Anzacs (TV series)

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DVD cover
Directed by John Dixon
George T. Miller
Pino Amenta
Produced by Geoff Burrowes
Written by John Dixon
John Clarke
Budget A$8,196,000.[1]
Country Australia
Language English
Original channel Nine Network
Original airing 27 October 1985
No. of episodes 5 x 2 hours

Anzacs (named for members of the all volunteer ANZAC army formations) was a 1985 5-part Australian television miniseries set in World War I. The series follows the lives of a group of young Australian men who enlist in the 8th Battalion (Australia) of the First Australian Imperial Force in 1914, fighting first at Gallipoli in 1915, and then on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.

It follows in the wake of Australian New Wave war films such as Breaker Morant (1980), Gallipoli (1981), and precedes The Lighthorsemen (1987). Recurring themes of these films include the Australian identity, such as mateship and larrikinism, the loss of innocence in war, and also the continued coming of age of the Australian nation and its soldiers (the ANZAC spirit).


The mini-series included Paul Hogan, of "Crocodile" Dundee fame as Lance Corporal Pat Cleary, Jon Blake (The Lighthorsemen) as Captain Flanagan, Andrew Clarke (TV's The Man from Snowy River) as Captain Martin Barrington, and Megan Williams (TV's The Sullivans) as Nurse Kate Baker.

Other actors of note included:




Total running time 480:27.

Episode 1[edit]

[96:43] The Great Adventure - Australia in 1914… Outbreak of war… Recruitment… Training… Gallipoli: Landing/stalemate/withdrawal.

Episode 2[edit]

[96:36] The Big Push - Arrival in France (1916)… Nursery Sector… The Battle of the SommePozieres.

Episode 3[edit]

[97:08] The Devils Arithmetic - The Somme Winter (1916–17)… The Hindenburg LineBullecourt… Blighty Leave… Third Battle of Ypres begins (July 1917)… Menin Road… Broodseinde Ridge

Episode 4[edit]

[94:52] Fields of Fire - Third Battle of Ypres bogs down (November 1917)… The German Offensive (March 1918)… The Battle of Amiens… Hazebrouk… Battle of Nieppe Forest.

Episode 5[edit]

[95:08] Now There was a Day - The Yanks are coming… "Peaceful Penetration"… Monash appointed Commander of the 5 Australian Divisions… Battle of Hamel… The "Jack ups" Monash's Big Push (8 August 1918)… Armistice (11 November 1918)… Back Home.

Plot summary[edit]

1914. Western District of Victoria (Australia). Martin Barrington, the son of a wealthy British-born land-owner Sir Rupert Barrington (who still thought of himself as a "British") and his wife Lady Thea Barrington, returns home early from university studies with plans to move north to the family's Queensland property in a bid to up the quality of their livestock. His best friend, stockman Dick Baker, initially agrees to move with him, but later wants to enlist to fight in the Great War which has just begun in Europe, and Martin agrees to follow (after turning down a commission as 2nd lieutenant in his father's old British rifle regiment), 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 the 8th Battalion, 3rd 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 Johansen 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 and 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 Johansen 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. Martin recuperates at a hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos where romance begins to spark between Kate and himself. In August, the platoon (including a newly returned Martin) takes part in the bloody Battle at Lone Pine as part of the Allied push to break out of the beachhead. Although initially detailed to be supply-carriers, Martin and Dick soon become embroiled in the close-quarters fighting in the Turkish trenches and Dick is shot and killed by an enemy rifleman. The offensive is a strategic failure, ending the last real hope of Allied victory. 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 Dinny 'Dingo' Gordon, slow-witted 'Pudden' Parsons, quiet Lewis-Gunner 'Bluey' and cheerful Privates Upton and Morrissey. Pat Cleary soon proves himself an expert 'scrounger' of luxury goods, and he and Madame, a local cafe-owner, run a thriving business built on, amongst other things, stolen liquor originally bound for General Haig. In London, Australian journalist Keith Murdoch, who had been at Gallipoli, meets with British War Secretary 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, Morrissey is killed and 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. Behind the lines, Haig coldly informs Murdoch that the Germans have concentrated all of their reserve artillery on the Pozieres sector in an effort to contain the Australians, who are the only ones to reach all of their objectives. The platoon suffers heavy losses, mostly from shelling. Private Upton is killed trying to warn the platoons relief from a trench which enemy artillery had targeted, 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, "Would to God" Cyril Earnshaw pressures his timid librarian 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 initially 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 Blighty 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 the pompous and unpopular Captain Young. Pudden is later found hiding out amongst a group of deserters led by an Australian calling himself 'Captain Kelly', and the former 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 incompetent and nincompoop and Flanagan knocks him unconscious whilst Martin assumes command. Whilst attacking an enemy bunker, Martin is badly wounded by machine gun fire 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. Prime Minister Lloyd George has lost all faith in Haig and yearns to have him removed from his command. This becomes almost impossible after Haig is promoted to the rank of Field marshal by King George V on 1 January 1917. At a field-hospital, acting on her own accord, Kate Baker manages to save a desperately wounded Martin.
Winter 1917. The platoon is wearily holding the line amidst the mud of Ypres, and low morale and 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 after initially promising Kate that he would return to Australia after he was not given medical clearance to return to the platoon. On a night out while participating in an officers training course, 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, on a forward scouting mission for Monash, takes command of a rag-tag group of British survivors and after helping them dig in to fight the advancing Germans, 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, joined by a handful of surviving Tommies, do so in a fierce battle. Bluey's deadly skill with the Lewis Gun is put to good use. Now a Sgt. Major, 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 fled 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 and is the last in a line of 2nd's to Bluey on the Lewis gun (all of Bluey's other 2nd's had been killed). 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. At the last moment, 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 and air support, the attacks on Hamel achieve much success, sending the Germans falling back in retreat. Carter displays courage in charging a German machine gun 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 machine gun 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. Reverend Lonsdale then has the unenviable task of informing Sir Rupert and Lady Thea, whom he had struck a mutual friendship based on their want for the war to end, that their only child has been killed, while in France Flanaghan personally informs Kate. The remaining veterans wearily advance eastwards, encountering a defiant German prisoner who promises them that his nation will soon return to fight again. The men are overjoyed when the Armistice arrives on 11 November, ending the long war.
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 a couple and are business partners with the enterprising Cleary providing the capital. Roly Collins is set to become a journalist working for Sir Keith Murdoch. Harris, Kaiser and Bluey also attend, as does a fragile Armstrong who now resides in a rest home and Max Earnshaw, now permanently blind and in charge of the State Braille Library, while his politician father, "Would to God" Earnshaw, once so in favour of the war was now annoyed at having to attend memorials in his electorate since it did little to further his political career. At the memorial Reverend Lonsdale reads a moving tribute to the Anzacs, Roly reads the fourth stanza of the Ode of Remembrance, and then Martin's mother and Dick's mother lay wreaths at the foot of the memorial. As a bugler plays, the scene dissolves to the green fields of the Somme in the present day.


Australian composer Bruce Rowland composed the original music for the series which also popularised many old marching songs of the period for example:

(Tune: John Brown's Body)

One staff officer jumped right over another staff officer's back.
And another staff officer jumped right over that other staff officer's back,
A third staff officer jumped right over two other staff officers' backs,
And a fourth staff officer jumped right over all the other staff officers' backs.
They were only playing leapfrog,
They were only playing leapfrog,
They were only playing leapfrog,
When one staff officer jumped right over another staff officer's back.

Several songs from the satirizing musical 'Oh, What a Lovely War!' were used; including the title song, 'I wore a tunic', 'The bells of Hell' and other period numbers, like 'If you were the only girl' and 'keep the home fires burning' - which were performed by various actors. The classic Australian song 'Waltzing Matilda' is heard at several points as is 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary'.


Well noted for its humour and historical accuracy, the series was "a huge rating success for the Nine Network when it aired".[2]

According to the review by James Anthony: "The battle scenes are terrific and the muddy trenches of the Western Front look acceptably cold and horrible. [Then again] Some of the acting goes a bit astray and there is sometimes a bit too much play on larrikinism and ockerness, but overall it sits well as a quality drama with good characters."[3]

In the 2003 book German Anzacs and the First World War by John F. Williams, even more contextual detail is provided: "'Anzacs' is essentially a very long buddy movie in the form of television soap. While much care, research and funding obviously went into making the battle scenes and historical ambience as realistic as possible, the characters are two dimensional and cliched. Even so, on occasion 'Anzacs' does offer insights that are unexpected and subtle..."[4]

Points of note[edit]

  • Actor Jon Blake, who played Flanagan, was severely injured and left permanently brain-damaged in a car accident in central Australia in 1986 just after the completion of shooting of the Australian film The Lighthorsemen. He died in May 2011 at age 52.[5]
  • Actress Megan Williams, who played Nurse Kate Baker, died of cancer in 2000 at the age of 43.
  • British-born actor Reg Evans, who appeared in episode 1 as British General Birdwood, was killed at the age of 80 in the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in February 2009.[6]
  • New Zealand-born actor Francis Bell appeared as Australian General Harold 'Pompey' Elliott in episodes 4 & 5. By coincidence, both men's lives ended tragically, Elliott's from suicide in 1931 at age 52 and Bell's after falling from a building in 1994 at age 50.[7]
  • Actor Wayne Jarratt who played Private Charlie Upton in episode 2 died of a brain tumour in 1988 aged only 31.
  • Actors Shane Briant, David Bradshaw, Reg Evans, and Jim Holt would appear in Snowy River - The McGregor Saga alongside Andrew Clarke. Mark Hembrow, Tony Bonner, Alec Wilson, and Bill Kerr were in the film versions of "The Man from Snowy River" and "The Man from Snowy River II".
  • The actors playing British officers and politicians were almost all New Zealanders.
  • Many of the extras playing the roles of Allied, American, and German soldiers were serving members of the Australian Army. This was done to keep costs down so that actors did not have to learn how to act as soldiers or to have to teach them how to use the weapons.
  • Paul Hogan, Alec Wilson and Jim Holt were in Crocodile Dundee II, while Hogan and Wilson were both in Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Wilson played two different characters in the Dundee movies.
  • Comedian Mark Mitchell who later became famous as "Con the fruiterer" on The Comedy Company, had a small part in episode 3 as a dying German soldier comforted by Kaiser (Shane Briant). Mitchell only spoke German for the part.
  • While General Pershing did withdraw authorization for US troops to be used in the attack on Hamel, he relented after entreaties from Haig and some of his officers. He allowed four companies to take part in the battle. It was the only time in US Army history that a non-American general (Monash) personally commanded American troops.[citation needed]
  • In one episode, an Australian soldier remarks how much the French countryside reminds him of Daylesford back home in Victoria, Australia. This was an in-joke as some scenes were filmed near Daylesford, including the German counter-attack scene in episode 4.
  • Many of the actors would also appear on the US TV series Mission Impossible which was filmed mostly in Australia.


A 3-disc set of DVDs is available.

  • Running Time: 513 mins (episodes plus bonus material), 520 mins (episodes plus bonus material) for Region 2
  • Rating: M
  • Region: 4 - Suitable for Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South America, Central America, Pacific Islands and Caribbean.
  • Region: 2 - Suitable for Europe and UK

The DVD also includes a featurette - Making Of: History in the Making - The Making of Anzacs. This was narrated by well known Australian actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell who had served in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II and included interviews (from the time of filming) with Geoff Burrowes and John Dixon as well as the actors who appeared in the series. The complete series was released on VHS in the late 1990s in Australia. A condensed movie-length version, cut down to two hours from the original eight, was released on VHS in the United States. The series has yet to be released on DVD in other regions.[8] A Region 2 3-disc DVD set is now available from Source1 Media in the Netherlands. While the box set has Dutch text on the back on the cover and optional Dutch subtitles on the discs it does provide a viable option for British or other English speaking viewers in Europe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In Production", Cinema Papers, September 1985 p. 55
  2. ^ ANZACS - DVD (Box Set) Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  3. ^ ANZACs Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  4. ^ German Anzacs and the First World War [1] Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  5. ^ "Aussie actor, Jon Blake dies at 52 after long years in bed - Entertainment & Stars". 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  6. ^ "Vale: Reg Evans". TV Tonight. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  7. ^ ""Francis Bell" death - Evi". Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  8. ^ Anzacs [VHS]. "Anzacs [VHS]: Andrew Clarke, Paul Hogan, Jon Blake, Megan Williams, Christopher Cummins, Jonathan Sweet, Ilona Rodgers, David Bradshaw, Robert Coleby, Tony Bonner, Shane Briant, Alec Wilson: Movies & TV". Retrieved 2012-12-26. 

External links[edit]