The Story of Gallipoli: After 100 years

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, and the significance of the commemorations is greater than ever.

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Feb 12, 2016


On the morning of April 24, 1915, the stillness of the Gallipoli Peninsula was broken by the Third Australian Brigade landing at Anzac Cove. Turkish soldiers, ready to defend their homeland, spotted the arrival of foreign troops and responded with opposing fire. This moment changed the very fabric of national identity for all sides involved.

The Battle

On that chilly April morning began a battle of 240 days, a battle that cost all sides thousands of casualties. The attack was one of the moves by the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France and Russia) against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire) during First World War (1914-1918) that changed the system of warfare for ever.The Turks at Gallipoli fought to defend their motherland against an invasion force, at the cost of 150,000 wounded and deceased Ottoman army soldiers. The Anzac (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) troops fought to support the United Kingdom (UK) and the Allied Powers in establishing a foothold in the Dardanelles from which to assault over Istanbul. 8,000 Australians and 2,701 New Zealanders were missing or dead by the end of the battle. Many more soldiers from Great Britain, Ireland, India and France also died.

Paying tribute to a nation’s losses in war is not uncommon. However, the commemorations for Gallipoli are uncommon because two nations which fought one another remember and pay respect to each nation’s dead together. Australians and New Zealanders visit the small stretch of land known as Gallipoli every year to commemorate their losses alongside the Turks, their ancestors fought against.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, and the significance of the commemorations is greater than ever. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the memorial service that, “Our martyrs have left behind a legacy of nationhood.” and stressed the importance of what Turks consider to be the first battle in their War of Independence. For Australians, the battle represents the birth of a national conscience and cemented cultural attributes such as “mate ship” in Australian national self-identity.


The Australian Imperial Force (AIF), one of the forces which fought at Gallipoli, says that “About 40 per cent of all Australian males, aged between 18 and 45, voluntarily enlisted to serve, that is about 417 000 men, of whom about 60.000 died in all campaigns and another 160,000 were wounded or maimed.” A quarter of the volunteers from Australia were born in Great Britain and Ireland, a number the AIF estimates them at being 35 percent. About 98 percent of the rest were either of British or Irish origin.

When gunshots started raining on the Australian troops, then Australian Labour Party’s leader - Scotland-born Andrew Fisher - voiced support of Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Cook and stated that Australia would stand beside Great Britain to help and defend her "to the last man and the last shilling." 

In Turkey, hundreds and thousands of men and students joined the army voluntarily to defend their country. A famous story still echoes through the corridors of many high schools such as Galatasaray High School (then known as Mekteb-i Sultani) that  teachers walked into empty classrooms to find that all their students had signed up to join the army. Young men from villages kissed their mothers hands and marched to the battlefield, with their parents offering prayers in protection. The Legacy of the Gallipoli

The battle may have been bloody and motivated by enmity, but Turks and Allied Powers’ troops came to regard each other as decent human beings. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated during the commemorations, “There have been only a few wars where human dignity has penetrated through as the outcome.”

The Gallipoli campaign still retains significant remains importance in both Western and post-Ottoman culture and history. A recent movie, directed by Australian actor Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, covered both sides of the campaign and underlined the importance and relevance of the war. The battle is also remembered in the Middle East, with Turkey’s PM Davutoglu commenting, “If you go to Iraq, Syria, Egypt you will find descendants of those brave men who fought on the Gallipoli battlefield.”

All countries which have been commemorating the battle lost great men in the harshest of conditions, including severe outbreaks of disease and starvation. Turkey gained the confidence from the battle to fight for and create an independent republic, Australia gained a national consciousness. The battle may have left thousands dead, but the ultimate result has been present international peace and unity. In 2015, both sides mark the anniversary of this friendship and the eternal ties created by the spilling of blood.