We Will Remember Them

As the United States commemorates the sesquicentennial of its Civil War in April, two other countries remember an equally horrific time of war.

In April 1915, 30,000 members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) were commanded to attack the Turkish Army at Gallipoli. They were charged to do this by an impatient Winston Churchill (who would be ousted from the Admiralty one month later) in order to open up the Dardanelles. This 28 mile strait between Europe and Asiatic Turkey had been closed in 1914. When opened, allied navies would be able to capture the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, a German ally.

The landing was to take place in the early hours of April 25, 1915. But in the dark, the soldiers landed one mile north. The landscape was markedly different than what they had expected, but they were commanded to go forward. Even though they had landed in the wrong place, the soldiers who survived the landing climbed up the cliffs from the beach while under attack. After 12 hours, 1,200 Anzacs were ashore and had made it up the cliffs.

Before they could take full command, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk—father of modern Turkey—arrived with his battalion, and forced the Anzacs back down the cliffs. So began an eight month impasse.

One of the worst defeats for the Anzacs came on August 7, 1915, when the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was ordered to charge the Turks. This intended diversionary tactic instead turned into a suicidal mission when, in less than an hour, 234 Light Horsemen were killed and 138 were wounded. This charge was depicted in the last scenes of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli.
In September 1915, Bulgaria entered the war on the side of Germany and Turkey. Turkey would now be able to completely crush the Anzac position so, by late November, the allies decided to evacuate the troops from Gallipoli. Winter was fast approaching and torrential rain had turned the trenches into rivers.  In stages and at night, 41,000 soldiers were evacuated without alerting the Turks. By December 20, 1915, the evacuation was complete and this ill-fated operation ended.

National Archives of Australia Image no.: A6180, 10/4/80/9

Many stories of heroism came out of the Gallipoli campaign. The best known story is of Simpson and his donkey. Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick was assigned to the 3rd Field Ambulance. From the day of the landing until the day he was killed, he and his donkey worked from early morning to late at night, bringing the wounded down to the beach. Undoubtedly there were many stretcher bearers who bravely saved countless lives, but it is Simpson who is remembered and whose story is retold.

Each year on April 25, these brave Anzacs are remembered with dawn services that pay tribute to the memory of the Anzac spirit, but also contemplate the futility of war.

There is a memorial at Anzac Cove featuring words written in 1934 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to an official Australian, New Zealand and British party visiting Anzac Cove:

Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives …
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side,
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries …
Wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have
Become our sons as well.

Check out Dan Van der Vat’s Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill’s Greatest Failure and Eric Wheler Bush’s Gallipoli to learn more


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