys remark on how quiet it has been for awhile now.  There's not even been any firing.  Martin says he guesses that they are going to be pulling out of Gallipoli.  The other men can't believe that they are just going to run.  The guys don't like it, but Martin tells them they tried the backdoor and it failed.  So they will go through the front door:  France. 

France, April 1916.  The guys are being moved by train.  Roly Collins explains to the new man Schmidt that only six men out of the forty originals are still with the unit.  The originals are Collins, Harris, Barrington, Cleary and two officers, including Armstrong. 

Cleary and some of the guys walk through a town.  They hear one of their men shouting for help.  They rush around the corner and find two British military police beating their mate.  Cleary asks one of the policemen to let them take their man back to camp, but the officer says they have to make an example of someone to teach the Australians how to behave themselves.  Cleary and another Aussie strike a policeman each at the same time, knocking them out.  They let the prisoner go and then go on to a brothel. 

Army Battle School.  The instructor tells the men:  "We have been warned about you Australians.  Absolutely no discipline."  The teacher is going to have the sergeant give a bayonet demonstration.  Cleary gets himself in trouble by making fun of the sergeant attack face.  So the instructor has Cleary stand over by the bayonet stand where, he says, he can keep an eye on Cleary.  Cleary lets the ropes loose on the sack to be bayoneted by the sergeant, so that when the sergeant stabs the sack, he can't get his bayonet easily back out of the sack.  The sack falls to the ground and the sergeant sticks his bayonet into it several more times. 

The platoon goes on to the next instructor.  He talks about the importance of the machine gun.  He says the machine gun explains why there are trenches from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland.  As long as the machine gun is around, no one can get across to the enemy trench. 

The men are moving out to the action. Collins narrates:   "That was our last day of innocence."

It's a muddy mess in the trenches.  After a shell explosion, some men are buried in the mud and have to be dug out.  Other men are dead or terribly wounded.  Troops are moving out while the ANZACs are moving to their positions on the line.  The men begin thinking it would be safer out of the trenches than in.  So they go up and over and start firing at the enemy as the Germans return fire.  The men from Down Under run forward.  They make it to the forward trench.  They take a machine gun nest out with grenades. 

The problem is that the Germans are headed toward them.  So they get back in the forward trench and throw everything they can find into the trench to create an obstacle. The ANZACs go up and over again, while the Germans also start moving forward.  There are lots of men killed on both sides.

  The ANZACs come off the line and back to the town.  The whole battalion gets a leave.  The men are happy about that.  Corporal Barrington has received a battle field commission.  Lt. Armstrong has been made a captain and now he takes charge of the entire company. 

Some entertainment is provided for the ANZACs, but it soon turns into a big brawl.  Kate is there and Barrington takes her out of the theater.  They get a room in a motel and make love (not shown).

British General HQ, France 1916.  The officers are concerned about the colonial hooligans among the ANZACs.  So the solution seems to be to throw them into the Somme area.  This mean that Barrington and Kate have to part company again.  Armstrong has medical problems with his heard and he is being replaced with a captain from a training unit named Captain Young.  Barrington protests but Armstrong tells Martin that he will have to accept it.  A bunch of the men come in to express their regrets about Armstrong having to leave. 

Captain Young has a talk with his men and says most of the wrong things.  He says that the company is going to act strictly according to the book.  Collins expresses his feeling that this Captain is going to get them killed.  Somebody says something negative about the Captain, who then demands to know what the man said and who is the man?  Cleary speaks up telling the Captain a less offensive version of the statement.  For this Young says he is going to bring Cleary up on charges. 

Keith Murdock from Australia comes in to speak with the British commander.  Murdock tells the commander that the Australian prime minister would really like all five divisions of ANZACs to be placed together and fight together.  The British commander will have none of it.  And he brings up the subject of the disciplinary abuses committed by the ANZACs.  Murdoch says maybe the abuses would be less if the ANZAC soldiers were led by their own officers.  The British commander says they may have to employ the death penalty.  Murdock tells him that the Australian people are not going to like that and then would forever forbid British commanders to execute Australian prisoners.  The commander mentions that about 5,000 men a day die along the whole length of the trenches.  He also tells Murdoch that he is sending 20 divisions of British troops at the German lines.  He brags that this offensive may actually end the war.

Ypres Offensive, 1917.   Collins says that:  "The big push for 1917 had started maybe two months ago near a place called Ypres. . . . the whole area was devastated.  The offensive had bogged down with both the Tommies and the Fritzs taking a terrific hiding.  Now it was our turn."  The ANZACs get up to the starting positions for the offensive.  The barrage opens up and the soldiers moves forward.  All objectives were taken, but they found out later "that it would have been better if they had failed". 

Captain Young is scared but he finally does blow the "bloody whistle" for the men to advance.  The ANZACs run into the Germans, but Young tells his men not to shoot because the men ahead are Australians.  But the guys know they are Germans and open fire anyway.  They push the Germans back.  Barrington wants to continue advancing, but Young says they must return to headquarters.  Flanagan just wallops Young in the face and he falls unconscious.  The company advances. 

The ANZAC are advancing well.  They take a large machine gun pillbox in a building with multiple machine guns firing away.  Flanagan and Cleary lead the way up to near the building.  Flanagan throws a grenade in the building and after it explodes the surviving Germans come out with their hands up. Now Barrington moves up congratulating Flanagan as he comes up.  All of a sudden a machine gun from the building opens up on Barrington and hits him.  The men silence the machine gun and the men carry Barrington back to get medical care.  Henshaw becomes the new company commander.  A little while later a shell wounds Henshaw and Sgt. Flanagan has to become company commander for the time being. 

Kate rushes over to the hospital to see Barrington.  She stops the nurse from giving him more morphine because she fears that he won't wake from the resultant sleep.  She watches over him and pleads with him not to slip away from her.  He opens his eyes and she gives him a big kiss.  When the doctor returns he is amazed that Kate has saved the company commander. 

Cleary, Collins and some other of the "originals" come to see Barrington.  Barrington is going home now.  Kate tells him to wait for her at home.   

An officer tells Flanagan that Captain Young has reported that he thinks Flanagan struck him unconscious in the Battle of Bruzien (?) Ridge.  The officer lets Flanagan go, but also denies him a citation for his actions in taking the pillbox.  On the other hand, the officer makes Flanagan a fellow officer. 

Convalescence Hospital, London.  Kate comes to see Barrington.  He is happy to see her, but he has disturbing news for her.  Barrington is going to take a staff job rather than return to Australia.  Kate is angry at him and says he promised her he would go home.  She calls him a "bloody liar".  Barrington says he just can't go back as long as the war continues.  Kate will not be consoled and she even says:  "Go to hell, Matty."

In a bunker Cleary is playing cards with some of the guys. 

A recovered Barrington talks with Keith Murdock and tells him that the thing the men in the field hate the most is the staff officers who don't know anything about the needs of the combat soldier in the field.  That's why he wants to become a staff officer.  Murdock tells Barrington that the Australians are going to be unified under their own command. Barrington asks him to try to get him a good position and Murdock agrees to try. 

Ypres Battlefield.  The guns are mostly silent now.  Living conditions are terrible.  Some of the trenches are flooded while others are filled with mud.  The news is that the Canadians took Paschendaele. 

Amiens.  One week later.  Barrington commandeers a car.  He reports to HQ and is given the job of surveying the land where the Allies are planning to launch a series of counter-attacks and pick the best places to attack.

Cleary and the guys are on a train on the move again.  The officers get out at Hazebrouck to stretch their legs and the enlisted men hear that the German offensive in the north has started.  The enemy is pushing hard against Calais and Dieppe.

The Australians are soon setting up for the fighting headed their way.  They dig their fox holes and wait for the Germans.  The Germans come walking across the field.  Suddenly, the Australians open up on them.  They are forced to retreat.  A little later they come back, but are stopped again. 

A fellow finds a document dated April 11, 1918  from the top commander Sir Douglas Hague.  They have to fight it out as their backs are to the wall.  

Barrington visits with Kate.  She is mad again at Barrington and calls him a liar because, instead of staying safe behind the front lines as a staff officer, he goes right up to the fighting. Barrington tells her to stop talking about this.  He gets up from the table.  Kate comes after him and says she will resign herself to the situation.  They kiss. 

At a bar Cleary plays craps with some other guys.  The Australians figure Cleary will easily win, but he actually loses. 

The guys are now headed south to the Somme.  The Australian troops will soon be all together in the same place. 

The guys are back in the trenches.  Cleary decides to go out looking for souvenirs so he can sell them to get money to recover the money he lost at craps.  He finds German soldiers in a cellar and takes them prisoner.  The guys in the trenches are tickled to death when Cleary comes back with his prisoners, each with four bottles of wine. 

Cleary runs into Captain Barrington.  Pat says he and his Australians have been training Yanks.  Barrington says there is something big in the wind and this makes Cleary happy. 

An officer speaks to the Aussies praising them highly for their victories.  He only wants the guys to try to avoid tarnishing the image of Australia and the ANZACs.  He also says the end of the war is in sight.

August 9, 1918.  Battle of Amiens.  The second day.  A lot of ground was captured by the Allies on the first day.  Many German soldiers start willingly surrendering to the Allies. 

Cleary and the guys join in on the forward advancement of the Allies.  They reach a German defensive position, but many of the enemy just retreat, while others easily surrender.  A German counter attack forms up and advances on the Aussies.  An Allied tank shows up on the battlefield and starts for the German positions.  The Germans start retreating again.  Barrington now takes over command of the company.  Germans start using gas and the men rush to  put on their face masks. 

A lot of men have been temporarily blinded by the gas and are in the hospital.  Kate sees Roly Collins and he tells her he's going back as soon as he has recovered. Kate just doesn't understand this mentality.  She tells Collins that he's already done his share.  He should take a leave by the sea.  Collins says he has to look at himself in the mirror, so he's going back.  He says that Barrington is back to being the company commander.  This is another shock for Kate.  Collins says that Kate would be proud of her Martin because he has been in the thick of it since he took over as company commander.  Kate is not happy. 

Barrington and Kate are reunited.  They go to a restaurant where Barrington orders champagne and then says the champagne goes with this:  an engagement ring.  She is very happy and kisses Martin.  And yet, she is worried about this "one last push" against the Germans.  Flanagan takes another machine gun nest, this one single-handedly. 

October 1918.  Barrington and company advance again.  They chase German soldiers down a destroyed city street.  German soldiers are surrendering all over the place.  But all it takes is one or two Germans. Captain Barrington and Sgt. Alec Parsons are both killed.  Flanagan cries over Barrington's body. 

Kate has an officer visitor.  She gets a big smile on her face because she figures it's Barrington.  But it's not.  She asks Lt. Flanagan if it's Martin?  Yes.  She says she has been expecting it, but still had hope.

The German POWs are extremely hungry so the Australians start throwing them lots of cans of canned beef.  Lt. Flanagan shows up to tell his troops that they have all lost their jobs.  The armistice will be signed tomorrow.  It's all over.  A big roar comes up from the troops. 

The soldiers are now in Paris and drinking and dancing with the girls.  Kate shows up and Lt. Flanagan dances with her.  The piano player plays "Waltzing Matilda" to the cheers of the men.

Victoria, Australia.  There is a dedication of a monument for those Australians who lost their lives in WWI.  Collins is there along with Cleary, Kate, Flanagan, Schmidt and many others.

Good movie, but the production values were often low.  Some of the battle scenes looked like they were staged in a park somewhere.  Other than that the film was good.  It introduces quite a few of the members of a platoon and the audience gets to know them.  The audience also sees many of these men killed in battle.  There is a love story between Kate Baker the nurse and soldier Martin Barrington.  The action follows the platoon all over from Gallipoli to France and then to different locations in France and Belgium where the fighting takes place.  Paul Hogan of later Crocodile Dundee fame provided comic relief as his character wise-ass Pvt. Pat Cleary.  In the Historical Background below there is some information to help  an audience understand about the battles in France and Belgium in which the unit fought.  The more you look into the battles, the more complicated they seem with battles within bigger battles.  For instance, the Battle of Ypres contains five battles. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Ypres (in northwest Belgium near the border with France) is occupied by the German Army  (07-Oct-1914)

Battle of Messines south of Ypres (12 October - 02 November 1914)

Germans driven out of Ypres and the surrounding area by Allied forces (13-Oct-1914)

First Battle of Ypres (October 19 November 22, 1914)

Battle for Hill 60 (17 April - 22 April 1915)

Second Battle of Ypres (April 22 May 15, 1915)

Battle of Messines (7 - 14 June 1917)

Battle of Passchendaele (July 31 November 6, 1917), northeast of Ypres; also known as the Third Battle of Ypres

Battle of the Lys (1918) (9 - 29 April 1918), also known as the Battle of Estaires or the Fourth Battle U.S.  Germans advance but fail to take Ypres. 

The Battle of Amiens (aka the Third Battle of Picardy) (begins 8 August 1918) is the opening phase of the Allied offensive known as the Hundred Days Offensive that that ultimately led to the end of WWI.  Amiens is located in northeastern France, 75 miles north of Paris.  Tanks were used and the battle marked the end of the trench warfare. 

Fifth Battle of Ypres (September 28 October 2, 1918) was the informal name given to the Battle of Ypres 1918.

11 November 1918  --  armistice signed. 



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