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Recently, a young man I know preparing for the HSC had to write an essay contrasting the saying that Australia discovered its identity at Gallipoli from both a traditional and revisionist viewpoint.

The traditional viewpoint is said to be a statement of history favourable to the march of civilisation with the facts altered to suit, while the revisionist viewpoint is said to be a statement of what actually happened according to the facts. In order to promote the revisionist viewpoint, it was pointed out that the first war fought by the white Australians was with the aboriginals, and in any event, Australia was defeated at Gallipoli.

What the Revisionists ignore is that until Federation in1901, the present Australia consisted of six separate British colonies, each with its own Governor and laws, even in relation to customs duties between the States-to-be. By the time of the Gallipoli campaign, Australia had only existed as a nation on paper for 14 years.

It has been truly said that Australia arrived in Gallipoli as six separate States and returned as a Nation with its own national identity. In achieving this, of the over 50,000 Australians who served at Gallipoli during a period of 260 days, there were 8,159 deaths in total, comprised of 5,482 killed in action, 2,012 deaths from wounds, and 665 deaths from disease.  To the armchair Revisionists, these are merely numbers and not men who gave their lives for their country and are buried in a far-off land.

Lone Pine Cemetery


World War I was between the Central Powers consisting mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey)—against the Allies—mainly France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, and Japan, with the USA joining in 1917.

Towards the end of 1914, after heavy loss of life on both sides, a stalemate developed along the 400 plus mile Western Front, which was a battle line meandering through France and Belgium. The First Lord of the Admiralty, the 40-year-old Winston Churchill devised a plan to set up a second front in order to break the impasse. He proposed sending a fleet of obsolete warships to shell the Turkish batteries guarding both sides of the Dardanelles at its narrowest point. The Dardanelles(Hellespont in ancient times) is the 38 mile long,1to 4 mile wide channel permitting access to Istanbul (previously Constantinople)from the Aegean Sea through the Sea of Marmara. This would have allowed Istanbul to be taken, opened a sea trade route to Russia through the Bosphorus and across the Black Sea, and would have knocked the Turks out of the war, who were mistakenly seen as easy pickings. It would also have undermined the Germans, secured the Suez Canal, and thereby secured Britain’s Middle East oil interests. It would also have persuaded still neutral countries such as Greece and Bulgaria to join the Allies. Accordingly, on 19 February 1915, British and French warships began a naval assault on the Dardanellesfortifications, but by 18 March 1915 heavy losses to Turkish mines and shore batteries resulted in the failure of the mission.



Campaign Map

Osmanieh carrying Anzacs to Gallipoli

HMS Osmanieh carrying Anzacs to Gallipoli

Following the abortive attempt by sea to destroy the gun emplacements, the British Cabinet agreed to the use of land forces to take the forts and open the Dardanelles to Allied warships. The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force from the various Allies was quickly assembled under the command of British General Sir Ian Hamilton. Contrary to popular belief, the Australian contingent did not set sail from Australia, but from Egypt where they were already in training for the Western Front. Foreseeing such an attack, the German General commanding the Turkish army, Otto Liman von Sanders sent the Turkish 19th Division under the command of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk) to the ridge line directly above the Anzac’s landing site (now known as Anzac Cove). A four-week delay by the British in dispatching the invasion force had given von Sanders time to prepare his defences, including digging of trenches and gun emplacements. On the very day that the Turks occupied the ridge line, 25 April 2015, Australian troops under the command of BritishLieutenant  GeneralWilliam Birdwood landed, and were ascending the slope as the Turks arrived at and occupied the ridge line above. Birdwood was an able commander who was one of the few British officers admired by the Australians. It was he who coined the acronym ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and the nickname Digger. By nightfall a beachhead had been established following many casualties.

Simultaneously with the landing of 16,000 Anzacs at Anzac Cove, the British landed 21,000 troops at Cape Helles, which is the foot of the Gallipoli peninsular. Despite encountering very little initial opposition from the 4,500 Turkish defenders, incompetent leadership caused the British to make no significant advance and suffer a bloody defeat.


Turkish resistance at Anzac Cove was fierce, and despite valiant attempts by Anzacs to scale the ridge, they were unsuccessful. By the evening, over 2,000 Anzacs had been either killed or wounded. Major General William Bridges, commander of the 1st Australian Division, and Lieutenant General Birdwood, both decided that the attack was a lost cause. They sent a message to General Hamilton, who had been asleep on the battleship Queen Elizabeth, recommending that the Allies should withdraw from Gallipoli. Hamilton refused and ordered the Anzacs to begin digging trenches. The following month Bridges was to die from wounds received in battle.

It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the privations and deaths suffered by the Anzacs over the ensuing 4 months. A landing pier was built at Anzac Cove, and the campaign became one of trench warfare, interspersed with artillery shelling by the Turks from above, and by the Allies from their shore emplacements and the battleships anchored offshore. Thousands of the Anzacs and the Turks were killed in attacks and counter-attacks. The dead bodies in the no-man’s land between the trenches became so bloated and decayed, that a day’s truce was agreed to take place on 24 May 1915, to enable the dead bodies to be buried. The Anzacs buried, among others, the 3,000 Turks who had been killed attacking the Anzac’s positions on 19 May 1915. Among the 260 Anzacs killed was the brave and famous Private John Kirkpatrick Simpson, who along with his donkey had rescued the stranded wounded from the field of fire, who were then evacuated by sea along with the other wounded.


ANZACS attacking

Bayonet chargeacross no-man’s land by Anzacs

By the end of July 1915, both the Anzacs and the other Allies found that they could not overcome the Turks, so Hamilton planned a further landing at Suvla Bay on 6 August 1915 in an attempt to outflank the Turks. On the same day and a few hours before, there were diversionary attacks by the Allies at Cape Helles, and by the Anzacsagainst the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine.

The main Turkish trench at Lone Pine was taken in less than an hour, but over the following four days of hand-to-hand fighting, more than 2,000 Australians were killed along with an estimated 7,000 Turks. However, the Anzacs were unable to gain further ground.

The solitary pine after which the ridge was named was destroyed in the shelling.


Following growing dissatisfaction in Britain, Hamilton and Stopford were relieved of their commands in October 1915, and by January 2016 all troops were withdrawn from Gallipoli. The Anzacs resorted to ruses such as rifles being fired by weights activated by dripping water while they were leaving, and were evacuated without any casualties.


In Retrospect

The brave Diggers who gave their lives, or lost their limbs, and who suffered months of living in trenches in appalling conditions, certainly bound the six States together as a Nation. Those who say otherwise dishonour their memory.

The following is a beautiful old song about an Anzac who died at Gallipoli. However, the reference to that April day in Suvla Bay should have been to Anzac Cove.


 Lest we forget

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