By Lesleyanne Hawthorne, ATFS
publications, Melbourne 1986, P.O.Box 144, Mulgrave Nth, Victoria 3170,
Hawthorne was born in Melbourne and educated at Monash University. She travelled
widely in the United States, Europe and South East Asia. As a freelance
writer, she has contributed to papers such as the Age and the National
Times on a variety of topics. She is the author of 'Refugee: The
Vietnamese Experience', Oxford University Press, 1982.
I would like to
begin by quoting from a letter that was left in the winter of 1915, in
the abandoned Gallipoli headquarters of the Australian Third Lighthorse
Brigade. It was addressed to the Turkish force commander, who would find
it and read it soon after the evacuation.
Brigadier presents his compliments to our worthy TURKISH opponents and
offers those who first honour his quarters with their presence such poor
hospitality as is in his power to give, regretting that he is unable
personally to welcome them.
a sojourn of 7 months in Gallipoli we propose to take some little
relaxation...and in bidding 'Au revoir' to our honourable foes we
Australians desire to express appreciation of the fine soldierly
qualities of our Turkish opponents and of the sportsmanlike manner in
which they have participated in a very interesting contest, honourable,
we trust , to both sides.
For a little while
we have been with you, yet a little while and you shall see us not. For
us it is a matter of deep regret that the ancient friendship so long
existing between the British and Turkish Empires should have been thus
disturbed by the insidious machinations of the Arch-enemy of humanity.
We have left this
area and trenches in which we have taken considerable trouble and pride,
clean and in good order, and would be grateful if they may be so
maintained until our return, particular care being asked in regard to
matters of sanitation, so vital to the well being of an army.
We hope that you
will find the wine, coffee, tobacco, cigarettes and food to your taste,
and a supply of fuel has been left in the cupboard to ameliorate in some
measure the discomfort during the cold watches of the winter
Our only request is
that no member of the nation who was guilty of the inhuman murder of
that noble woman Miss Edith Clavell to whose photo this message is
attached, will be permitted to pollute with his presence the quarters of
soldiers who have never descended to such barbarous and ruthless
Editor: Germans executed the British nurse Edith Clavell in
1915. I do not pretend to be an historian, and I do not know a
great deal about Gallipoli. But I grew up surrounded by the artefacts of
war because the men in my family had a facility for dying in them. In
the Second World War my mother's three brothers went off to fight Japan.
Two of them died. There was a strong hatred of the Japanese in my family
(which has passed now) and that detestation extended to the Germans.
A generation earlier
I had close family members who fought in the First World War; however I
was aware from early childhood that clear distinctions were made between
enemies, which not even the passage of time could account for. My
grandparents' brothers fought the Turks. My grandmother's brother was
killed at Gallipoli, while my grandfather's brother survived it, going
on later to fight through the whole Middle-Eastern campaign. One of the favourite
toys of my childhood was a three-metre intricately beaded snake, made by
a Turkish prisoner-of-war for that soldier.
The craftsman wove into it
'TURKISH PRISONER 67L', and then the name of my great uncle. Originally,
before it got broken, there was a little lizard trapped in the mouth of
the snake. Perhaps for the Turk it was a wry joke on his captivity.
There were also other mementoes - faded sepia postcards, and letters
which I remember reading before they were finally lost. I grew up
because of these things with a strong awareness of the Turks, but with
no hatred whatsoever. Since childhood I have had an intense interest in
that First World War, and in consequence have done much casual reading
The Turkish Background to War
In 1914, Turkey lay
at the centre of the once great Ottoman Empire, which centuries of
decline before the First World War had seen stereotyped as the 'sick man
of Europe'. This empire in fact embraced multiple ethnic groups, living
in areas which they were gradually refining into distinct states as a
result of a rising nationalism, and the active encouragement of European
The development of
Turkish nationalism from the start of the twentieth century had been a
part of this process. When a pre-war political alliance was formed with
Germany, it was because the pro-German faction in Cabinet, a number of
whom had received German military training, had come to predominate.
However by no means all nationalists were in favour - among them Mustafa
Kemal. Such critics believed that war could only be harmful to Turkey.
If the alliance triumphed, their country would become a mere vassal
state of its ally, instead of the independent country they longed for.
If Germany lost, then the Turks would lose whatever political autonomy
they had maintained.
Once war started,
however, such thoughts became academic. The commencement of hostilities
brought the ships of the greatest combined navy in the world at that
time - the British and the French - to make a direct attack on Turkish
shores. All Turks, whatever their political leanings, were drawn
inexorably into fighting. The Gallipoli campaign which Australians see
as so significant was in fact only an extension of what Turks celebrate
as the main triumph of the war: their victory in driving this allied
fleet from Canakkale (Dardanelles).
The straits of the
Dardanelles were seen by the Turks as the key to preventing a
catastrophic invasion of Anatolia. They were fighting not merely to
protect their empire but to save their homeland, at the very time when
increasing numbers of educated citizens were developing a strong sense
of identity as belonging to an Anatolian 'motherland'.
It seems from the
few sources we have available that the outbreak of war led to the
recruitment of vast numbers of mainly peasant country men. Few of them
had any education, since at that time little was available. Because of
this, written accounts are sparse, even in the Turkish language.
Ironically, the clearest picture we get of these men is thus through the
words of foreigners: their German commanders, and the Anzacs who fought
them as enemies in the field. Editor: This explains the relative
shortage of written accounts of barbaric atrocities committed by
Armenians on their Turkish neighbours. Armenians, on the other hand,
were more affluent and consequently better educated... hence the
abundance of exaggerated and fabricated 'material' condemning the
Turkish side for alleged oppression of the sections of Armenian
The image is still a
powerful one. They are described as frugal, fairly simple, very
dignified men, who had a strong moral code, and who in fact had scarcely
heard of Australia or even left their region before. Few of them
embraced the new nationalism, for such ideas were spread by education.
One of the most poignant things to be read is that they reportedly
suffered greatly from homesickness during the campaign - an irony when
you realize that they never left Turkey, but a fact since an inability
to write letters meant they were virtually as cut off from their
families as the Anzacs, while they fought a war in which they suffered
exceedingly high casualties.
The Australian Soldiers' Background
Turkey, sent soldiers who were mostly country men. The majority,
however, had received a fundamental education. They wrote so much in
fact that the historian, Patsy Adam Smith, describes their bulk of
letter home as the biggest record we have of working man's voice in
These first soldiers
became known for their resourcefulness, toughness, and resilience. Like
the Turks, who were commanded by the German General Liman Von Sanders,
the Australians were controlled by leaders of another power (the
British, through General Hamilton). At first they fought with a powerful
patriotism that was still Anglo-centred. They saw themselves as
primarily British - though from a newly federated country - for they had
grown up in an Edwardian Australia that was steeped in the legends of
British colonial military history.
century view passed down in literature was that war was glorious, a
sport, a game! There was a heavy militarism in Australia. Boys were
drilled as cadets from the age of eight. Australians going to war went
consciously as sons of the empire, to share in the mother country's
tradition, to prove themselves worthy to be part of it. It is ironic
that by the end of the war so many of them had come in fact to despise
the British, and to view themselves as fundamentally different and
superior soldiers to their English counterparts.
motivation in volunteering for the First World War was mixed. There were
those who wanted to help the empire while proving the manhood of
themselves and the their nation; others were ecstatically anticipating a
Boy's Own adventure of war; still others enlisted with an abiding hatred
of the German - 'the beastly Hun', or 'the Anti-Christ' of the popular
imagination. Propaganda about the war flooded Australia very early,
drumming up outrage, focusing luridly on supposedly committed atrocities
as well as the factual ones.
In spite of the fact
that this gave them a well formed idea of a German enemy, when the
Australians and New Zealanders sailed to Gallipoli they had virtually no
concept of the Turks as a foe. They saw them not as a people defending
their country, but rather as men duped into an alliance with the Hun.
They had little awareness that they were in fact invading a country.
Many writers have
suggested that the Anzac myth was something created after the First
World War. From my reading, I challenge that. When we scan the early
letters of these men, and add to them the official histories of the
time, it is clear that they were going into battle and writing home
about it while shaping the myth themselves. The vision of the new
country proving itself, the independent spirit of its men, the brave and
reckless Anzacs existed in their own minds from first.
Perhaps there was
something similar for the Turks about the whole campaign. In Gallipoli
soldiers from both countries fought not just for victory, but for
national definition. It was fate that led them to fight each other.
Enmity was an accident of war, and did not long survive it.
The Gallipoli/Canakkale Campaign
There were four
major stages of the Gallipoli campaign, each playing its part in shaping
the attitudes of the Australians and the Turks.
First came the Anzac
invasion, probably the largest amphibious landing in the history of the
war until that time. It occurred in the wrong place for both armies. The
Turks were expecting an attack but quite rightly not where the Anzacs
actually landed. There were only about 500 Ottoman troops in place, and
the thinly defended terrain made harsh fighting ground.
inspecting it as soldiers panicked around him, realized at once that
control of the heights was critical in deciding who would ultimately win
the battle. Accordingly he rallied his men, ordering them to stay in
line and keep their distance from the enemy so they could survive while
he called for reinforcements.
Once the beachhead
had been stormed by the Anzacs, the fighting front at most extended 2.5
kilometres wide and 900metres inland from the sea. A siege position had
been established by the tenacious fighting which followed the landing,
so that the invading force was in fact trapped between the Turks and the
sea. The Anzacs had nowhere to go unless they could break through.
Neither side had the numbers or artillery to end the stalemate that
immediately developed, even though the Turks had seized Kemal's critical
higher ground. At the end of the first day's fighting, both sides
counted themselves victors merely on the grounds of survival.
The next major stage
of the campaign, the Turkish offensive of May 19th, was fought after the
opposing troops had defined their terrain and dug in. The military
stalemate had endured a month by then, and Turkish and German commanders
shared a belief that the Allies were so cramped they must sooner or
later take the offensive.
To seize it first,
the Ottomans planned to mount a surprise attack, driving down hard to
push the Anzacs back into the sea. Many reinforcements, most of them
novices to battle, were brought secretly forward. They were massed
thickly in trenches behind the lines where their presence was discovered
by Allied air reconnaissance, which alerted the British to what was
When the Turks
attacked on the orders of Von Sanders, they advanced through a storm of
bullets to be pointlessly massacred - precisely as the Anzacs did a few
months later as part of the anticipated Allied offensive.
In the first few
weeks of fighting the two armies had little individual contact. In spite
of the closeness of opposing trenches, it had been easy to stereotype
each other as evil, capable of committing atrocities such as firing the
dreaded dumdum bullets which exploded causing horrendous wounds.
The closer contact
of May 19, however brought a realization to some Allies that the Turks,
as soldiers, had precisely the qualities that they most admired in
themselves and other troops. Previously they had observed that the Turks
did not fire on hospital ships, and sometimes withheld firing at
stretcher parties. "Editor: This is in stark contrast with the
savagery of murderous Serbian snipers who killed hundreds of children,
women and elderly from their mountain hideouts during the 'ethnic
cleansing' of Bosnia and Kosovo". Now they saw the Turkish troops
in their thousands advance with great courage to death, under the orders
of leaders who should have obviously pulled them out. They saw the
wounds they themselves caused by close range firing, and realized these
were just as monstrous as those inflicted on their own men.
The Anzac historian
C.E.W.Bean wrote of this advance: "Men sat on the parapet and fired
as if at a driven game... The enemy came forward to be shot until the
men were almost tired of the slaughter"
He tells of Anzacs
encouraging one group to surrender, when the odds were hopelessly
stacked against them. The Turks scorned to, choosing to fight to the
death, tossing back a proud note saying: "You think there are no
true Turks left. But here are Turks, and Turks' sons!"
After that battle
there was a perceptible change of opinion about the enemy in the letters
written home by the Anzacs. For some it was bolstered by more intimate
Within days of the
battle both armies were being profoundly discomforted by the stench of
the dead. Flies were breeding on the corpses, it was close to high
summer, and soldiers could hear the tormenting cries of the wounded who
were dying hour by hour near the trenches. The Australians wanted a
truce for a burial party, and a Red Cross flag was raised. Bullets
immediately shredded it - but next moment a Turkish messenger ran out
waving vigorously, explaining that it was Turkish soldiers ignorant of
the flag's significance who had fired upon it.
A truce was arranged
for a burial on the 24th of May. I shall present a Turkish source
reporting it rather than one written by the Anzacs: " In the
afternoon, the place got even more crowded. That was when we met the
soldiers called the Anzacs. They were sympathetic and cheerful men. When
we asked 'Are you English?' they replied 'No! We're not English, We're
Australians and New Zealanders.' 'Why are you fighting?' 'The English
are our brothers. Our language and culture are the same.' At every
opportunity they indicated that they liked the attitude and behaviour of
our soldiers also.
A friendly attitude
developed between the soldiers of the two hostile sides who were
supposed to kill each other. They were giving the buttons they tore off
their uniforms to us as a war memento, and in return they were asking
for something else. Our soldiers were not allowed to give their buttons
because of the military regulations of the time. They looked for other
things, and in the end tokens like coins changed hands. At the same
time, the soldiers were offering chocolates and sweets to each other
while trying to communicate in sign language. The truce commission tried
to prohibit this sort of friendship, but as soon as the commission
observers left, shows of friendship continued.
I saw an Australian
soldier who was trying to measure the height of our tallest soldier and
our soldier was letting him to do so with a smile on his face. As time
passed the area was starting to look like a festival place and those who
worked in the area went as far as embracing each other.
Clearing of the dead
was complete by four o'clock in the afternoon. The soldiers, when
finished with their work, went back to the trenches. Finally, the truce
commission observers took their soldiers from a centre line. The area,
which had been very noisy al day because of all the walking, running and
joking of the soldiers of the two sides, was buried in silence again.
At that moment Esat
Pasha gave the order 'All batteries and infantry fire!' With the order,
a violent artillery and infantry firing started against the enemy
trenches and with the reply of the enemy forces the area was covered
with noisy explosions and clouds of fire."
From that time,
there never seems to have been the same degree of ignorance and
antipathy between the two sides. Many letters home from the Anzacs
indicate a more playful aspect of the war than before, alongside the
serious fighting. People bored stiff in opposing trenches used to play
sniping games in which someone would put up a stethoscope for the other
side to fire at. Depending on who hit or missed, a score would be
raised. Letters were sent over, saying, for instance, ' You ask how far
it is to Istanbul. How long will you please be in getting there?'. Food
rations, cigarettes, photographs and badges were tossed between men.
At the same time as
boredom grew, conditions in Gallipoli became increasingly ghastly. The
flies that fed on the Turkish corpses continued to breed with ferocity.
In summer, the heat was much greater. Living and fighting conditions
were incredibly cramped and because of lack of water supplies the Anzacs
suffered terribly from dysentery. C.E.W Bean writes: "They felt
themselves penned between two blank walls reaching perpetually ahead of
them from which there would be no turning to escape save death or of
such wounds as would render them useless for further service."
No doubt the Turkish
troops suffered from almost equal discomfort.
Soon the time came
when it was the Australian and New Zealanders' turn to take the
offensive. Allied command knew that eventually the Turks would mount a
fresh attack to try to drive the Anzacs into the sea. It was decided to
anticipate them. Like the Turkish commanders, the British strategists
called for thousands of reinforcements to battle. They planned to make a
feint first at Lone Pine, to decoy the Turks into concentrating their
artillery on one particular area.
It was a suicide
mission for the chosen units, who had to draw all the firepower they
could. There was superb fighting and terrible losses on both sides, in a
battle that raged for three days.
The later Battle of
the Nek is the one made famous by the film 'Gallipoli', in which the
Anzac soldiers, like the Turks in May before them, faced a pointless
martyrdom on the orders of their generals. An advance was called when
the heavily defended Turks were twenty metres distant, when the allied
bombardment supposed to shatter the Turkish artillery had
incomprehensibly stopped six minutes too early. Four lines of troops
charged down an area the length of a tennis court. Within moments half
of them lay dying.
The defeat badly
damaged the morale of the Anzacs. They knew they had been poorly led,
and that the lives of their comrades had been wasted. The Suvla Bay
attack by the British, which the key to the advance, had failed
dismally. The Turks, as well, had suffered very high casualties.
It is a long time
since Gallipoli, and over the past few decades we have seen in Australia
an increasing nostalgia for it as a period of national challenge and
proving. Yet in spite of this there has been a chance since my childhood
two decades ago. Once, we unquestioningly glorified our soldiers' feats.
As children we were told Gallipoli meant Anzac gallantry in a just war.
Now there is some belated reappraisal - a recognition of the validity of
the Turks' position, even though that doesn't negate a proud sense of
the Anzacs' achievements.
The idea has been
increasingly expressed that Gallipoli represents more than war. There
are those who suggest that it marks a special friendship sealed in the
young blood of two very different countries.
This sentiment is
somewhat unique - especially once you realize that many of the moves
towards redefinition of the relationship have come from the old diggers,
"Editor: Digger is the colloquial name for Australian soldier"
who on their own initiative and through all the barriers started
corresponding with Turks. A number of them have journeyed back. Those
who have done so have found Anzac graves well cared for in Turkey for
decades - a situation said to be almost without precedent between the
opposing forces of two sides once locked in bitter conflict. How many
nations have tended their invaders' graves?
1985 marks a special
time - the seventieth anniversary of the Gallipoli/Canakkale campaign.
What is even more remarkable is that the Turkish Foreign Minister has
just opened a memorial to Attack in the War Memorial at Canberra. The
place of the original landing in Turkey has been re-named Anzac Cove, in
a ceremony attended by all foreign ambassadors. In Albany, Western
Australia - a state that gave many of its fine young men to the
campaign, and where my own family came from - the Turkish Consul General
has named a promontory for Ataturk.
I would like to
conclude with a statement which appears on many of these war memorials,
and one which I believe is very beautiful. It is a message sent by
Ataturk in 1934 to be passed on to those people whose sons had fallen in
Gallipoli two decades before. He said:
"Those heroes that shed their
blood and lost their lives, you are now 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 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 at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well."
conflicts, hatred stays with the nations for generations. But it was not
so with Gallipoli. It has never been so for the Turkish and Australian
Between April 25 and December 20, 1915, in an area of 20 kilometres by
8, the following numbers of troops were killed:
"Editor: While Turkish armies
were fighting with British, Anzacs and the French at Gallipoli, they
were also fighting the Russians in the Eastern front and British-Arab
alliance in the south. At a time when there were no young men left in
Anatolian villages, Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire collaborated
with the Russian invaders.. pillaging and murdering women and children
in villages which were left defenceless after all men were conscripted
to fight the enemies who were in a feeding frenzy - trying to devour
what was left of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.
Armenians in border regions were
thus deported to southern provinces and many perished during the arduous
exodus. Generations of Armenian militants later resorted to vicious
terror tactics murdering numerous Turkish diplomats as revenge killings
for an alleged genocide during the war years.