This is a place well known to all Australians, and what happened there is acknowledged every Anzac Day.
Over the following nine months, more than 7,500 Australians lost their lives. The campaign was then aborted and victory handed to the Turks. However, for reasons many people find difficult to understand, Gallipoli went on to become one of the most immortal events in Australian history.
"Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched -- and none of it in the defence of Australia."
Other critics have included historians Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson. In 2002, the historians ran a campaign in the Sydney Morning Herald in which they criticised the Australian celebration of Gallipoli on the grounds it, "excludes more than half the population: women, indigenous people and most ethnic groups."
The historians also stated that Australians today should have the maturity to realise that Gallipoli was a battle fought in vain.
Arguably, Keating, the historians and those who agree with them were reacting to some of the early news reports that positioned Gallipoli as a triumph of Australian nationalism. For example, war correspondent Ashmead-Bartlett wrote things such as:
“The Australians rose to the occasion. They did not wait for orders, or for the boats to reach the beach, but sprang into the sea, formed a sort of rough line, and rushed at the enemy’s trenches. Their magazines were not charged, so they just went in with the cold steel, and it was over in a minute for the Turks in the first trench had been either bayoneted or had run away, and the Maxim guns were captured.”
While critics like Keating have been unable to see past the dubious propaganda of Gallipoli, the soldiers who fought in the campaign used the realities of their experiences to build their own version of Australian nationalism and the Australian identity. Rather than be based upon soldiers obeying without question, sacrificing oneself for the commanding officer, or winning a glorious battle using bayonets alone, the Diggers' version of nationalism revolved around remembering the fallen.
This began on the 25th April 1923 at Albany in Western Australia when the Reverend White led a party of friends in what was the first ever observance of an Anzac Day dawn service. As the light was coming up, the men looked to the ocean and said a paragraph from the poem, Ode for the Fallen:
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
The poem neither attributed right or wrong nor did it glorify war as the liberator of freedom. It simply articulated what the war meant to those who were involved in it.
It many ways, it was understandable that Keating wouldn't be endeared to the story of Gallipoli. The Anzac traditions that grew of it were just too human for politicians to respect, while the story itself so vividly revealed how the trusting public can be betrayed by those who were meant to protect their interests. Such politicians would prefer a more glorious battle, such as the Battle of Hamel in 1918, where Australians broke the stalemate of World War 1 with an innovative Blitzkrieg strategy. Another battle was the World War 2 battle of Kokoda, where Australians repelled a Japanese invading force. This was Keating's favourite.
While the Battle of Hamel and Kokoda definitely were more consistent with the traditional conceptions of nationalism where soldiers died in the pursuit of a great victory, Gallipoli best illustrated war in all its inhumanity, and the humanity that could spring from that. While not everyone in Australia would agree, being able to appreciate that humanity is what makes Australian’s version of nationalism superior to most other versions around the world.
Gallipoli and the Nek
One minor battle, that for the Nek, has come to symbolise the essence of the Gallipoli campaign. The Nek was a position of Turkish trenches 18 meters from those of the Australians that the British commandeers believed could be taken with four offensive raids. At 4.30 am on the 7th August 1915, the first wave of Diggers leapt from their trenches and were mown down by Turkish machine guns. The second, then third and then fourth shortly followed and met a similar fate. Within minutes, 800 Australians lay dead or wounded on a piece of ground no larger than two tennis courts. The charge was then called off.
Why remember Gallipoli?
"Getting ashore was not that hard. Hanging on, up on that ridge, for eight months - that was hard. The Australians defended absurd positions. They looked after each other. They kept their good humour. There is a cheerfulness in soldiers' letters from Gallipoli one seldom comes upon in letters from France. The food was unspeakable, the flies a plague. [So were] dysentery and lice ... The miracle is simply these men didn't lose heart. And they didn't, not even when they knew all was lost and they were creeping away by night, leaving so many dead.
"That, to me, is why we are right to remember Gallipoli. We are surely right to honour them. We are surely right to walk past the political intrigues and the blunders and say Gallipoli says something good about the Australian people and the Australian spirit."
Clancy's comment: Yes, Anzac Day is a very solemn day for Australians. I've been to Gallipoli only once. At the time, I had a Turkish girlfriend. Although it was not Anzac Day, we sat on the beach of Anzac Cove and paid our respects to those who battled there; our relatives.
Here are some shots I
took this Anzac Day.
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