Topic: Tauranga and Districts WW100 Essay Competition: Aimee Tomlinson

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Gallipoli: From Bloodshed to National Identity by Aimee Tomlinson is her entry in the Tauranga and Districts WW100 Essay Competition (2015). Aimee is from Tauranga Girls' College.

In the history of the Great War, the Gallipoli Campaign made no large mark. The number of dead, although horrific, pales in comparison with the number that died in France and Belgium during the war. But for New Zealand, the Gallipoli Campaign played an important part in fostering a sense of identity - arguably being the birthplace of New Zealand's national identity. Granted that the campaign was not our first overseas engagement, it captured the hearts of New Zealanders and has continued to do so to this day.

Britain's declaration of war on Germany on 4 August 1914 confirmed the outbreak of the Great War. New Zealanders were proud of their ‘British Identity’, and when Britain had declared war on Germany, without fail, we were there to follow. Whatever happened, “Germany was clearly in the wrong.” 1 When the men sailed from these shores in October 1914, they sailed “not as New Zealanders but rather as a number of highly competitive provincial Battalions: Otago, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland… Indeed we did not consciously go to war as New Zealanders, but for the British Empire.” 2

By late 1914, the war on the Western Front had become a stalemate. In early October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, thus instantly becoming our enemy. In 1915, First Lord of Admiralty, Winston Churchill suggested an attack on Turkey. He believed that the war would never be won in the trenches of Western Europe, but that Germany could be defeated by crushing its weaker ally, Turkey, leading to an early Allied victory. By seizing control of the Dardanelles and threatening the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war, it was quite possible that the Allies could not only relieve Russia with supplies and break the impasse by opening a second front, but also persuade neutral states such as Bulgaria and Italy to enter the war against the Central Powers.

During training in Egypt as ‘provincial Battalions’, New Zealand troops became very aware that they were neither British nor Australian. Henry Lewis, a soldier of the Otago Regiment commented on the British; “When we were on leave we used to get in some strife with the English military police. Australians would come to our help. One thing we learned quick, we weren't English.” 3 Likewise, New Zealanders also soon realised “they didn't require the Australians as big brothers - they could defend themselves. A growing sense of identity, a national pride and camaraderie emerged.”4 It was the Australians who now displayed drunkenness and bad behaviour in Cairo. Consciously, the New Zealanders were proud of the fact that they weren't Australian, dodging their troublesome manner.5

The New Zealanders landed upon the Gallipoli peninsula on a narrow beach now renamed Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Amidst the chaos provincial loyalties broke down and New Zealand came to fight alongside the Australians at the foot of Baby 700, sparking the beginning of the Anzac legend, which developed as the stalemate commenced. Hardships, triumphs and defeats that New Zealanders and Australians would share would bind them forever through strong ties of kinship and sentiment. “Anzac did not, as the term suggests, indicate a close and distinguishable union of the two forces. Rather, it emphasised the uniqueness of each of the nationalities, Australia and New Zealand, working together, but hugely individual and increasingly proud to be so.” 6

To break the impasse which had developed on the Peninsula, in early August Lieutenant-General Hamilton decided seizing the heights of Chunuk Bair, overlooking the Straits of Constantinople, would clear the way to victory. Chunuk Bair was ‘our battle’ from 6-10 August - the day we “beheld the Narrows from the hill”.7 “In the course of the battle, the commander of the Wellington Battalion, Lieutenant - Colonel William Malone, was told by his British Army superiors to launch a daylight assault. Malone thought it far more sensible to wait until night. The response he is said to have given was to the point: “We are not taking orders from you people… my men are not going to commit suicide.” This was the first of many times that, incrementally, New Zealand ceased to regard themselves as a colony.” 8 In the early hours of 8 August, Malone’s Wellington Battalion occupied the summit of Chunuk Bair. For 36 hours the New Zealand infantry Brigades were able to hold Chunuk Bair on their own, suffering substantial losses. Of the 760 Wellington Battalion who had captured the height that morning, only 70 unwounded or slightly wounded men had survived.9 During the night of 9-10 August, two British Battalions relieved the New Zealanders but were almost immediately succumbed to a massive counterattack, losing the heights. Although Chunuk Bair was a defeat, our soldiers were not defeated. It was the British reinforcements who lost the heights. Australian war correspondent C.E.W Bean was quoted as calling the attack on Chunuk Bair,

“A magnificent feat of arms…never surpassed, if indeed equaled during the campaign.”10 “On Chunuk Bair, New Zealand soldiers gave up their amateur status and found an identity as fighting men… we demonstrated our nationhood to the world for the first time in a manner which we in New Zealand have only just begun to appreciate… New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.” 11              

From 19-20 December 1915, the long anti-climax ended; the Anzacs were evacuated. “Although Gallipoli was a tragic defeat, men consoled themselves with the notion that the New Zealanders were not to blame; whatever else may have gone wrong, the New Zealanders emerged from the campaign with a hard-won reputation as first-rate soldiers that all New Zealand servicemen and women measures themselves against.” 12 “In New Zealand the Dardanelles were not only remembered but glorified… The mood in New Zealand throughout the Gallipoli Campaign was one of national pride.” 13

The New Zealand troops became disillusioned with Britain’s planning and organisation. At the Dardanelles Commission, Sir Thomas Mckenzie, The New Zealand High Commissioner, criticised the lack of War Office planning in the Campaign, the expenditure of lives instead of artillery shells.” 14 A growing realisation that the imperial interests were not necessarily New Zealand's interests - we had to speak for ourselves as a nation, or else we would pay the same price again - this was our loss of innocence - the inevitable consequence of starting to grow up.

After Gallipoli we started to embrace our own cultural identity. Fun, loving, brave, hard-working, ingenuity, loyalty, whilst still maintaining our loyalty to Britain, as shown by our subsequent involvement in World War II “the Labour government, elected in 1935 ensured New Zealand troops were led by New Zealand officers and put forward its opinions strongly. New Zealand joined the League of Nations, and during the 1930’s was prepared to fight Italy over its invasion of Abyssinia and condemned Japanese and German aggression.” 15 When the bitter close-quarters fighting at Monte Cassino claimed 1000 casualties, Freyberg bypassed the chain of Allied Command and went directly to New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who gave him permission to pull the New Zealand troops back before casualties reached unacceptable levels.” 16 These events reflect the development of our independence.

25 April 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the Anzacs landing on the beaches of a small bay now known as Anzac Cove. Today, a century later, Anzac Day attracts larger crowds than any other nationally observed day does in New Zealand. It commemorates those who died serving New Zealand during all wars and honours servicemen and women, past and present. Anzac Day was first commemorated in London on 25th April, 1916, becoming a national holiday in 1922. Anzac Day did briefly lose its lustre in the early 1970s when the day was used to protest against our involvement in the Vietnam War but in recent years Anzac Day has grown to a day of unity and pride. Speeches on Anzac Day commonly reflect qualities such as national identity, sacrifice and national pride. A symbol of nationhood. For many young New Zealanders today, it’s almost a spiritual journey to visit Gallipoli and Anzac Cove. Gallipoli “had shown that a New Zealander had wonderful characteristics such as determination, looking after mates, bravery, ability to put up with hardship, making do with limited resources, cleverness in creating things out of very little. These characteristics were said to help distinguish New Zealanders.” 17

Before Gallipoli, the New Zealand publics’ only “benchmark for the level of sacrifice our participation in an overseas war might require”18, was minimal. As Dr Damien Fenton, author of several military histories points out, “Some, especially veterans of later battles on the Western Front, may decry this as unfair or lacking historical perspective - and they have a point. But it’s to no avail - it’s too late. Gallipoli got in first. The nation’s first real experience of the human cost of taking a front seat in a full-scale conventional war… its lesson that, thanks to Anzac Day, the nation has never forgotten.” 19  Anzac Day is inextricablylinked with Gallipoli.

The Gallipoli Campaign was nothing but 260 days of disastrous chaos that cost 46,000 Allied lives, 2779 of those being New Zealanders.20Though this event may not be considered the most significant in World War 1, it is part of the story of our country at war, the beginning of a growing consciousness of our own identity.

 

Endnotes:

1.    Stowers, R. (2005), “Bloody Gallipoli - The New Zealanders’ Story”, p.17

2.    Pugsley, C (1998), “Gallipoli - The New Zealand Story”, p.11/12                  

3.    Bowen, G. (2000), “Defending New Zealand - New Zealand’s search for security 1945-1985”,  p.2

4.    Stowers, R. (2005), “Bloody Gallipoli - The New Zealanders’ Story”, p.25

5.    Ibid, p.24

6.    Pugsley, C (1998), “Gallipoli - The New Zealand Story”, p.13

7.    Ibid, p.314

8.    New Zealand Listener, (April 18, 2015), “With God on their side”, p.32

9.    Brooking, T. (1988), “Milestones - Turning Points in New Zealand History”, p.125

10.  Ibid, p.122

11.  Pugsley, C (1998), “Gallipoli - The New Zealand Story”, p.314

12.  New Zealand Listener, (April 18, 2015), “Birthplace of mateship”, p.37

13.  Ibid, “With God on their side”, p.32

14.  Stowers, R. (2005), “Bloody Gallipoli - The New Zealanders’ Story”, p.272

15.  Bowen, G. (2000), “Defending New Zealand - New Zealand’s search for security 1945-1985”,  p.6

16.  New Zealand Listener, (April 18, 2015), “With God on their side”, p.33

17.  Naumann, R. (2009), “They Fought For Us: Gallipoli”, p.47

18.  New Zealand Listener, (April 18, 2015), “Birthplace of mateship”, p.36

19.  Ibid, p.37

20.  Brooking, T. (1988), “Milestones - Turning Points in New Zealand History”, p.126

 

Bibliography

Bowen, G. (2000). Defending New Zealand - New Zealand's search for security 1945-1985. Pearson Education New Zealand Limited.

Brooking, T. (1988). Milestones - Turning Points in New Zealand History. Mills Publications Lower Hutt NZ.

Fenton, D. D. (April 18, 2015). Birthplace of mateship. Bauer Media Group.

Pugsley, C. (1988). Gallipoli - The New Zealand Story. Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd.

Richards, T. (April 18, 2015). With God on their side. Bauer Media Group.

Stowers, R. (2005). Bloody Gallipoli - The New Zealanders Story. David Bateman.

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