Today, 25th April is ANZAC day, which in Australia and New Zealand is the equivalent of Armistice Day in Britain. It commemorates the landing of the ANZAC forces in Gallipoli during the First World War, where they were ultimately defeated by the Turks. In Britain this is called the Dardanelles campaign, but in Australia and New Zealand it’s called “Gallipoli.“ This song by Eric Bogle tells the story of a crippled veteran:-
Eric Bogle emigrated to Australia from Peebles in Scotland . He does the odd tour in the UK and I have seen him received rapturously by a Scottish folkie audience. He’s short and a bit tubby, and a young bloke sitting next to me said, “He’s a god, isn’t he?” in a voice of pure worship. I’ve met him a few times and he’s a very nice, unassuming guy.
I find the song heart-breaking but the last verse is wrong:-
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
The war, the Gallipoli part of it, isn’t forgotten by a long stretch. The young people know about it and on their almost compulsory overseas travels go there to be greatly moved and greatly accusing of the British, especially Winston Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty and chief instigator of the campaign) for leading their ancestors into such a mess. In my primary school I was taught it as one of the great cock-ups of history. The film Gallipoli presents the British as tea drinking incompetents and ignores the great numbers of British troops who were also killed in the campaign. Gallipoli, both in historical fact and legend, influences the movement for an Australian republic.
There is no ill feeling towards the Turks because they are seen as defending their own territory. Turks are also friendly and welcoming to travelling strangers, and are generally liked.
I have done the tour of Gallipoli myself, gazing at the beach landing where the invading troops had to scramble up a cliff, and the little hill tops they had captured briefly and then lost. The place smelt of pine, the grass was brown and brittle, the cicadas were chirping, the air was hot, the sea blue and the terrain steep and hilly. It reminded me of Auckland, where some of my family live. The tanned Australians and New Zealanders in shorts and t-shirts were very respectful around the graves and treated the English guide like Jeremy Paxman interviewing a politician. “So who was responsible then?” They told each other stories about dysentery and thirst that had been handed down by grandfathers and great great uncles. “They stood in shit (pronounced “sheet”) all the time and the smells were awful.”
They acknowledge the bravery and endurance of the soldiers, and become terribly emotional about their suffering, without feeling they need to defend the cause for which they fought, just blaming the old imperialist state. Colonial lions led by donkeys sitting around a table in London.
For the Turks their victory was an inspiration for Turkish nationalism. Mestafa Kemal was a divisional commander and his success at repelling the invaders gave him huge prestige, helping him in his later political career which finally culminated in his becoming Ataturk, the Father of Turkey, whose statues and portraits are found all over the country. The tourists look at the many British and Commonwealth graves and memorials to find their family names but they also stop at the slab on which are carved Ataturk’s words of reconciliation:-
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 living in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
Australians and New Zealand English wouldn’t produce such rhetoric but they are touched by it.
The Turks call the campaign after the port Çanakkale where the Turks repulsed the Royal Navy and they have their own beautiful song, Çanakkale içinde, which is very popular.
The war is declared.
It came down on us like fire.
The whole country shed tears.
The Anyali Carsi,
the market place, in Çanakkale
I’m leaving for the enemy Mother
And there goes my boyhood.
The cypress tree grows tall in Çanakkale
Some of us were engaged,
And there goes my boyhood.
They’ve shot me in Çanakkale
Put me in a grave, I wasn’t dead!
And there goes my boyhood.
It is not a victory song but like Bogle’s song a lament for lost youth.
While I was looking for a translation of the lyrics of that song, I found an Islamist take on Dardanelles/Gallipoli/Çanakkale.
We have celebrated the annual commemoration of the martyrs of Çanakkale (pronounced Chanakkalé) with a mawlid on Thursday night. The actual day was Wednesday, March 18th.
Sheykh Abdul Kerim Efendi reminded us of the significance of this battle as the last real jihad authorized by the Caliph, the Sultan in Istanbul. This 19th Crusade to destroy Islam failed as a consequence of about 250,000 martyrs, mostly young men aged 18-25. It marked the triumph of spiritual and religious power over state of the art materialistic power.
And on the back of that triumph the atheist Ataturk set up a secular state.