Early Responses to the Campaign
British, Irish, Australian and New Zealand soldiers all participated in the first day of the Gallipoli campaign. The British and Irish professional soldiers of the 29th Division took the militarily most important role in landing at V and W beaches at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915. But it was the previously untested Anzacs, landing before dawn further up the coast of the peninsula, whose exploits were initially reported in detail. Here it is interesting to remember that the same limited sources of information on the campaign were shared across the empire. The first news of the landings was announced on 26 April in a joint statement by the Admiralty and War Office in London.24 But it was not until 7 May in Britain (8 May in Australia and New Zealand) that Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s detailed account was published. Its author was one ofthe official war correspondents with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. His breathless description helped to create an idea of Australian soldiers as naturally gifted for that task: bold and reckless, humorous, resourceful, loyal to their mates, whilst also being disrespectful of authority.25 This portrayal would become central to the Anzac legend.
It is important to note, however, that it took some time before this familiar message became the dominant idea of Gallipoli’s significance. To take just one example of an alternative, but still proud, interpretation of the achievement of the landings: in Australia, in its first edition after Ashmead-Bartlett’s despatch had come out, the Bulletin published a cartoon showing an injured Australian soldier returning home. There is a portrait of the Little Boy from Manly on the wall, and the soldier addresses his father, who is portrayed as John Bull. The caption is “Well Dad?”26 This draws on an older tradition of portraying Britain and Australia, and taps into the idea of the empire as a family of nations, wherein the colonial son seeks the approval of his metropolitan father (Fig. 11.1).
In New Zealand, an editorial in the Auckland Star published shortly after Ashmead-Bartlett’s report, wrote expansively on “The Fields of Fame” in which Australasian men now fought, modifying its extensive discussion of the historic setting of the battle for its audience by briefly equating classical and Maori legend: “For the Dardanelles is the
Fig. 11.1 Early responses to news from Gallipoli drew upon older traditions of portraying Britain and Australia. (Bulletin [Sydney], 13 May 1915, NLA.)
Hellespont across which Leander swam to Hero, in the idyll that is the prototype of the Maori legend of Hinemoa and the flute playing Tutanekai.”27 In many other responses to the first news of the campaign we see the workings of a shared culture within the British world, and, in particular, a shared vocabulary for describing warfare. Men whose education had been steeped in the classical myths of Homer’s Iliad reached for the same comparisons and the similar metaphors. Thus, for example, the month after reports of the landing reached Australia, Edward Newton MacCulloch wrote “The New Iliad”:
Here, where Helen, fairest of women, draw half the kings of old to their destruction, and the heroes to embittered war;
Here, where the wrath of Achilles and the craft of Ulysses prevailed against might Hector and the hapless Priam—
Here, O Australia, a lofty destiny permits you to appear!
Sound the advance, Australia!
Fame awaits you, history attends you;
Never had young knight grander end to his vigil!28
This habit was most common (and long-lived) in British writing on the campaign, and was used ultimately to add an aura of romance to a humiliating defeat.29 It was also an obvious response during the campaign, but in contrast to propagandists at home or after the fact, participants’ references to their heroic forebears were more complex and nuanced. Thus, the Classics scholar, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, who served in the Royal Naval Division, referenced the Iliad in a poem written in July 1915 which concludes, “Stand in the trench, Achilles, /Flame-capped, and shout for me,” but, as Elizabeth Vandiver argues, he does so in order to reject “the easy comfort of poems that suggest a parity between Homeric hero and modern fighter.”30 Clement Attlee (who would go on to become British prime minister after the Second World War) undercut his presence in “the land of magic tales of long ago” by concluding he would rather be in London’s East End.31 More broodingly still, Francis Ledwidge, the Irish nationalist poet who fought in the 10th Division at Suvla, wrestled with his decision to serve in the British Army in his poem written in February 1917, “The Irish in Gallipoli.” There he describes “The Threatening splendour of that isley sea/ Lighted by Troy’s last shadow.”32 Shared cultural references could be deployed in strikingly different ways according to the location and disposition of the author.