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Winning World War 1: The Western Front Diaries (ATOM Study Guide)

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Winning World War 1: The Western Front Diaries (Bill Leimbach, 2008) is a 90-minute documentary that presents an argument for increased awareness and recognition of the Australian experience of the Western Front in the Anzac tradition.

The heroism of the Anzacs in the Gallipoli defeat of 1915 inspired the birth of a legend. This legend now sees huge crowds of young Australians gathering at Anzac Cove in Turkey for the annual 25 April dawn service.

But the power of this legend means that it has overshadowed the AIFs much greater deeds on the Western Front. Five times more troops served on the Western Front than at Gallipoli, 250,000 not 50,000; fives times more were killed 46,000 as against 8,709; they fought in five times more battles; they served there for two and a half years, not eight months; were awarded fifty-two Victoria Crosses as opposed to eleven; and most important of all (after that defeat at Gallipoli) the AIF helped the Allied Forces win World War One under the leadership of the brilliant Australian general, John Monash. By 1918, although the Australians represented only five per cent of the Allied Forces, they had captured approximately twenty-five per cent of the enemy territory, prisoners, arms and ammunition taken by the Allies. The achievements of the Australian Imperial Force are all the more significant when you consider these 'Diggers' were all volunteers.

The documentary tells the story battle by battle, drawing on photographs, film, private diaries, letters, postcards and photographs of soldiers and nurses. It also features moving interviews with descendants of diggers, who share memories of fathers, grandfathers and great uncles who served in battles, were either killed or wounded or returned home physically and mentally scarred. Other family members are interviewed at battle sites and war graves in France and Belgium where the achievements of the Australian diggers are acknowledged by grateful locals of all generations.

In 2008, the first official dawn ceremony was held at the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. The film argues that it can only become more significant in the future.

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