Topic: Tauranga and Districts WW100 Essay Competition: Claire Choo

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Lest We Forget by Claire Choo is her entry in the Tauranga and Districts WW100 Essay Competition (2015). Claire is from Tauranga Girls' College.

The Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 has played an important part in developing a sense of New Zealand’s national identity.

On 4 August 1914 the British Empire declared war on Imperial Germany and Austro-Hungary. New Zealand immediately began to contribute to the Empire’s war effort and we were proud of our ‘British identity.’ However, the First World War was to have an indelible shaping influence on New Zealand’s society and culture.

On 2 January 1915, the Dardanelles was selected as the place for a combined naval and military operation which was strongly supported by Winston Churchill, who was then the First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill planned an offensive against Gallipoli and convinced the British cabinet that “forcing Turkey out of the war would greatly assist Russia, locked in combat with both Germany and Turkey. More importantly it would allow resupply of Russia through the Mediterranean.” [i] Britain believed that by capturing Constantinople, the Turkish capital, it would make Turkey surrender which would lead to a quick victory of World War One. This would secure the southern flank of Russia, allowing shipments of munitions to be supplied to Russia and in return receive wheat shipments via the Dardanelles for the Allies.

The Gallipoli Campaign was the only campaign that Britain felt held any possibility of a fast victory. Britain wanted the control of Egypt and the Suez Canal to remove any doubt about the future for Bulgaria and Romania. This allegiance would leave the Central Powers surrounded by enemies. Through gaining the Dardanelles, Britain would guarantee the security of the Suez Canal and the oil fields, also Russia would alleviate the stalemate of the Western Front by attacking on the Eastern Front. France agreed to the Gallipoli Campaign as they wanted to increase their influence in Serbia and Lebanon. Soldiers were committed and a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, made up of some 70,000 British regulars and French Colonial troops, was placed under the command of Sir Ian Hamilton.

On 28 January the Dardanelles Committee decided to open the Straits by naval action alone, using mostly obsolete warships which were too old for fleet action. On 16 February that decision was modified, as it was agreed that the shores of the Dardanelles would have to be held if the fleet passed through. For that purpose a large military force under Hamilton was assembled in Egypt. “The Australians and New Zealanders would seize the southern part of the Sari Bair ridge before advancing across the peninsula to Maidos, from where they would mount a threat to the Kilies Bahr plateau from the rear.”[ii]

“This was a demanding task for a force which had evolved in an ad hoc fashion, was barely sufficient for its initially envisaged garrison role, and was not fully equipped, especially in ammunition.”[iii] Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, a senior officer in Britain’s pre-1914 Indian Army, was appointed in December 1914 to the command of the Australian and New Zealand forces then assembling in Egypt. Birdwood referred to the landing as an operation which could determine the outcome of the campaign. This operation was something that would “go down to history to the glory of the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand.”[iv]

During training in Egypt our soldiers become aware that they weren’t British and were also different to the Australians. The landing at ANZAC Cove was chaotic which caused the loyalties to break down and fighting alongside Australian led to the beginning of ANZAC legend which developed as the stalemate began.

One of New Zealand's epic stands on the Gallipoli peninsula was in the heat of August 1915 at Chunuk Bair, one of the three high points on the Sari Bair range. As the futile attacks continued at Helles, the Allies began looking at alternative strategies to break the deadlock. Birdwood formulated a plan to break through the Ottoman lines at Anzac and seize the heights of the Sari Bair range. These were the main objectives of the Anzacs' offensive of early August 1915 when they tried to break out of the stalemate with the Turks in the Anzac sector.[v]

Reflecting on these events, Sir Anand Satyanand, when New Zealand Governor-General, travelled to Turkey to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Anzac Cove. Echoing the historian, Christopher Pugsley, he told the gathering of 7,500 that “New Zealanders lost [soldiers] at Gallipoli but from that loss of innocence, and from deep grief at the loss of so much life, New Zealanders also came to see their nation as more than just an adjunct to Great Britain.”[vi] Later in the day he delivered his Chunuk Bair Address. “[T]his battle,” he said, “has a wider significance for New Zealand and New Zealanders. Like the splitting of the atom and the conquering of Mt Everest, the story of Chunuk Bair has become a legendary part of what it means to be a New Zealander.” [vii]

The Gallipoli Campaign was the ‘brainchild’ of Winston Churchill.  As Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill proposed the idea of a naval attack on the Dardanelles to open it up for supplies to be taken to the Russian troops. He wanted to use a large number of battleships which would not operate against the German fleets for the attack on the Dardanelles. The other members of the War Council believed that his plan was too risky but the stalemate at the Western Front and the actions of Turkey led the council to rethink their decision. On 19 February 1915, the naval attack on the Dardanelles began. The main attack occurred on 19 March comprising 18 ships, however this failed. The ships were damaged by unseen mines, laid 10 days before, and by Turkish artillery which the British thought had run out. This resulted in the ships having to retreat and not being able to complete the operation. The failure of the naval attack lead  Churchill to propose a land operation, this was supported by Herbert Kitchener and soon after the War Council agreed. The date of the land operation was set for April and  was delayed to 25 April due to bad weather. But this land operation was to have even less success than the naval operation.

During the landing, the ANZACs landed on the wrong beach. They expected to land at ‘Z’ beach but landed 2 kilometers north and instead of there being a broad beach they faced steep cliffs and a narrow beach. This was due to Churchill not taking into account the tides during the planning. A consequence of this was many casualties as most of the first ANZACs on shore were shot down. Another cause of the failure of the land operation was that the troops were in a critical shortage for supplies such as artillery support and there were many communication issues. Due to the Allies being unable to capture the heights the Turks had the upper hand. This resulted in tragic casualties and when the soldiers were commanded to attack the Turks were able to gun them down. The planning as a whole was poorly done and the officers sent wave after wave of attacks but the troops were wiped out. Both operations were a failure and so Winston Churchill was sacked from his position on the War Council as a result of the failed Gallipoli Campaign. Herbert Kitchener was also removed from his position as both he and Churchill were blamed for the failure and for the horrendous casualties.

A Commission of Inquiry was set up and the conclusion reached by this Dardanelles Commission redefined the relationship between Britain and New Zealand. Up until World War One, New Zealand was identified as a country in relation to the British Empire. The war provided the opportunity for New Zealanders to gain a much greater sense of national identity that was recognised within the country and around the world. The terrible loss of New Zealander’s lives in the Gallipoli campaign due to misdirected orders by the British saw New Zealanders to be no longer prepared simply to ‘look up’ to Britain and they became increasingly conscious of their own achievements.

Later, when New Zealand was invited to join the League of Nations, Prime Minister William Massey spoke of how New Zealand had joined as ‘a self-governing nation within the empire.’ Through gaining a national identity, New Zealand placed much greater importance on developing leadership within its own forces, although despite this development New Zealand did not achieve formal independence till 1947.

According to Keith Sinclair, “W. P. Morrell, who in 1935 first interpreted the history of New Zealand as the growth of a nation, concluded that New Zealand announced its manhood to the world on the bloody slopes of Gallipoli in 1915.” [viii]Sinclair himself believed that “after the war there was a very general agreement among the New Zealanders that they were a new nation.” [ix]

The New Zealand Government’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s Anzac Day website makes a similar claim. “After Gallipoli, New Zealand had a greater confidence in its distinct identity, and a greater pride in the international contribution it could make. And the mutual respect earned during the fighting formed the basis of the close ties with Australia that continue today.”[x]

New Zealand journalist Tim Watkin wrote that “increasingly, young Kiwis are coming to see Gallipoli as the defining moment in New Zealand’s struggle for national identity,” and that “most New Zealanders see Gallipoli as a place where our nationhood was forged in the heat of battle.” [xi]

Ironically by fighting for King and Empire, the New Zealand soldiers had helped to forge a national identity for New Zealand. Through all the terrors and trauma of war, a sense of national identity was born. ‘The counterpoint to the mass loss of life was New Zealand’s rejuvenated sense of self and a growing determination that from that point on the country would take a greater role in deciding on its own future.’ [xii]The Gallipoli Campaign set us apart as New Zealanders, not British and more than ‘affiliates of Australia.’ ANZAC emphasised the uniqueness of both Australia and New Zealand, who were working together, but highly individual and proud to be so. ‘Gallipoli was a major step in our recognition of us as New Zealanders.’

Gallipoli was a major step in our recognition of ourselves as New Zealanders. It is a process that continues today. Every man who served on Gallipoli endured, and established a reputation and a sense of identity that is important to us today. Through it we can establish who we are. Our society today has been moulded by the Gallipoli experience. This was when we began to think for ourselves and for the first time to put New Zealand’s interests first. We are the sum of what our soldiers did, what they found, and what they lost. It was the loss of innocence. [xiii]

‘’Anzac Day unites generations of Kiwis and binds us to our history as a country. Today we mark our proud history of sacrifice and heroism, we remember those men and women who put their lives on the line for our country, and who fought for a better world. . . . Let us celebrate the Anzac spirit we continue to share with our Australian neighbours. For we who were brothers in arms are brothers still. Finally today let us salute the Anzacs who fought for us . . . to preserve our freedom and humanitarian ideals . . . who rose to heights of sacrifice and, in doing so, preserved the living standards of all of us, for generations to come. They fought for each and every one of us, they fought for New Zealand, and they fought for our world’’. [xiv]

The Gallipoli Campaign was Australia's and New Zealand's introduction to the Great War. Many Australians and New Zealanders fought on the Peninsula from the day of the landings until the evacuation of 20 December 1915. 25 April is the New Zealand equivalent of Armistice Day and is marked as the ANZAC day in both countries with Dawn Parades and other services in every city and town. It is a very important day to Australians and New Zealanders for a variety of reasons that have changed and transmuted over the years.

[i]  Brigadier Alf Garland, “Gallipoli-The establishment of a legend” (ANZAC day-the 75th year, Magabook Ltd),p 14

[ii] Ian McGibbon “New Zealand Military History’ (University of Oxford,2000), p191

[iii] Ibid. 191

[iv]  Major S.S Butler & Lieutemant H.E Woods “The ANZAC Book” (Cassell and Company Ltd., 1916), p152


[vi] New Zealand Press Association “Gallipoli Sacrifice a Gift to Us – Governor-General,” (25 April 2009),

[vii] Anand Satyanand, “Chunuk Bair Address,” accessed January 7, 2014,

[viii] Keith Sinclair, “A History of New Zealand, New Edition” (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1991), 232

[ix] Ibid p233

[x] Ministry for Culture and Heritage/Manatu taonga, “Significance of Anzac Day,” accessed January 7, 2014,

[xi] Tim Watkin, “Forever Young,” New Zealand Listener, Issue 2289 (23 April 2005)

[xii] Paul Moon “Turning Points: Events That Changed the Course of New Zealand History”

[xiii] Christopher Pugsley “Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story” (Auckland: Reed Publishing, 1998), p23,p 27, p357.

[xiv] John Key, “Anzac Day Address at National Wreath Laying Ceremony,” (Wellington, 25 April 2009, accessed January 7, 2014),

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