Remember and understand Gallipoli

Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well. 

Remember and understand Gallipoli

He rained us with bullets, and showered us with shell, And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell, Nearly blew us back home to Australia. And the band played Waltzing Matilda, As we stopped to bury our slain, and we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs, Then we started all over again.

ERIC BOGLE’S The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is one of the great anti-war songs. It captures the cruelty and waste, the stupidity and heartbreak that humanity more or less constantly inflicts upon itself in a powerful way. In 1915 it was farm boys from Australia shoulder-to-shoulder with Dublin and Munster Fusiliers fighting their Turkish contemporaries in a place most Allied soldiers could hardly find on a map. Though Bogle describes the Gallipoli campaign through Australian eyes the anthem is equally relevant to Ireland and the 3,500 Irish men who died in an utterly wasteful exercise on the arid peninsula in western Turkey.

As we reach the halfway point in the decade of centenaries it is possible, with one notable exception, that yet another ceremony remembering the brave, the adventurous, the deluded — the generation decimated by war — might not have the impact it deserves. After a while one wreath-laying ceremony looks more or like any other. The sentiments sincerely expressed at yet another silent monument begin to sound all too familiar. Words like glory, honour, sacrifice; phrases like “answered the call”, “lost in action” or “moral courage” blend into the landscape and we too quickly pass over their true relevance to the lives we live today.


Maybe it is because we pray we will never have to answer the questions faced by the Allied troops in the Dardanelles or the underestimated and heroically brave Turks who had to defend their homeland. “I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die ... !” was how Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founding father, directed his troops 100 years ago.

Yesterday President Michael D Higgins took part in ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of one of World War I’s bloodiest and, from an Allies’ point of view, disastrous campaigns of the war. Today — Anzac Day — Mr Higgins will participate in separate Turkish and French commemorations at the Anzac memorial service at dawn.

Gallipoli was so brutal, so indifferent to the soldiers’ humanity that it meant that it would never again be possible to recruit a volunteer army as Kitchener had done in 1914. Conscription was invoked to fill the ranks. The disaster also saw the emergence into full statehood of Australia and New Zealand. It also sowed the seeds of modern Turkey because it gave Kemal Atatürk a route to political leadership.

It is wrong to let the horrors of the past fester and provoke renewed violence in today’s world but it would be dangerously stupid not to remember what happens when diplomacy fails and nations go to war. We should never become blasé about what was required to build the world we enjoy today.


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