In a couple of hours I will be getting ready to leave my hotel in Istanbul along side my fellow Turkish guide and my Turkish driver to take 44 Australian, New Zealand and British passengers to the Gallipoli peninsula of Turkey. We are going for the 99th anniversary of the ill fated ANZAC campaign which took place there in WW1. How do we go from fighting against them a century ago, to myself and my Australian and NZ colleagues working alongside the Turkish today?
If you feel like a wee read in memorium of the ANZACs in the lead up to ANZAC day here is the jist of the spiel I have prepared to deliver by heart on our way to Gallipoli.
So we find ourselves at the beginning of the 21st century. During this time a lot of young New Zealanders and Australians find themselves priveledged enough to be travelling to the complete opposite side of the world, as far as you can possibly fly, to discover the United Kingdom and Europe. Whether this is via a holiday or possibly getting a visa (which most are lucky enough to obtain if so desired) and coming to work with the means to then travel out from there. It is a stark contrast to the young New Zealanders and Australians who came to this side of the world one year short of a century ago.
I want to paint a picture for you. One to set the scene of the story of these young Australian and Kiwis. As I did my research on the ANZAC campaign I wanted to go back far enough to understand how it was that the ANZACs became involved in a war on the other side of the globe! Right now at the beginning of the 21st c. there are definitely tensions and problems within our world. Also, Europe was not a stranger to war before this time but I am going to focus in on the beginning of the 20th c. and this period of rising tension among the European powers.
Competition to have the best military resources and great economic situations was at play. This was complicated further still with the alliances formed between different countries. These alliances were ought to make Europe feel safer but ultimately did the opposite and cultivated paranoia and distrust. These aligned powers effectively formed two sides and tension was thick.
Spring had sprung and as the weather warmed Europeans were becoming increasingly excited for the approaching family times and beach holidays. What actually lay ahead, still unbeknownst to them and a nightmare becoming reality was the Great War.
So what was the straw that broke the camels back? What caused this tension to erupt? Just as it is unbelievable that a straw could break a camels back, so it is with the events that led the world into the greatest war the face of the earth had so far seen.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one the largest powers within Europe before the outbreak of World War One. So large that it stretched from Northern Italy, down the Dalmatian Coast where Croatia lies, across to the Transylvanian Mountains and further north than where the cities of Prague and Krakow sit. So this empire was large! Think about the land that covers and the nationalities within it. There were Hungarians, Germans, Polish, Czech, Ukranian, Slovak, Slovene, Croatians, Serbs, Italians and Romanians. As you can only imagine the political organisation of this empire would be complex to say the least.
Particularly the Serbs had a real national pride (and so any nation should have the right to be proud of their own identity). The Austrians had been contemplating the need to challenge this Serbian nationalism and bring them down a peg or two. Little did they realise the excuse to challenge them was approaching.
The emperor at the time was Franz Josef. His nephew, Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Habsburg (Austrian rulers) throne. Franz Ferdinand and his wife were visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia on the 28th June 1914. Unfortunately for them and ultimately the rest of the world, this was a fatal visit, not just for them but for the millions more that fell through WW1. During their motorcade in Sarajevo they were attacked by a radical Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. This is the straw that broke the camels back.
Austria was clearly upset at this attack and blamed Serbia for supporting this terrorism. Austria gave Serbia the ultimatum – to cease all the anti Austrian activity and start a full investigation into it. Maybe ultimately asking them to let go of all nationalism and be submissive to the empire? When Serbia refused, the dominoes began to fall. It gets messy and can seem complicated but bear with me as I try to describe what I mean by the dominoes falling.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on the 28 July 1914, exactly one month after the assassination. They did this knowing full well that Germany had their back but also knowing Russia was an ally of Serbia so would therefore enter this war against them, fighting for Serbia. This didn’t stop them. August 1 Germany declared war on Russia. Of course it gets more complicated as Russia is friends with France. Have you been to Paris? Home to the most elegant bridge in the world, the Pont Alexandre lll. If you haven’t seen it, google the images. This bridge was inaugurated in 1900 for the world expo and was named after Russia’s leader Tsar Alexandre lll. This was a physical representation of the Franco-Russian alliance. Basically France was saying “hey world, yip, we’re friends with that big guy over there – Russia”. As you can imagine, two big powers on either sides of this continent declaring they were friends could have seemed quite the threat and piled on the tension. So this meaning Germany declared war on France also.
This latest declaration brought this war further to the attention of another empire though. The British empire, who had sworn to protect wee Belgium who lay in the north between these two large countries at war, France and Germany. Britain sent Germany the message that if they invaded Belgium to get to France, Britain would have no choice but to become involved. So as the dominoes continued to fall, Germany entered Belgium and Britain then declared war on Germany. In less than a month not only was almost the entire continent of Europe dragged into this war but The British empire as well which included countries such as Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Canada. By mid summer the Great War was well and truly under way.
The two sides of WW1 were the Allies – Russia, France and the British empire later joined by Italy and the USA and the other side being the Central powers – Austria- Hungary and Germany later joined by the Turks. The Turks were under the Ottoman Empire which had shrunk since seeing its height in the 16th-17th c. The Turks entered the war due to pressure from Germany to join in alliance with them and keep them from joining with the Allies. Germany wanted to gain Ottoman support to encourage Romania and Bulgaria to also enter the Central Powers Alliance. On the most part World War One was played out on two main arenas, the Western front on French land and the Eastern front in Russia.
On August the 5th 1914 leaders of both Australia and New Zeland declared to the people of these countries that as their empire had entered into war, so had they. The people of Australia and New Zealand were flung into this war they didn’t quite understand with no choice in the matter and neither did they want a choice. In fact as recruitment for the Australian and New Zealand Armies commenced young men were eager to get enrolled. Even underaged boys raised their ages to be accepted. There was a real sense of national pride growing for both of these young nations and were part of a mighty empire they were keen to defend. There was actually excitement amongst these young men about the warfare and they were ready for this adventure.
The entry of Turkey into the war posed a threat to Russia and also the British ruled Egypt. This is because it meant that the thin strip of water known as the Dardenelles, between the European and Asian sides of Turkey, leading up to the Black Sea was tightly closed off to the Allies.
Winston Churchill being the 1st Lord admiral for Britain at the time devised a plan to open this up for the Allies for better or another access to the Eastern Front on Russian land. He thought it would be a good idea to send Troops up the Dardenelles with the aim of taking Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and kicking Turkey out of the war and to then send help for Russia on the Eastern Front battlefields. Easy right? No, not so much. March 18 1915 there were 18 British and French battleships heading up the Dardenelles, soon to be over when the Turks sunk 3 so the rest withdrew. Back to the drawing board it was. This time the plan was to attack the land lying to the west of the Dardenelles, the Gallipoli peninsula to then allow the navy to get through once this land was in the hand of the Allies.
Rather than being seen as one with the British troops the Australian and New Zealand troops were given their own name, initially coined the Australasian corps, both countries were reluctant to completely lose their separate national identities so therefore the term ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) came about. These keen but inexperienced ANZAC troops had 5 months training in Egypt before jumping on a ship that was Turkey bound. These ships were filled with high spirited cheering men ready for the adventure to begin. A blunder was about to occur though that changed what they had hoped would be a victory into a complete disaster for the Allies.
April 25th 1915 at 4:30am the attack began. Mistakenly, the Australian troops had been dropped higher up the coast than planned and encounted strong resistance and impossible terrain. It was a fatal beginning. Loaded with gear they clawed their way up these unexpected slopes in the dark. It was the last place on the Pennisula anyone would want to carry out a landing. Meanwhile, NZ troops sat out at sea to be used as back up if required. Required they were. Five hours after the Australian landing the impatient NZ troops landed at 9:30am and also encounted the harsh terrain of knee high scrub which proved a challenge to crawl through, a touch different to the training ground of the sands of Egypt. It was disorganised chaos with them all scattered amongst the scrub within this area they were never meant to land.
Ridiculous terrain of scrub, hills, cliffs, valleys and ridges meant the fight was as much with the landscape as it was with the Turks. Their aim was to capture the heights of the Sari Bair range and press inland to cut off Turkish reinforcements to Cape Halles (toe of the Gallipoli peninsula) where the Brits had landed the same day. The ANZAC campaign was basically a diversion to keep the Turks occupied and away from Cape Halles. Though the ANZACs came under heavy fire, they still managed to somewhat push the Turks back enough to reach ground where they could see the Dardenelles. As the day went on, the Turkish resistance strengthened. Dawn til night fall, how they would have longed for this horrid day to end. Nothing like a bad day at work. By the end of this day, none of the objectives had been reached. Commanders on the post recommended withdrawal but an evacuation would have proved fatal as well so they were told to dig dig dig until they were safe. The areas of slopes captured on the 25th April became known as ANZAC for the remainder of the campaign as they tried to continue to push through enemy lines but at the same time their enemy, the Turks tried to drive the ANZACs off the Pennisula. Who can blame them? This was their homeland.
This was the start of what would become 8 months worth of senseless trench warfare. Trench warfare was horrendous. At times ANZAC and Turkish trenches were merely metres apart! From on the beach where they landed up the slopes to the trenches they built, the way was marked with bodies and parts of bodies. On their knees in scrub heavy laden with gear, summer approaching, scorching mid day temperatures, stench from the dead and wounded, disease rife and hopping bullets as if it were hailing around them it would be a soldiers desperate bid for a passport to heaven as they would mutter the Lord’s Prayer – “Our father in Heaven, holy be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is I’m heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen”.
Trench warfare was long. If you stayed still you would get shot, if you advanced as you should, well you’d probably still be shot, but at least you advanced. Can you imagine though, to dare to raise your head above the trench?
This was actually where the periscope rifle was invented so you could see where you were shooting but keep your head undercover.
At the start of May some of the ANZAC troops were moved to help the British with a fresh attack at Cape Halles to try and advance further up the Pennisula. Soldiers who survived this said those that obeyed the orders and advanced were basically agreeing to suicide. One of these soldiers told the story of how he refused and said to one of the commanders that this was senseless death as he saw the ANZACs drop like flies. The Turkish line was not reached while 1000 Australians and 800 New Zealanders were killed or wounded in this attempt to advance. By mid May the attempt to capture the Dardenelles for the Allies had failed but the Allies still clung to the small gains they had made. Reaching somewhat of a stale mate the Turks mounted an attack in the hope to finally drive the ANZACs off the peninsula. Still dark on the 19th May the Turks began their attack, wave after wave. The ANZACs hit back with a strong fire which kept the Turks for the most part from entering ANZAC trenches. The Turks pushed on for about 6 hours without making ground. This proved to be a failure for the Turks as 10,000 of their men were hit and 3000 lay dead between the lines. In comparison the ANZACs lost only a fraction of men in this battle. On the 24th May the Turkish waved a truce flag to arrange to permit the burial of the Turkish bodies that had been lying out in the open since the battle on the 19th. During cease fires, both sides were known to share rations and cigarettes. After all they were both under command of the empires they belonged to.
Another attempt to reach higher ground was again made by the British at the beginning of August. Supporting attacks were planned at Lone Pine and a narrow ridge known as the Nek. On the afternoon of the 6th of August at Lone Pine the Australians attacked and occupied the enemies frontline positions but the Turkish were determined with counter attacks! The next day at the Nek, there was intense fighting in close quarters on this narrow ridge, four waves of Australians were cut down before they reached the enemy line. Following this, the main attack was played out by a mix of New Zealanders, Australians, British and Indians heading towards the heights of a hill called Chunuk Bair and other nearby peaks. If these positions could be captured and held, it was believed a breakout for the Allies towards the Dardenelles was possible. With steep slopes and deep gullies, some units became lost in this wild country and the planned assaults were often carried out too late without enough support.
Through desperate fighting and great losses along the way, the New Zealanders reached the Chunuk Bair summit and were able to look up the Dardenelles. Unfortunately for the Allies this success was fleeting, the determined Turks regained the summit which meant this August initiative had also failed. With mounting criticism of this whole campaign the British decided on no more major attacks at Gallipoli. How to withdraw from the Pennisula without countless fatalities though? In November, as temperatures plummeted, men froze at their posts and 16,000 troops suffering from frost bite and exposure had to be evacuated. A careful thought out plan with precautions was played out to deceive the Turks into thinking nothing unusual was happening when they began to withdraw the troops between 8-20 December 1915 and then the last were withdrawn from Cape Halles on the 8th and 9th Jan 1916.
Bravery and endurance was proven from the soldiers of both sides in this campaign at Gallipoli. Both sides suffered great losses. The men, protecting their homeland, the Turks, lost the most, 87,000 of their men died in this battle and almost a couple of hundred thousand more injured. The Allies also suffering the loss of 44,000 men. Amongst those killed were British, French, Indians and even Newfoundlanders (a part of the British empire) Of these men that were killed 8,700 were Australians and 2,700 were New Zealanders. Count to 10, each number you count represents a face, a life, a son, a brother, a husband, a family who lost their loved one. Even counting to 10 is too many…. 8,700 Australians, 2,700 New Zealanders. 87,000 Turks. It was 1 out of every 4 NZ men that had enrolled in the war that died at Gallipoli. On top of this, the number of wounded Allies was 97,000. A costly failure in both lives and money with no real success.
There was always a certain amount of respect the ANZACs and the Turks had for each other as I mentioned the sharing of rations, they also helped each other clear bodies and there were countless stories of where they reached out to each other in understanding. This respect was shown further by the Turkish commander at the time of the Gallipoli campaign, Mustafa Kemel Ataturk. Following WW1 he led the Turkish War of Independence and led Turkey into a time of modernisation. He was the first President of Turkey and was given the name Ataturk which means ‘Father of the Turks’. No body else can ever be given this name. Being somewhat of a peacemaker he also paved good relations with the Allies he had been fighting off at Gallipoli and it is him we can thank for being warmly welcomed now.
In 1934 he said this of the ANZAC soldiers –
“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 faraway 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.”
Most nations celebrate old victories. For most of the world this was a sickening sideshow of WW1 best forgot. For Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC is different. It is the rememberance of an agonising defeat. A whole world away from where these soldiers were from, they had never been so close to making great history but neither had they suffered such brutal hurt. The ANZAC legend has become an important part of the national identity and pride for both Australia and New Zealand. Hold your head up, be proud of our men who fought hard for our countries, who put their lives on the line and displayed such bravery. Let us also enjoy the special bond and friendship between Australia and New Zealand.
Lest we forget.