Admittedly it sounds like it could be a Greek dessert or an exotic stomach complaint. For the uninitiated, Gallipoli is a village on the western peninsula of the Dardanelle Straits, in Turkey. Gallipoli has mythological status in Australia, as the focus of a tragic military campaign that marked our country’s coming of age – or some say, our loss of innocence. You hear phrases like, “trial by fire” and “birth of our nation” a lot when referring to Gallipoli. Truth is a lot of young (very young) Australian and Turkish kids died in what amounted to a skirmish or sideshow to the Western Front.
On April 25, 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZACs) landed on the coast nearby in a bid to capture the peninsula and march with a combined Allied force (including Britain, France, Ireland, India and Canada) on to Constantinople (Istanbul). Turkey sided with Germany in World War 1 and this Gallipoli Campaign was a bid by the Allies to secure the important sea route to the Black Sea.
Things didn’t go well for the ANZACs from the outset. They landed in disarray in the dark, on a beach too narrow to hold them, facing sheer cliffs with Turkish gunners above. Things went from bad to worse over the course of the next seven months where the ANZACS clung to a Turkish coast in an elaborate system of trenches enduring extreme summer heat, incessant flies, dysentery, and snow, not to mention the frustration of failing to gain any meaningful ground from a resolute Ottoman army.
In December 1915, the ANZACs withdrew in the dead of night from Gallipoli, leaving over 10,000 dead or unaccounted for, their bodies buried in makeshift graves or left to the elements. It is estimated as many as 70,000 Turks died in the campaign. The Gallipoli legend is alive with personal stories of tragedy, courage and sacrifice – on both sides of no man’s land. The campaign holds a special place in the narratives of both the Australian and Turkish nations.