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Remembering Gallipoli: Britain and the ANZACs

ANZAC forces storm the cove, 25th of April, 1915

More than an hundred years ago, a great battle fought at Gallipoli began as the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps landed on this day, the 25th of April, at 4am local time, in a place now called ANZAC Cove. Part of an impressive Allied invasion force, the aim of the armies which landed around the peninsula throughout the week was to clear out the Turks’ anti-naval batteries and allow the Royal Navy the freedom to steam up the Dardanelles and bombard the Ottoman capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul). Moreover, the ability to use the Dardanelles to send Russia arms and export Russia’s grain would be hugely beneficial to the war effort. Once Turkey had been knocked out of the war, and these aims achieved, the strategic encirclement of the remaining Central Powers would be overwhelming, and the British Empire and her dominions able to bring their full force to bear against the Germans in Flanders. And of course, this would be very easy, because everyone knew that the Turkish soldier, still shaken by their recent defeats in the Balkans, would be swept aside by the Allied forces; the all-out attack would be irresistible. Would that it were so.

After Bligh’s brief sail-by while cast adrift from the Bounty, and Captain Cook’s flying visit, a proper British settlement upon the continent of Australia was finally established with the First Fleet’s voyage in 1788. The world and his wife know that she was originally used as a penal colony, and you won’t have to look far to find songs and tales in England and Australia reflecting this reality; perhaps most famously, legendary outlaw Ned Kelly’s father was sent to Australia from Ireland for theft. Yet the warm weather, ample space and fertile soil quickly led to large scale British migration, and soon enough there were six British colonies “Down Under”, stretching from rain-soaked Darwin in the far north to Tasmania in the far south, and from lonely Perth in the west to everyone else in the east. Seeing these six colonies developing well, it soon became in the interests of the British and the Australians to create a new state, and so in 1901 the colonies federalised and formed the Commonwealth of Australia, adopting a new flag later that year. Six years later New Zealand, which had opted out of the federation, was also awarded Dominion status. Yet a few conventions do not a nation make; these daughters of Britain, new-flown from the nest, would need something to cement their identity.

And so it was, on the morning of the 25th of April, 1915, that 25,000 men of the ANZACs stormed the beaches of ANZAC Cove, and for the first time, these two new countries would have men laying down their lives for them. In Centennial Park, Australia became a country; at ANZAC Cove, she became a nation.

The story, of course, does not end there, so simply, with the brave boys of the British Empire sweeping into Constantinople, the Aussies and New Zealanders scaring the Turks off just by looking at them. The Ottoman army was prepared, and fought bravely and tenaciously, and not even the ANZACs could dislodge them from the peninsula. After eight months, and 34,000 dead for the British Empire (nearly 12,000 of which were from the ANZACs), and with even more dead from the Ottomans and the French, the Allies stealthily evacuated Gallipoli in December 1915. The ANZACs would fight on against the Ottomans on the Palestinian Front, and would prove vital on the Western Front (along with the Canadians) with their innovative trench raiding tactics; they would play a crucial role at the Battle of Amiens in 1918, bringing about the disintegration of the German army. The Australian and New Zealand armed forces would go on to fight very bravely in the Second World War as well; the Battle of el-Alamein would see them decisively defeat Rommel, the Third Reich’s most legendary general, and they would be crucial in the fight against Imperial Japan, with the Australian navy sinking its teeth into her Japanese counterpart in several major engagements, most notably at Leyte Gulf.

Australian and New Zealand servicemen in a remembrance service at an ANZAC memorial

Yet it is at Gallipoli that our antipodean cousins forged their identities, the first proper fight where the bravery and fighting skill of the Australian and the New Zealander were displayed openly not only to the folks back home, but to all the world, and it is the legend of Gallipoli which will stand for all time as its own memorial to the soldiers who laid down their lives in that foreign cove for their King and Country. It was at Gallipoli that these fledgling states established themselves as independent, but re-affirmed their irresistible ties to their mother country, Britain; it was at Gallipoli that men from the ANZACs swapped cigarettes with men from the Lancashire Fusiliers; and it is at Gallipoli that the spirit of the ANZACs will live forever.

Australia and New Zealand, from everyone at the Cambridge University Conservative Association, today we too will remember the sacrifices that your forefathers made, on this ANZAC Day.

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