Anzac Legend

The Spirit of Anzac


80 years ago Australians, fought against the Turks, alongside with the British Empire Army and Navy in the land of Turks, which is called Anatolia.

It marked the turning point for a young country, Australia, only 14 years after it had come into being. Unfortunately, the young Australian soldiers were sent to a war which was impossible to win. The defending side, Turks, were defending their land against major invading powers of the time. The spirit of the defenders were so high even an allied army of many nations could not break this defense.

This sorry event was not only a bitter story for the participating nations. But also indication of the emergence of two nations, Turks and Australians. Australia was a new sovereign state and this was the first battle they, Australians, fought. At the same time the Ottoman Empire, located in Anatolia was about to collapse and a new Turkish State, known as Turkey today, was about to emerge on this land.

Since then the land on which this fierce battle broke years ago became nearly a pilgrimage place for young and old Australians and also Turks. The cove where the Anzacs landed first during the hottest days of Gallipoli war, was renamed as Anzac Cove today by the Turkish Government.

The following article was written by one of the veterans for an Anzac Day ceremony in 1993;

"I have been fortunate to travel to Turkey on six occasions to visit Gallipoli on Anzac Day. There is no more touching dawn service than the one conducted in the Beach Cemetery at Anzac Cove. One of the great pleasures of the trip is mixing with the Turkish people. The Turks are very conservative and formal; They dress almost invariably in suits and with their dark hair and shaggy mustaches appear very solemn. But when you explain you are Australian their faces light up with wonderful smiles, and you are overwhelmed with hospitality.

Surprisingly this warm relationship evolves from our involvement as antagonists in one of the most remarkable military campaigns ever conducted, the attempt by the allies to capture the Dardanelles in 1915.

Just the name Dardanelles has an evocative ring to it. This narrow strategic passage from the warm waters of the Mediterranean, through the sea of Marmara, and from there through the even narrower Bosphorus to the Black Sea, provides Russia's only year round ice free access to the worlds oceans, an access historically coveted by the Russians and a cause of the Crimean war (another British amphibious operation of disastrous magnitude). This waterway was also the historic crossing for invaders from Asia into Europe. At the narrows near Canakkale, known as Hellespont, the Persian King Xerxes built a bridge of boats to launch his invasion of Greece. Further back in time the Trojan war was fought at the entrance to the Dardanelles.

No wonder the classically educated members of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force felt a lifting of their spirits as they sailed into this historic setting early in 1915. They were further excited by the prospect of a dramatic strategic blow that might drive Ottomans out of the war and break the deadlock of trench warfare that was consuming the manhood and wealth of nations in France and Belgium with no sign of breakthrough.

Tragically, these high hopes could not override the difficulties of mounting an amphibious landing on a hostile shore, one of the most complicated operations of war. The gallant men of the British and French Empires were to pay a heavy price for a poor command structure, hasty operational planning and execution and totally inadequate logistic preparation and support.

We tend naturally to concentrate on the events at Anzac the subsidiary landing some 25 kilometers north of the main British landing at Cape Helles. We should not forget that both the British and the French suffered greater losses than the Australians and New Zealanders during the campaign. Nevertheless, it does have a special significance for us, because it was our first involvement in war as a separate nation and established our identity in the world as distinctly Australian. The performance of the Anzacs set a standard by which all Australian forces, down to the battalion currently serving in Somalia, are judged.

In saying this I do not claim it as a brilliant military achievement. Although the AIF had trained hard in Egypt, they were inexperienced in war. Confusion reigned in the early stages, mistakes were made, some leaders failed. But in this furnace of bitter, close-hand combat were forged traditions that have shone brightly ever since: courage, endurance, self-sacrifice, mateship, egalitarianism, initiative and leadership by example.

I will pass quickly over the key events of the campaign - the landing in the wrong location and assault inland over unknown terrain against a stiffening Turkish resistance; the establishment of a perimeter and its defense against heavy counter attacks; the months of stalemate through the heat of the summer with steady losses due to casualties and illness; the attempted breakout in August starting with the brilliant assault and bitter fighting at Lone Pine, the sacrifice of the light horse regiments at the Nek and the awe-inspiring achievement of the New Zealanders in capturing and holding the heights of Chunuk Bair, only to see the position lost in a last desperate Turkish counter-attack; more months of stalemate and at last in December the decision to evacuate, ironically the best planned and executed operation of the whole campaign but marking its ultimate failure and victory for the Turks.

Who were this gallant enemy, who share so much in the spirit of Anzac ? to the ignorant and untested diggers who landed on 25 April. They were "Unspeakable Turk" of the decaying Ottoman Empire.

A second-class enemy who would be quickly defeated. This illusion did not survive the landing which was strongly opposed by a Turkish company of perhaps 200 men, many form the local area. From the ferocity of the early fighting there developed a hatred of the Turks, fed on rumors of disfigurement of our dead, because the diggers did not appreciate the effects of mass rifle and machine gun fire on the human body. The massive Turkish counter-attacks on 19 May, pressed on despite heavy casualties, bred a reluctant respect. On 24 May a truce to bury the dead and recover wounded was negotiated. Diggers and Turks mingled on the battle field in these sad tasks. Gifts were exchanged and a mutual recognition of each others humanity was born. From that point there existed a common respect for each other, although the fighting was as fierce as ever. The Australians would throw tins of Jam across the narrow no-mans land in exchange for Turkish tobacco. Snipers competing in a deadly duel would signal misses as if on a firing range. In the final withdrawal many units left notes and gifts for the victorious Turks.

This mutual respect continued between the surrendered Turkish forces and the Australian military mission which returned to Anzac in 1919 to the dead and to record the campaign. Australians and Turks were not to meet again on the battlefield until Korea in 1952 when they were both serving under the United Nations mandate. Elaborate plans to celebrate Anzac Day together were disrupted by a major Chinese offensive in which the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was awarded the US Presidential Citation for their defense of the village of Kapyong on the night 42 years ago.

How did this formidable Turkish Army emerge from a nation in political chaos. The corrupt, decadent and inefficient Ottoman Empire had been overthrown by a military junta known as the Young Turks, but they were ridden with factionalism and unable to spark the fire of nationalism. The inspiration came eventually from an obscure junior divisional commander, rallying his troops in the defense of the homeland. It is one of the many ironies of the Gallipoli campaign that the advance of the Anzacs on the day of the landing was opposed by one of the most dynamic military and political leaders of this century, colonel Mustafa Kemal, later to be immortalized as Kemal Ataturk, the "Father of the Turks". His division in reserve, he was ordered to send a battalion against the Anzacs. Kemal deduced that the landing was a major threat and dispatched a regiment, with the rest of his division to follow. Arriving on the vital heights of Chunuk Bair he found the Turkish defenders retreating, out of ammunition. He ordered them to fix bayonets and lie down. The Australian skirmish line faltered , and the chance was lost. For the rest of the day attack and counter-attack swept across the heights but the courage, determination and leadership of this inspired soldier held the line. In the assault on Lone Pine the Australians again threatened to break the Turkish defenses. Kemal drove reinforcements into the gap and five days of trench fighting as savage as ever experienced by Australians the Turks held them just 20 meters from the critical point of breakthrough.

Kemal inspired in his soldiers the burning fervor of nationalism. For the first time Mehmets, most of them simple peasants form Anatolia, were conscious of their identity as Turks. Defeat in war meant the loss of the old Ottoman Empire and Turkey withdrew to its natural boundaries. In 1921 a new threat emerged with an invasion of the Anatolian heartland threatening the new capital of Ankara. Kemal was again equal to the task. In a brilliant campaign he drove the invaders back to the Mediterranean coast and forced their evacuation. By the end of 1922 Turkey was united, and Kemal could, as president , reform the nation as a secular, democratic republic.

This formidable reputation of the Turkish soldier must account in part for the fact that Turkey, in a volatile part of the world and surrounded by potential enemies, stayed free of war until its UN contingent served in Korea. Their performance there confirmed their reputation and established that in thirty years of peace they had lost nothing of their fighting spirit.

Gallipoli has been a place of pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders for seventy years and the numbers visiting continues to grow. On each visit I encounter young Australians and New Zealanders; backpackers, hitchhikers; traveling in old London buses or Kombi Wagons, drawn to this location about which they know nothing except its importance in their Nation's History. The Anzac area has the status of a National Park and at each key point of the terrain here is a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. It is impossible to walk through these little cemeteries without shedding a tear for the loss, the waste of youthful hopes and potential.

Interestingly, until about ten years ago there were few major Turkish Memorials on the battlefield. It was after all only one of many in which Turks had sacrificed themselves in defense of the homeland. I have a theory that it was the constant stream of foreign visitors to Gallipoli that developed a Turkish consciousness that great deeds had been done.

Now splendid monoliths mark the key sites and a ceremonial area and museum have been established. The link with Australia was formalized in 1985 with the naming of Anzac Cove. You have all read the immortal words of Ataturk in the program for this occasion. These words carved on a stone wall of Anzac Cove are now a place of pilgrimage for Australians and Turks alike, and formally denote the link that will forever bind our two countries in the spirit of Anzac.


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