The Gallipoli campaign was begun for a number of reasons: firstly, Russia's sea routes were all but blocked, with the Germans controlling the entrance to the Baltic Sea and the Turks controlling the Bosporus, the entrance to the Black Sea; secondly, the Western Front had bogged down into bloody fighting that led nowhere; and thirdly, a victory could deter other southern and eastern European nations from joining the war against the Allied powers. The new eastern front was to be opened in western Turkey by initially seizing the Dardanelles, but the entire campaign tragically went awry. On the morning of 25 April 1915, for some reason - all my textbooks blamed British High Command incompetence but I have read that the reasons are actually up for dispute - the ANZAC troops landed further north of their intended location. The ANZACs were confronted by a maze of hills and narrow valleys, and the higher ground was controlled by the Turks. Understandably, the battle quickly turned brutal, very brutal. Both sides fought for the higher ground, though it largely remained in Turkish hands, and then the conflict stalled in much the same way as the Western Front, with permanent trenches established. Vicious fighting continued for months and the death toll was extremely high on both sides. It is worth noting that the Turkish forces were led by the future hero of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal.
In the dire conditions of Gallipoli, Australia and New Zealand, both new, young nations yet to find their place or prove themselves in the world, were given their baptism by fire. Concepts of national identity, of fighting with determination against the odds, and of mateship and loyalty, were born amidst the carnage. Although the Gallipoli campaign was a failure in military terms and not the significant part of the war that it was intended to be, it was a defining moment for Australia and New Zealand. After eight months of fighting, one of the most successful retreats in history was undertaken, as I believe not a man was lost in the cleverly planned evacuation. It was about the only part of the campaign that didn't kill an inordinate amount of New Zealanders. Out of all of the Commonwealth nations in World War I, New Zealand lost the most per capita. An approximate quarter of all of our troops at Gallipoli died.
There is one important lesson illustrated vividly by the Gallipoli campaign, and that is the hopelessness of war. The carnage, the brutality, the death - any romantic delusions of war present in the national psyche were quickly dashed by the horrors confronted on Turkish soil. If there is one thing that I sincerely hope everyone learns from ANZAC Day, it is this: to always seek to strive for peace in all its forms. None should ever have to face conflict of any sort, let alone the ferocious conditions of Gallipoli. It is sad that humanity permits history to repeat by not learning from mistakes. Barbaric conflicts continue to be waged - some masking their barbarity behind modern technology - despite the lessons of Gallipoli. The legacy of the troops in the short term was the preservation of freedom in their time, but will they have the honour of leaving a legacy of peace? Will we look at what they endured and be inspired to seek peaceful resolutions to disputes? Or will we continue to engage in bloody conflict, the kind of actions that encourage hate, sorrow, and loss? Let us hope and pray for the former. There is no place for hatred, violence, and war in society. We should stop pretending there is one.
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.
- For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon
I don't believe in painted roses or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill
- One Tree Hill by Bono