The story takes place between 25 April and 19 May, 1915
1. "Whenever the Royal Easter Show is in town the world is a happier place"
The musical opens on Maundy Thursday. War correspondent (and the show’s narrator) Charles Bean is writing his final diary entry before the Australian Imperial Force sets sail. His words reveal that the men are leaving with one final happy memory of life back home.
That memory is made at the 1915 Sydney Royal Easter Show. People are revelling in the fun of the fair even as darkness descends over Europe (On with the Show).
Four showmen urge the men in the crowd to Step Right Up and take shots at targets on a sideshow stall. But as the men raise their rifles, the action shifts from Sydney to Gallipoli, those same men are storming Anzac Cove.
2. "We will stand together - shoulder to shoulder we will fight and fall"
In Fight On, Push Through, war correspondent C.E.W. Bean describes the action and ‘interviews’ soldiers like legendary Australian commander John Monash as the Anzac forces realise they have landed at the wrong place, leaving them at the mercy of the Turkish guns.
Eventually, the beachhead is secured. Bean speaks to a stretcher bearer, Private John Simpson, and asks him to tell his life story. Simpson recalls his colourful past and the twist of fate that has brought him to Gallipoli. He now finds himself on an inescapable path, and vows to save as many Grains of Sand – as many soldiers – as he can.
The Anzacs dig in and, in The Longest Haul, sing of the excitement many feel now that ‘the great adventure’ has finally begun.
3. "Little donkey, can you do me a favour. I need a small helping hand"
As the mood in the trenches darken, Simpson does his best to Lighten the Mood. As Bean reports (Two Bullets/This Is the News, Part 1), the soldiers find Simpson's actions inspiring - especially when he teams up with a lost donkey. Shrapnel Gully Blues and What’s In A Name? see the pair begin their dangerous journey – to the appreciation of all.
Well, almost all… Simpson’s section sergeant wants to have Simpson court-martialled for acting independently. Monash is forced to step in (Ashes to Ashes) and, recognising the importance to the soldiers' morale, grants Simpson licence to operate on his own.
4. "Come on, Johnny Turk, give us your best. You didn't count on the boys from the AIF"
Meanwhile, Colonel Monash is all too aware of the bloody future awaiting most of his man. Searching for clarity In the Shadows, he seeks temporary release from the burden of responsibility he bears.
Back in Australia, the mothers, wives and sweethearts and of the soldiers write to the man they hold responsible for the carnage at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill (Dear Mr Churchill). They beg him not to come calling for the few men left at home.
But just then along comes a group of Siren-like recruiting girls, who convince those men to sign up with Your Country Needs You.
Lured to Gallipoli and thrown into battle, the newcomers ‘take centre stage’ in Curtain Call. With Simpson there to keep them entertained, they feel ready for anything.
5. "When death is a heartbeat away, time seems to stand still"
Act II opens at a military press conference. Stung by the criticism he has received, Colonel Monash hits back at the ‘nameless faces’ back in Australia (They Say) and extols the bravery of a number under his command, including John Simpson.
Although amused by his official ‘hero’ status, Simpson lives up to it by bringing a badly injured soldier from Shrapnel Gully to the beach where ships are waiting to ferry the injured to hospitals (Whatever It Takes).
On cue, the action moves to a military hospital in Cairo (Bodies and Boys), where nurses are caring for some of the injured.
Back in the trenches, Bean writes a newspaper article as the men sing of the only thing keeping them going: Anzac Spirit.
6. "A memory can't raise me, cannot teach me right from wrong"
Exhausted, the soldiers ask What’s the Point? as incessant Turkish attacks are repelled, with no gain for either side.
But a truce is granted so that both sides can bury their dead. An Aussie Digger and his Turkish counterpart (Two Soldiers) meet up to discover how much they have in common (Seeing Things the Same).
Watching this, Simpson launches into a barbershop rhapsody based on the Anzac legend of shaking the Dead Man’s Hand for luck before going into battle.
Back in Australia, a little girl kneels by her bed and prays for the return of all she’s missing in When’s Daddy Coming Home?.
7. "Will they remember us, will they remember us, in 100 years...?"
Back in Gallipoli, the orders finally come through for the Anzacs to attack the Turkish forces (We Go at Dawn). The soldiers prepare themselves to go over the top.
As the battle rages, Simpson and his donkey work harder than ever to bring wounded men out of danger. He invites those he saves to ignore the horrors around them and take a Sunday Stroll with him.
But finally, inevitably, his luck runs out in a burst of machine-gun fire. In 19/05/1915, Simpson’s fellow soldiers carry him to his grave.
And as Monash delivers the eulogy, the ghosts of the fallen rise up and ask whether they will be remembered in 100 Years.