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

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Krithia: Gallipoli

By Stephen Chambers
Pen & Sword Military, 2021
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

French Artillery Firing in the Third, Final, and Unsuccessful Battle to Take Krithia

Krithia is a village on the Gallipoli Peninsula that was a first-day objective of the troops who landed at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915. In his work Krithia, Author Stephen Chambers shows—like the overall Gallipoli campaign—the attempt to capture this village was a failure, but  also suggests it was also the start of a learning curve for the British Army. 

The book begins with a description of  the fighting on the landing beaches which were about 4.5 miles distant from the village. It then follows the course of battle through broad attacks in three Battles of Krithia from 28 April to 6 June, followed by more focused offensives until evacuation on 13 January 1916. At the conclusion of the Dardenelles campaign the Allied line was still 1.5 miles from the village.

Chambers draws heavily on letters and other writings from the warriors themselves. The many maps supplement the narratives. The photographs and drawings, both historic and contemporary, permit comparisons between scenes in war and peace. The portraits of the fighters put faces to the names. Perhaps the most poignant pictures are those of the soldiers next to those of their grave markers.

Red Line Indicates Allies Farthest Advance
Yellow Section Shows First Day Probe from Y Beach

Without disregarding the big picture, Krithia is what I term “small history”, history through the gunsights. It is full of tales of individuals, their backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. Each reader can select his favorites. I was intrigued by the description of William Forshaw, the “Cigarette VC” who had to keep his cigarette to light the fuses of the bombs he threw. Do not miss the drawing of him on page 233. I felt sympathy for the French Jesuit, Marie Lafont de Contagnet, who left his academic career in the Levant to serve as a chaplain at Gallipoli, where he lost his life.

Perhaps most telling is the uncensored letter from MP Captain Harold Cawley, another fatality, to his father who was also an MP, in which he described Major General Sir William Douglas:

He has a third-rate brain, no capacity to grasp the lay of the land, and no originality or ingenuity…He has been in the trenches three times since he landed, hurried visits in which he saw next to nothing...He is always thinking of himself, his food, his promotion, his health (p.181).

This is reminiscent of the correspondence of another politician-soldier, Theodore Roosevelt, to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge in which he spoke of his commander, Major General William Shafter; “Our General is poor; he is too unwieldy to get to the front…Not since the campaign of Crassus against the Parthians has there been so criminally incompetent a general as Shafter.”

I had a general knowledge of Gallipoli, Churchill’s unsuc-cessful attempt to force the Bosporus first by naval then by land assault, in which Australia and New Zealand won their nationhood. Krithia gave me a much deeper understanding. The ANZACS remain a giant memory in the Antipodes, but most of the Allies involved were from Britain and its Empire, and the French outnumbered the ANZACS. Both Britain and France relied heavily on their colonial troops: the British, Indians; and the French, Senegalese. Gallipoli was a complex campaign, with three thrusts, including diversionary attacks such as that against Krithia. Though its goals were not achieved, it would serve as a case study that would yield benefits both in the Great War and World War II.

With the text ending on page 226 and with many pictures, Krithia is a fairly quick but worthwhile read. In my mind it converted Gallipoli from a name in a long-ago war to a place in which people to whom I can relate fought and died. Formerly seeming unfathomably remote, I can now envision it as a site at which tourists can learn, appreciate, and pay homage. Author Stephen Chambers, who has written a guidebook of Gallipoli, also describes six battlefield tours, gives advice to tourists, and considers the Gallipoli Legacy. I recommend Krithia to anyone seeking a more personal, up-close view of the Gallipoli campaign.

Jim Gallen

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review. I normally shun Gallipoli books because of their coldness toward the individual. This definitely the exception. I look forward to reading it. Cheers