Those boys gave their today so we can have our tomorrow
For many Australians, ANZAC Day is a time to honour those who gave their services and lives during wartime. For Bill Mitchell, 52, an experienced surfboat sweep from the NSW’s Central Coast, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on his family’s history and keep the ANZAC spirit alive. 

“I’ve got the most utmost respect for anyone who serves our country,” Bill said. “My mother and father, all my uncles, and my wife’s family were all in the army. My mother was in the air force and served in World War II. My father was a long-range bomber pilot. They met in the air force,” he said.

“When I’m with my boys I say to them, ‘Look at what a great time we’re having, the weather, all around us, all this has been given to us’. Those boys [ANZACS] gave their today so we can have our tomorrow. And they left us with the greatest country on earth,” said Bill.  

100 years, 100 boats
Bill, along with his sons and nephew, are among hundreds of rowers participating in a surfboat memorial on Sydney’s northern beaches this ANZAC Day.

As the Dawn Service commences in Gallipoli, rowers from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Singapore and Germany will take to Collaroy Beach to re-enact the legendary landings of 1915, 100 years ago. Large TV screens on the beach will televise the live Gallipoli Dawn Service, at about 12.15pm after which the surfboat challenge will commence. 

“To have 100 boats planned to land at Collaroy in a short timeframe, there’ll be quite a bit in it. Hopefully, it will be a pretty good spectacle for everyone,” said Bill. 

After the surfboats have landed, a crewmember from each surfboat will be presented a commemorative wreath by a representative from one of the 100 participating schools. Crews will then return to sea after the ceremony, raise their oars and present the wreaths to the depths, as a token of thanks to those who served and sacrificed so much. 

Bill’s youngest son, Ben, 14, who is representing Kincumber High School, will be among the schoolchildren presenting a wreath on the day. Also watching on will be Bill’s mother, Nancy David Mitchell, 94, who is named after her uncle who served in Gallipoli and is his closest surviving relative. 

Tribute to great uncle who served in Gallipoli

Bill says the surfboat memorial is also a tribute to his great uncle who died in battle almost a century ago. 

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On Friday, June 25, 1915, Bill’s great uncle, Private David “Dave” Goble, left for The Dardanelles, a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey, on the T.S.S. Ceramic. Like many other Australians eager to leave home at the time, Dave and his brother, Harry, who is Bill’s grandfather, had expectations of excitement and adventure before heading to Gallipoli. However, for the brothers, this enthusiasm would only further their predicament. 

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“It was the early 1900s, there was no pension, not a lot of work, and food was scarce. They very much wanted to go, but the two brothers realised one of them needed to stay and look after their mother, who was a war widow,” said Bill. “The story goes that the brothers tossed a coin to decide – Dave knowingly tossed a double-headed coin and he went off to Gallipoli.”

Private David Goble enlisted in the 18th battalion to fight in the Battle of Lone Pine. Like so many others in this ill-fated battalion, he was never to return home. 

The Lone Pine attack was originally intended as a diversion from the main Battle of Sari Bair, also known as the August Offensive. The diversion attack pitched Australian forces against formidable entrenched Turkish positions, and in some instances the attackers had to break through the roof of the trench systems in order to engage the defenders. Although the main Turkish trench was taken within 20 minutes of the initial charge, there was to be four days of intense battle, resulting in more than 2,000 Australian casualties.

When Dave’s family received notice of his death in 1915, Harry (Dave’s only sibling) wrote what happened over a large postcard that had once been signed by Dave: "On Saturday, 22nd July, we heard that The Ceramic had arrived safely at Columbo, the first port of call after leaving Australia’s shores. The Ceramic arrived in Alexandria early in August. Private Goble took part in the Lone Pine Charge in which he received a gunshot wound in the right arm. He was then transferred to the Alfrancia [also known as HMS Franconia] and taken to Gibraltar, where he died. He is buried in the soldiers’ cemetery amongst heroes of his own standard who fell so bravely. Aged 20 years."

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The century-old postcard, which was handed down through the generations, is a treasured relic that not only connects Bill and his family to their ANZAC past, but also provides some insight into Dave’s fellow soldiers and their fate. 

“As they were getting on board The Ceramic, Dave signed this large postcard and he’s gone around and got his mates to sign it as well; on it are well wishes to Harry and his mother,” says Bill. “Sadly, many of these men did not return. My brother found a lot of these names on the memorial in Gallipoli.” 

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Bill says some of the soldiers who signed the postcard may be related to other rowers participating in the surfboat service. He hopes he will be able to track down some of the families at the event. 

Surfboat crews and schools are invited to participate in this event by registering their interest on the official website. To date registrations have been received from Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Germany and Singapore. 

To register to participate as a surf club or a school, visit Anzac Beach Memorial.

Read more about the 100th Anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli here.