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Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac


Beyond Gallipoli – New Perspectives on Anzac

Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates

The setting

Some one hundred years after the Gallipoli landings, a cast of the world’s leading Gallipoli scholars gathered on the shores of the Dardanelles to discuss and debate that ill-fated campaign.1 This unique collection brings together a selection chosen from around 100 papers from half a dozen countries delivered at this event. It approaches old questions in a new way, offering fresh perspectives on the Gallipoli landings and their legacy, and showcasing the work of leading and emerging scholars from the UK, USA, Canada, France, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Turkey. The conference straddled four days. It was opened in the presence of Mr Nicholas Sergi, the Australian Consul at Çanakkale, and simultaneous translation enabled a rare and much-needed dialogue between English and non-English speakers. It concluded with a voyage on a replica of the Ottoman minesweeper Nusret around Cape Helles, a tour of the Peninsula itself and a chance to re-trace the story of the fighting from both sides of the trenches. Conference proceedings formally ended on 24 May, the Centenary of the Armistice between Ottoman and allied forces on Gallipoli. That symbolism was deliberately chosen – Gallipoli/Çanakkale, once a place of fierce conflict, was now a site where scholars searched for common understandings. Having said that, scholarship into war (and particularly the Gallipoli campaign) can still spark lively controversy. This was most apparent in the tense discussion (or lack thereof) that surrounded the Armenian genocide.2 2015 marks not just the Centenary of the Landing, but also a hundred years since the Ottoman Government’s ‘relocation’ of its Armenian population via forced marches to the Syrian desert. There had been a tacit agreement not to address this issue at the conference. The Australian organisers were mindful of the polarised political opinion surrounding this episode, and its potential to overwhelm consideration of the Çanakkale/Gallipoli campaign itself. We were also encouraged by an assurance that a future conference would be called to consider the ‘Armenian debate’. There is no sign that the Turkish government is likely to host a discussion of what many regard as a genocide any time in the immediate future. And whilst Australian delegates maintained an uneasy if diplomatic silence, several speakers invited by a Turkish Government research centre repeatedly harangued the conference participants on this very subject. In their version of events, the only genocide attempted in 1915 was a determined effort by the allies ‘to exterminate the Turkish people’. The comforting language of reconciliation that now cushions the Gallipoli/Çanakkale war clearly has its limitations.3

This is a diverse collection but it is united by several common themes. All these papers are set in a transnational and comparative frame; they pursue cultural history rather than operational accounts of the campaign; they are, in many cases, multi-disciplinary in their approach to the past; and their sources range from textual accounts to visual narratives, war-scapes, exhibitions, material culture and postdigital imaginings.

The book

The collection begins with two essays situating the Gallipoli campaign and challenging popularly accepted narratives of its history. Robin Prior deconstructs the many myths that have grown up around Gallipoli, myths so numerous he remarks, ‘that they easily exceed all the mythology of all the other campaigns of the Great War combined’. From the outset, he argues, Gallipoli was an unwinnable battle. There was very little chance of allied forces advancing beyond their narrow beachhead, let alone subduing the forts of the Dardanelles. Far from being an opportunity to relieve Russia, subdue Turkey and ultimately win the war, the harsh military reality was that the Dardanelles, from beginning to end, was something of a pathetic sideshow. Conceived as a chance to break out of the static conditions of trench warfare on the Western Front, Gallipoli simply recreated Flanders and the Somme in miniature. The campaign, he concludes, was a folly fought ‘in vain’, not withstanding the bravery of the men who served there.

At the close of his chapter, Prior turns to the question: did Gallipoli give birth to a nation? It is the perfect segue to the second chapter in this collection, Jenny Macleod and Gizem Tongo’s inquiry into memory, history and the ‘nation-building endeavors’ of both Australia and Turkey. Macleod and Tongo use Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s famous ‘speech’ as a ‘lieu de mémoire’ – or site of memory – for Turkish and Australian commemoration in order to reflect on the nature and politically-charged uses of the past. They trace the provenance of the speech and its popularisation as a major element in Turkey’s ‘memorial diplomacy’ during the Cold War and the reconciliation narrative that has been a prominent part of Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli and Australia since the 1980s. The challenge they point to, though, is not so much reconciliation between Turkey and the former allied invaders but between modern Turkey and the descendants of the Ottoman Armenian population. The essay charts the ongoing attempts by the Turkish Government to silence any discussion of the events of 1915 as ‘genocide’. ‘The reconciliatory words of Kemal have been used to build warm relations through memorial diplomacy, but the dark underbelly of celebrating the Johnnies and the Mehmets has been the forgetting of the Armenians’. The withdrawal from this volume of three papers by Turkish academics when they learned that the word ‘genocide’ would be used in Macleod and Tongo’s chapter is symptomatic of the ongoing sensitivity surrounding this issue.

The popular press has been one place where Gallipoli’s myths have flourished; it seems appropriate that the second theme of this book deals with what we have called ‘medias of remembrance’. Recognising the importance of news media in influencing public perceptions of the past, Sharon Mascall-Dare and Matthew Ricketson examine the ethics of war reporting. They ask how journalists can avoid formulaic coverage during the Anzac Centenary. How can reporters balance sensitivity with a commitment to accuracy when interviewing veterans? What storytelling approaches should they employ? Their chapter examines journalistic ethics within the context of Anzac by exploring four key themes: accuracy, subjectivity, collaborative story-telling and the reporting of trauma. In each case, the authors explore shifts in journalistic practice through recent case studies: Sharon Mascall-Dare’s BBC World Service documentary, Anzac; Susan Neuhaus and Mascall-Dare’s book, Not for Glory and Chris Masters’ book, Uncommon Soldier. Two case studies from the US and the UK – the television documentary, The Not Dead and David Finkel’s book, Thank you for your service – are also examined to offer further insight into ethical reporting practices. The chapter concludes by identifying resources offering guidance on ethical conduct for journalists assigned to the Anzac Centenary: The Anzac Centenary Media Style Guide, published in Australia and Getting it Right, produced by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma based at Columbia University.

Increasingly people create their own media, and this is the subject of Tom Sear’s study of Anzac in a postdigital age: his essay explores the role the digital has played in connecting the past to the present. In 2015, sites like the Facebook page, AnzacLive, posted diary entries of long-dead historical figures. Thousands of Australians ‘witnessed’ the campaign through the dramatic daily testimony of individuals as diverse as Billy Hughes, Ellis Silas the soldier-artist, and John Monash, and were invited to participate in virtual conversations with these characters through Facebook posts. This fostered what Sear and others have described as an ‘affective, emotional and empathetic response’ to past generations’ experience of war. The dangers of this avatar Anzac are readily apparent. It is not just the ‘uncanny collapsing’ of time and space; professional historians value a critical detachment from the past and few strive to imagine themselves a part of it. But Sear’s account is as balanced as it is perceptive. It is possible, he argues, to connect with the past and at the same time critically engage with it:

Contemporary audiences have a playful, nuanced understanding of time, history and memory that has kept pace with the accelerating conflux of the analogue, digital and postdigital eras. They know their position in time relative to historical subjects comes with privileges as well as blind spots. They can reposition technologies that seem to disturb the social performance of commemoration or challenge connections between the past and the present as redemptive rather than disruptive.

Sear’s initial essay was presented within weeks of the centenary commemorations at the Landing and engaged with the popular reimagining of Anzac at the moment of its making. It engaged with and complemented the work of Andrew Hoskins, another scholar of digital commemoration who delivered a paper at Çanakkale. Here Hoskins reflects on Sear’s findings and the fate of memory in the new ‘war ecology’ of the postdigital era. He raises the tantalising possibility that ‘the new structure of memorialisation being too close to war itself may actually undermine the future of memory, with the postdigital disabling its capacity to change, transform and dissipate, in other words a kind of ironic blockage of commemoration, by commemoration’.

Social media and the popular press are one genre of remembrance, literary representation of the campaign another. Here the collection features the work of an Australian scholar pondering the work of a New Zealand novelist and a Turkish scholar examining a range of literary forms from both Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. In the latter case, the engagement of Turkish scholars with cultural aspects of the conflict, and especially the cultural productions of the enemy, marks an important departure from the focus on narrowly conceived military history that has dominated Turkish historiography to date.

Peter Pierce leads this discussion with an insightful and carefully-grounded analysis of Stephen Daisley’s prize-winning novel, Traitor. Pierce charts the various ways in which Daisley explores the themes of treachery, steadfastness, religious belief, and family allegiances. Central to Daisley’s novel is the (unlikely) friendship between a New Zealand soldier, David Monroe and a wounded Turkish soldier, Mahmoud. Historians might well take exception to Daisley’s incredible plot – its dramatic devices of escape from Greek islands, evasion of a firing squad and post-war persecution – but few could contest Pierce’s evaluation. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature once lamented that the Great War ‘produced little literature of lasting or distinctive quality’. Something of a tour de force, written with ‘unerring lightness of touch’, and ‘less concerned with the horrors of war than to the possibilities of redemption’ Traitor, Pierce demonstrates, is a novel of (long-awaited) depth and substance.

In a bold literary sweep, A. Candan Kirişci examines the different ways in which the Dardanelles campaign has been represented in the early post-conflict literatures of Turkey, Australia and New Zealand. Her focus is on the ways in which the enemy appears in each of these national texts. Her analysis contrasts the overt propaganda orientation of the early Turkish literature with the more introspective focus of the Australian and New Zealand works, preoccupied as these were with elaborating the national type of the Anzac rather than with portraying the enemy.

From literature we move to consider the role that art, museums and artefacts have played in shaping the cultural memory of war. In his wide ranging and perceptive essay, Kevin Fewster questions the role that art and museums can and should play in commemorating war. Analysing centenary exhibitions in both Britain and Australia, this richly-illustrated discussion invites us to consider the ways in which emotions are engaged. His chapter surveys several powerful examples of how ideas are challenged and evolve in the process of exposition and dialogue. Indeed, Fewster raises the challenging question of whether war can be represented at all. Does the portrayal of combat – often now by those who have never experienced it – romanticise, sanitise or trivialise an experience well beyond the viewer’s contemplation? Fewster’s essay demonstrates how the Çanakkale conference gave licence to extended scholarly inquiry: his engagement with Michael McKernan on the Love and Sorrow exhibition (recently fielded by Museum Victoria) extending and enriching a conversation commenced on the Dardanelles. Fewster also raised the important consideration of community engagement with the Centenary via museum spaces – a rich if problematic field for historians.

From public engagement we turn to the more intimate space of the family and the way objects, photos and letters facilitate the process of remembrance. Jock Phillips’ study of two brothers who went to war offers insight into the experience of a generation. Gordon and Robin Harper served with the Canterbury rifles both on Gallipoli and in an equally punishing campaign in Sinai. Both men showed extraordinary courage in the face of horrific circumstances. Both were sustained by their belief in the Empire’s cause, an assertive sense of New Zealand’s nascent nationalism and the less abstract bonding of soldiers under fire. A historian of masculinity, Phillips shows how the values imparted by school and family – and an intense fraternal relationship – shaped what he called ‘an anatomy of bravery’. Jay Winter once remarked that courage is rather like a fine suit of clothing, handsome at first, but donned day after day, week after week, gradually worn threadbare. In this intimate microhistory, Phillips shows how courage could be resiliently reasserted through the horror of wartime.

Janda Gooding and Paul Gough, the final contributors to this section, delve into portrayals of the battlefield itself. Gooding’s chapter takes as its starting point George Lambert’s oil painting ANZAC, the Landing 1915. It examines the sources used by the Australian artist to reconstruct the events of the Dawn landing at Gallipoli; fieldwork studies, the use of multiple perspectives, and the synthesis of memories. Using the lenses of cultural memory and history painting, the paper looks at public reactions to the painting from its first showing in 1922 to the present day. It offers suggestions for the longevity of this particular image that was described in 1924 as ‘a fine ideal and an imperishable memory’ of the ANZAC achievements.

Gough’s paper also examines the memory-scape of the Dardanelles, exploring ways in which official and unofficial artists and photographers attempted to comprehend and visualise the new face of war. While Gooding considers the creation of a heroic narrative, Gough confronts what he calls ‘the phenomena of emptiness’, and how artists fathomed ‘the void of war’. That last phrase is borrowed from the writer Reginald Farrer. Touring Flanders in 1916, Farrer argued it was wrong to view the ‘huge, haunted solitude’ of modern warscape as empty. ‘It is more,’ he argued, ‘full of emptiness … an emptiness that is not really empty at all’. Artists, poets and writers absorbed Farrer’s line of thought, Gough argues, describing the ‘Void of War’ as a distinct element with its own properties and visual conditions, populating its emptinesses with latent violence, and on occasion suffusing it with a malign enchantment. Gough demonstrates that the tradition of epic narrative battle painting provided little aesthetic comfort to artists faced with radically-altered visual bearings on the front-line. Their previous training, and the monumental tendencies of war painting as a genre, had to be abandoned if meaningful and truthful visual narratives were to be created.

Warscapes were actual places as well as imagined narratives. The next section of our collection, ‘Grounding Memory’, examines the commemorative landscapes created in the aftermath of war. Harvey Lemelin offers a Canadian perspective on the campaign, a perspective seldom seen in a literature that has long privileged Anzac and British accounts. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only North American regiment to see action at Çanakkale/Gallipoli but to date there is no on-site marker commemorating the regiment’s sacrifice. This is in marked contrast to the Western Front, where a series of bronze caribou statues were erected after the war. Until this ‘oversight’ is addressed, Lemelin argues, the ‘Trail of the Caribou’ will remain incomplete, at least for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Lemelin’s chapter reminds us of the forgotten narratives of the campaign and how some narratives are privileged over others. It also alerts us to the ways landscapes are marked and mobilised for commemorative purposes and an ongoing contest for the spaces of remembrance. In the 1920s Australian, New Zealand and Imperial authorities claimed a presence on Gallipoli; the monuments they raised not only commemorated the dead – they also issued a retrospective claim on the battlefield. The peninsula was a contested site in 1915; Lemelin’s work confirms it is contested terrain to this day.

Nor was the Dardanelles campaign Gallipoli’s first encounter with war. Jessie Birkett-Rees presents an archaeological perspective on the battlefields of the Anzac/Arıburnu area, a site of conflict since well before the time of Homer and today one of the world’s least disturbed First World War landscapes. She argues that archaeology, though a relative newcomer to the field of ‘Great War’ studies, has an important role to play in revaluating the course of campaigns. The largest archaeological artefact of the First World War is the battlefield landscape – a network of trenches, tunnels and terraces that so conspicuously changed the shape of the Gallipoli peninsula and to a large part determined the behaviour and daily life of soldiers on both sides of the trenches. Rather than examining the battlefield as a scene of victory or defeat, tactics or strategy, as do military historians, archaeologists seek to understand the development of these landscapes over time. This encompasses the formation and preservation of war-era features as well as attempting to delineate relationships between the pre-war record and the post-war commemorative landscape. Drawing on the results of the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey (2010-15), Birkett-Rees considers the roles of archaeology on the battlefields of Gallipoli and the significance of encounters with the physical record of the past. It is important to note that that survey is confined to what is generally called the ‘old Anzac area’, terrain where Australian and New Zealand troops were entrenched through much of the campaign. The trail of the Caribou begins well beyond that. In commemoration, as in war then, there are winners and losers. Few visitors to this day tour that forgotten landscape of Suvla.

It seems appropriate that a collection inspired by a conference marking the centenary of the Gallipoli Landings end with a reflection on Anzac Day itself. Here we feature two new essays on the making of that landmark commemorative moment. Bill Gammage, the most senior and most distinguished of the historians featured in this volume, offers his characteristic insight into the genesis of Anzac Day. In April 1916 the anniversary of the Landing at Anzac was celebrated by what he calls ‘spontaneous combustion’ in Australia and New Zealand. This was a popular movement. Neither government proclaimed a national day, but places large and small each remembered the occasion in their own way. Such populist origins may be unique among world national days, but they also gave rise to contention and uncertainty about the rituals appropriate to Anzac Day. How should the day be commemorated? What ceremonies should be held? Should they be solemn only, or include sport and recreation? Who should lead them? When and where should each be held? Who should participate? Who should decide? Gammage takes issue with these critical questions. His preliminary findings are the precursor of a broader study of the history of Anzac Day observance both at home and abroad.

One of the preoccupations of Anzac Day is how the commemorative ‘message’ might be carried intact from one generation to another; an impossible task, but one that prompts Frank Bongiorno’s rewarding inquiry into a child-centred view of Anzac. Bongiorno argues that children’s literature (produced during and after the First World War) imparted understandings and values about war, violence, gender, empire and nation. He notes that historians have for the most part neglected this important genre, limiting our understanding of the impact and legacy of the war. Bongiorno’s findings also have implications for our understanding of the continuing role of war stories in the literature read by young people – there has been an explosion of First World War-themed stories in Australian young people’s literature and history in recent years, as well as continuing debate about how Anzac and war should be taught in schools. In this essay, as with all the others in this volume, there is tremendous scope for further inquiry.

Diverse and wide-ranging as this collection of essays is, we are also mindful – both as editors and as conference conveners – of its limitations. Out of a field of some 90 papers, restrictions of space meant that only 17 could be selected. We have opted for thematic coupling of papers. That meant, regrettably, that several worthy individual contributions had to be set aside. We especially regret that this particular collection does not feature the work of several PhD candidates who presented their work so ably to a demanding international audience. Withholding their contribution permits the completion of their theses, and the prospect of a subsequent book, exploring the history of Anzac Day, will offer a more appropriate platform to showcase their findings. We ended the conference with a call for further transnational scholarship into the Gallipoli campaign. This collection marks the beginning rather than the end of that endeavor.


1 The conference emerged from an Australian Research Council funded project examining war and memory, LP110100264, Anzac Day at Home and Abroad: A Centenary History of Australia’s National Day. The authors thank the other Chief Investigators, Frank Bongiorno, Keir Reeves, Tim Soutphommasane, Martin Crotty, Peter Stanley and Graham Seal, and the Partner Organisations associated with the project: the Australian Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance, Legacy (Melbourne), the National Archives of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, King’s College London, Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University (COMU) and the Historial de la Grande Guerre. We also knowledge the assistance of project manager, Alice McConnell, and International Advisers, Jay Winter and Annette Becker. Thanks also to Corrie McKee, Gerhard Zelenka and Matthew O’Rourke who helped with conference organisation and/or finalising the manuscript of this book. We wish to extend our particular thanks to the Australian Consulate in Çanakkale and to two Vice Chancellors of Monash University (Professors Ed Byrne and Margaret Gardner) who provided financial support. Special thanks to Nathan Hollier for commissioning this work for Monash University Publishing, and his excellent production staff, Laura McNicol Smith and Joanne Mullins.

2 Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2015) provides a good scholarly and balanced survey of this issue in the context of the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide which defined genocide as ‘acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ a distinct national or religious group. He concludes that while the evidence is by no means clear-cut, the balance falls on the side of a verdict of genocide.

3 For further discussion of this point see Peter Stanley’s recollections, ‘Headphones, genocide and Fanta: reflections on the Çanakkale Gallipoli Conference’, Honest History, 4 August 2015, (accessed 31 March 2016).

Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac

   by Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates