Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other CountriesMethodology used to study the past

Buckely's Chance

Share |

Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Aboriginal War
Friends or foes?

History Wars
Denying contestability

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
It's not so black and white

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Pelmuwuy
Justice or resistance?

Convicts and their legacy

Convict legacy
How the past shapes the present


Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Larrikin Convicts
Breaking rules

Escapes
Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity

 

 

Gallipoli

Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears?

On the 25th of April 1915, the British landed Australian soldiers at Gallipoli as part of an offensive against the Turkish control of the Dardanelles. Quite stupidly, they landed the Diggers not on an open plain but on scrub-covered hills. The Turks were dug in from elevated positions and mowed down the Diggers as they leapt from the boats. Of the 1500 men who landed in the first wave, only 755 remained in active service at the end of the 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.

One of the people who had trouble understanding the importance of Gallipoli was ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating. In 2008, Keating announced that Gallipoli was a useless battle that was fought for British interests. Keating also declared that he had never set foot in Gallipoli and never would. According to Keating:

"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.”

Ironically, such accounts probably damaged the very nationalistic feeling that they were intended to promote. Firstly, when the truth came out that Gallipoli was not "over in a minute", the public's faith in authorised versions of nationalism was eroded. Secondly, while soldiers often went in with "cold steel", this was because their commanding officers were more worried about losing bullets in a hopeless charge than losing lives. Consequently, they ordered that the soldiers leave the magazines behind when they went over the top. Again, the result was a loss of faith in superiors.

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.

The ode was the perfect poem fo positioning Gallipoli as a remembrance of humanity. If Australians only remembered battles because they achieved a purpose, then those who died at the Gallipoli should be forgotten as they died for nothing. If Australians remembered a battle as a triumph of good over evil, then they would be imposing morality in war. In such scenarios, the fallen Diggers could be judged as dying for a immoral cause considering they were invading someone else's country. By remembering a battle that was a failure, right or wrong became irrelevant. Because the story of Gallipoli can not be used to glorify freedom or be seen as a triumph of truth, justice and the Australian way, the story forced Australians to remember exactly what the war meant to the Diggers who fought 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." Les Carlyon

Leaf

Email

Rebellion

John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Federation
Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese

Gallipoli
Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears

Simpson and his Donkey
A larrikin and a hero

Nancy Wake
A larrikin and a hero

The Depression
Australia's Greek Moment

World War 2
The eastern chapters

Cold War
The expression of transnational identities

Prime Ministers
Values and policies of Australian leaders

 

 

 

"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)