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Gallipoli and national memory

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown)

On 22 May 1915, ‘a gay-hearted youth’, William Fielding Sames, sat outside his dug-out in Gallipoli (modern-day Turkey) drinking a cup of tea.[1] Even though he was just 22-years-old, William had been in the Army for five years, been promoted to Lieutenant and served in Egypt.[2] Yet, the decision to sit and drink this cup of tea was to prove fatal. While he sat with his tea a bullet penetrated his lung.[3] William died nine days later while on the way to a military hospital in Greece. He was buried at sea on 31 May 1915.[4]

Four days later the Sames family were to suffer another tragedy. On 4 June 1915, Herbert Colin Sames, William’s younger brother, was ‘severely wounded in the gallant charge’ of his Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Although Herbert was still a schoolboy when William joined the Army, on the outbreak of the First World War he followed in his brother’s footsteps and signed up, aged nineteen. Nonetheless, just like his older brother, Herbert died on the way to hospital. He was buried at sea on 23 June 1915 after suffering for nineteen days.[5]

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The Gallipoli campaign is forged in the social imagination of Australians and New Zealanders. It had only been thirteen and eight years respectively since they had become Dominions. Therefore, Gallipoli was the first major conflict for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac). From 1916 to the present day, Anzac Day, a day of national remembrance is observed on 25 April – the anniversary of Anzac forces landing at Gallipoli.[6]

Yet, the Sames brothers were not Anzac; they came from a small village in Lancashire and were my great-great-uncles. The British participation in the Gallipoli campaign is often overlooked despite British soldiers making up over seventy per cent of the Allied forces serving on the peninsula.[7]

Winston Churchill, at the time First Lord of the Admiralty, was a strong supporter of the Gallipoli campaign.[8] He saw it as a chance to knock Turkey out of the war with an amphibious attack. Nevertheless, Churchill mistakenly assumed his naval guns would annihilate Turkish land fortifications and howitzer batteries. In fact, the conflict saw the sinking of three Allied battleships and others were severely damaged. The failure of the attack by the Royal Navy led to a land operation, which resulted in many fatalities and a protracted stalemate.[9] Despite a growing number of casualties, Churchill opposed evacuation.[10]

Blamed for the disaster, Churchill was forced to resign, his career and reputation in ruins.[11] Earlier this year, a question put to the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, sparked a debate on whether Churchill was a hero or a villain. While binary categories of good and evil are not necessarily useful in our interpretation of history, it is perhaps fair to say that “in a career of many snakes and ladders… Gallipoli was the longest of the snakes on which [Churchill did] land.”[12]

On the other hand, the decision to invade Gallipoli requires more than a ‘military history’ reading – the social context of the early-twentieth century must also be considered. British imperialism played a part in the failure of the campaign. Churchill (and others) believed in the ‘innate inferiority of Asiatic troops.’ Many held the belief that ‘all coloured races [were]… savage and incompetent’ and that Christianity was superior to Islam. This led to the British underestimating the Turkish forces, and a ten-month campaign that claimed over 130,000 lives.[13]

 

References:

[1] A. Behrend, Make me a soldier; a platoon commander in Gallipoli (London, 1961), p.92.

[2] The National Archives (TNA), Kew, Bond of Sacrifice – First World War portraits collection, HU 126135

[3] Behrend, p.92.

[4] TNA, HU 126135.

[5] TNA, HU 126135.

[6] https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-gallipoli-campaign/introduction; http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zyj4kqt and https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac-day/traditions.

[7] E. J. Erickson, Gallipoli: the Ottoman Campaign (Barnsley, 2015), pp.94-95.

[8] T. H. E. Travers, ‘Command and leadership styles in the British Army: the 1915 Gallipoli model’, Journal of Contemporary History, 29, 3 (1994), pp. 403-442.

[9] E. M. Golda, ‘The Dardanelles Campaign: a historical analogy for littoral mine warfare’, Naval War College Review, 51, 3 (1998), pp. 82-96.

[10] T. Ben-Moshe, ‘Winston Churchill and the “Second Front”: a reappraisal’, The Journal of Modern History, 62, 3 (1990), pp. 503-537.

[11] C. F. Baxter, ‘Winston Churchill: military strategist?, Military Affairs, 47, 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 7-10; P. Addison, ‘The three careers of Winston Churchill’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 11 (2001), pp. 183-199; J. Rose, ‘Churchill at Scribner’s a study in failure’, The Sewanee Review, 121, 1 (2013), pp.118-127.

[12] P. Addison, The three careers of Winston Churchill’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 11 (2001), pp.183-199.

[13] D. French, ‘The origins of the Dardanelles campaign reconsidered’, History, 68, 223 (1983), pp.210-224 and Gallipoli: the scale of our War exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/visit/exhibitions/gallipoli-scale-our-war and https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/gallipoli-casualties-country.

Featured Image: Gallipoli: the scale of our War exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; author’s own photograph. Images in text: family photographs owned by author.

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