January 2016 marks the centenary of the final withdrawal from Gallipoli. For 11 months combined forces from the British and French empires had been attempting to force their way through the Dardanelles straits and to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. My new book combines a survey of this great multi-national effort with the first transnational study of the memory and commemoration of the campaign in five countries. The story of the emergence of Anzac Day and its waxing and waning importance for Australian national identity – which has culminated in an unprecedented growth commitment to its commemoration in the last year – will be familiar to many. But when it is set alongside an examination of the commemoration of the campaign in New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, and the Ottoman Empire/Turkey, the extraordinary nature of its memory becomes all the more intriguing.
One of the book’s themes is the relationship between national identity and commemoration. In particular, the changing nature of Britishness can be traced over the years. In April 1916, the emergence of Anzac Day saw Australia begin a steady progress towards carving a distinct identity shorn of its British associations. New Zealand followed a similar path, but more slowly. Only from the 1970s onwards was there a concerted effort to build a separate identity. Meanwhile, Ireland broke rapidly and violently with its British connections. Even whilst Anzacs were marching through London on 25 April 1916, the Easter Rising was underway in Dublin. In consequence, the campaign was forgotten for many years. It is only in the 21st century, with Ireland’s relations with Britain largely resolved, that Irish participation in the First World War has been freely acknowledged.
Gallipoli was more or less overlooked in Turkey for many years too. The foundation of the new republic through the War of Independence was a far more important memory to burnish. But in recent years interest has grown. This was for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has been Australia and New Zealand’s commitment to commemorating an event on Turkish soil. Here we can see the way commemoration is a crucial part of diplomacy and the building of strategic ties. Yet with those ties come constraints: the Armenian Genocide, which occurred concurrently to the Gallipoli campaign, remains deeply controversial and was not officially recognised during the Gallipoli centenary commemorations.
My book, Gallipoli forms part of the Great Battles series published by Oxford University Press.