Gallipoli, 1915: the history, the facts and the figures

Turkey is a land of sparkling beauty and arresting sights – but no other moment can match the emotion of Gallipoli on 25th April, ANZAC Day. 

It is a day of remembrance, one of Australia’s and New Zealand’s most important national occasions, and an emotional, sobering travel experience. ANZAC Day stays emblazoned on the memory of all those who have experienced Dawn Service on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula. And never was it more pertinent to remember what happened at Gallipoli than now, 100 years after the fact.

25 April 1915
Australian and New Zealand soldiers form part of the allied expedition - also made up of British, Irish and French troops - that aims to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective: to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), capital of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany.

The troops were meant to land on a beach that provided cover in the form of a natural trench (although some accounts suggest that landing at the initial spot would have been more dangerous, as it was very heavily defended). Instead, they landed several hundred metres off target, at ANZAC Cove, for reasons historians are still debating to this day.

The allies found themselves in a tough spot. Darkness, confusion and being ill-prepared on that first day of the campaign set the course for the next few months. Because despite being low in numbers and ammunition, the misfortune of the allied landing gave the Turks (who were well-commanded and luckily positioned at the top of the cliffs) a strong tactical advantage. And they would hold the allies at bay for the next eight months. 


The beach on the Gallipoli peninsula at which allied forces were supposed to land

By the end of 1915 over 10,000 Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), 20,000 British and Irish, 10,000 French and approximately 87,000 defending Turkish troops had been killed at Gallipoli. The allied forces eventually withdrew from the peninsula. 



The cliff on which Turkish forces were positioned 

The Turkish story
A trip to Gallipoli also affords travellers the rare chance to learn about the battle from the perspective of the Turkish. For the Turks, victory at Gallipoli changed the face of the country over the following years and decades. For young Turkish people, it gave them the courage to believe that they could change their future, and the future of their country, for the better. 

Eventually a man named Mustafa Kemal, a celebrated commander at Gallipoli, would help turn Turkey into a republic and become the country's first president, with the vision of bringing Turkey up to par other western countries. During his 15 years in power he would introduce many political, socioeconomic and legal changes to Turkey and help shape the country's future for the better. So famous was his contribution to Turkish life that in 1934 he accepted the name Ataturk (father of the Turks).


The view of the Gallipoli peninsula from the Turkish trenches

And at Gallipoli's Beach Cemetery, on an enormous, imposing plaque, one can read one of the most moving tributes to the fallen ANZAC troops, penned by Ataturk himself:

"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 now here in this country of ours. 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."

If you'd like to witness the Dawn Service or visit Gallipoli for yourself, take a look through our trips to Turkey and find out more.

If you have memories of your own to share, please head to Twitter and Facebook or add them in the comments section below. 

(Photos from OAndrews by CC License)

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