ANZAC Anniversary: Gallipoli and the First World War

ANZAC Cove, on the Gallipoli peninsula overlooking the Dardanelles Strait, a body of water off the Aegean Sea.

Today, April 25, or ANZAC Day, we are commemorating the sacrifice and valour of our Commonwealth cousins in Australia and New Zealand. This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. In the global consciousness, this may also be the day that these two countries became thought of as independent from the British Empire.

The event was immortalized by the 1981 Mel Gibson movie, Gallipoli, which followed a pair of young Aussie athletes who enlist. Like, the film, the ANZAC troops were brutalized, spending more than six months fighting the Ottoman forces along the Dardanelles Coastline. The beach became many of these soldiers’ home, and it left little cover or protection from the blaring of the Turkish guns from the cliff sides just a few kilometres away.

Higher ground was the Turkish advantage; and although the ANZAC forces held what little ground they had, they barely managed any advance inland. Within the first days of the landing, the Aussie and Kiwi force had already sustained a loss of more than 3,000 in the trench fighting that would characterize the whole campaign.

The force joined the Allies, Brits and French in concentrated attacks, but the Turkish forces were able to hold and divide the regiments. New Zealanders lost more men, in relation to their population, than any other Allied force. In August 1915, after yet another unsuccessful campaign, the effort to take this part of Turkey began to wane.

Evacuations started, and here is where there is a Canadian connection. Well, almost. Newfoundland, in 1915, was still part of the British Dominion, and had not signed on as a Canadian province, as of yet (that would happen much later, in 1949). The Newfoundland Regiment of more than 1,000 troops was dispatched to Gallipoli in September, about four months after ANZAC forces landed.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada: “Despite the difficult conditions, the Newfoundlanders persevered and earned their first battle honour when they captured Caribou Hill (a high point used by Turkish snipers) in November, with three men earning medals for their bravery in the fighting.” But, even with a few small victories, the lack of a breakthrough sounded the alarm. It was time for the Allies to withdraw from Gallipoli.

Again, the Newfoundlanders were called upon to protect the line, while their Australian and New Zealand brothers in arms made the retreat. “It was decided the Newfoundland Regiment would help in the difficult task of covering the evacuation of Allied troops onto waiting ships. This rearguard operation went well and the Newfoundlanders were among the last Allied soldiers to leave Turkey in January 1916,” notes Veterans Affairs Canada.

After the final retreat, the tally on the ANZAC forces was immense. Australia: 8,709 dead; 19,441 wounded; New Zealand: 2,721 dead, 4752 wounded. And for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 49 dead; 93 wounded.

The beach became known as ANZAC Cove, and it remains, to this day, a memorial to those who fought and lost their lives here, on this sandy stretch in Turkey. Today, at Gallipoli, you can visit both ANZAC Cove and Lone Pine cemetery, a site of one of the bloodiest battles. In 1934, Kemal Ataturk, the head of the Turkish Republic at the time of the First World War, recognized the sacrifice the ANZAC forces made for freedom, with a memorial at the site.

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 far away 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. — Kemal Ataturk, 1934

You can travel to this part of Turkey on a guided holiday with Trafalgar Tours, where you can get an insider’s tour of this and many other historic sites in the country. For more, go to www.trafalgar.com/can.

Click through for a few scenes from Gallipoli, Lone Pine and ANZAC Cove today.

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The cliffs looking over ANZAC Cove.

3-turkish-sign

The Turkish sign that marks the spot of ANZAC Cove.

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A sign of Canada: a lone Inukshuk marks a spot on the beach at ANZAC Cover.

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Lone Pine cemetery and memorial.

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A miniature Australian flag marks a grave.

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A marker for a New Zealand soldier, missing in action.

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A lone man identified in Lone Pine.

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The names of Australians, carved into the stone memorial at Lone Pine.

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Just up the hill from Lone Pine, the New Zealand memorial.

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The view of the sea from the New Zealand memorial.

12-Ataturk-Memorial

Ataturk’s words, carved for those to read, mark ANZAC Cove.