Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Great Battles: Gallipoli
reviewed by David F. Beer

Great Battles: Gallipoli
by Jenny Macleod 
Foreword by Hew Strachan
Oxford University Press, 2015

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their live 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 our. . .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. 
  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1934

Monument to Atatürk at Cape Helles, Gallipoli

This week, 100 years ago, the Dardanelles/Gallipoli Campaign concluded with the withdrawal of the remaining land troops around Cape Helles. Roads to the Great War is recognizing that event with this review of a work about Gallipoli that is unique. Unlike the many excellent works on Gallipoli such as Alan Morehead's 1956 classic and the recent histories surrounding the campaign's centennial, Jenny Macleod's Gallipoli isn't an analysis of the conflict. Rather, it's a history of the varied and shifting ways in which the campaign has been remembered and commemorated over the past 100 years by those countries whose soldiers fought there.

This includes what is now Turkey. As the opening sentence of Chapter 1 states, "In the early hours of 19 May 1915, 50,000 soldiers from the Ottoman Empire attacked the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had invaded their country." Thus begins an impressively original and concise account of the campaign followed by a detailed look at how it was thereafter memorialized in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, and Turkey. Notably, Anzac Day stands out as the embodiment of the post-Gallipoli "myth" and might be considered, as Macleod claims, Australia's most important export to the world.

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The author has taken on a difficult task in this book. She argues that no other World War One campaign has been remembered in so many diverse and changing ways. Thus she looks at the countries that were involved — except France, which in spite of losing some 8,000 men at Gallipoli, has maintained no significant cultural memory of the event. The other nations involved have, however, in spite of the campaign representing a shattering defeat for most of them.

Most noticeably, Australia remembers the event with a kind of sorrowful nostalgia mixed with heroic pride. Anzac Day is indeed their day. New Zealand, only slightly less ardent, has followed Australia's lead, while Britain has subsumed "Mr. Churchill's folly" into memory of the war in general. Ireland has slowly moved from a strongly anti-British stance and resentment of those who fought for Britain to a gradual acceptance of those who paid the ultimate price. Much different, of course, is how the victors have remembered and used the victory and the image of Mustafa Kemal to establish ideals within the Turkish nation.

The whole situation is much more complex than this, of course, and Macleod does an excellent job of detailing how in each nation, and in almost every decade since 1915, attitudes have waxed and waned. Hew Strachan points out in his foreword to the book that "The opportunity for invention and reinvention is simply greater the longer the lapse of time since the key event" (pg. x). The extent to which Gallipoli is commemorated and reinvented has always been influenced by religious, military, political, and social concerns within the individual nations, and the author carefully examines these influences, consistently and fully annotating her sources of information.

A School Group from Australia Touring the Gallipoli Battlefields in 2009
(Your Editor Center Rear in Grey Cap)

This is a scholarly yet highly readable study and is Book Two in a new series being published by Oxford University Press under the editorship of Hew Strachan. Several significant battles are examined in the series, including Waterloo, Gettysburg, and El Alamein, with the main focus being on the legacy of these battles in the imaginations of the victors and the defeated. As the author states in her preface, both history and memory are considered, with memory's flexible and selective nature especially being examined in each case. She is well qualified to look at Gallipoli in this light. Besides being an experienced academic, Jenny Macleod is the co-founder of the International Society for First World War Studies and an associate editor of the journal First World War Studies. Anyone interested in the ways the Gallipoli campaign has been evaluated and remembered from 1915 to the present will find this book a most informative and rewarding read.

David F. Beer


  1. Ataturk's remarkable words, which I had the good fortune of personally seeing inscribed, might be a good study for many leaders today.
    Sadly that outreach & that compassion are non-existent today.

  2. Unfortunately, you are absolutely right, Cyril.