The amazing image above is the last photograph of the Australian Infantry Division’s 11th Battalion before being sent off to the infamous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. These early recruits, 703 in total, were thrust in front of a camera on the 10th January 1915 to record this image for all posterity.
Every single one of them were eager volunteers, when they first left the shores of Australia’s west coast, to embark on an “adventure” of a lifetime. Little did they know what really awaited them on the other side of the world, where on the European continent brave men were being slaughtered in their tens of thousands. These 703 men, only a small contingent of a larger Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), would eventually end up on the western front, but first they would experience the horrors of war on another continent, far away from France.
Camped at first in Egypt for months on end, they would be one of the first Battalions to be shipped to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey. How many of them survived, I am unsure of, but many of them lost their lives on the first day of battle on the Gallipoli peninsula on the 25th April 1915.
With today being the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, I thought it would be a poignant reminder to tell their brief story, of what became the beginnings of the Anzac legend.
A little after four in the morning of the 25th April, the first wave of Anzac soldiers rowed ashore on Anzac Cove, after being initially towed in by steamboats, under the cover of darkness. Around four thousand men were ashore, four battalions in total, which included the 11th, in what was an astonishing tactical surprise in and around dawn. With the Turks somewhat confused with what was unfolding around them, it wasn’t long before the Anzacs secured the beach head for the next wave of men heading into shore. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, there was no massacre on Anzac Cove beaches. Of course, there were many casualties reported early on, but if you are looking for a real story about the slaughter on the beaches of the peninsula, that occurred in the British sector on Cape Helles.
Faced with steep terrain and deep gullies, the Anzac advance up the peninsula cliffs was fraught with danger and enormous difficulty. By mid morning on that first day some 8,000 Anzac’s had a toe-hold on the cove. Although, the Anzacs were largely unopposed on the beaches, the Turkish counter attack that followed was swift and effective, halting the allies advance over the next few days. Casualties on the first day of the campaign for the whole of the allies were horrendous. The Anzac contingent alone sustained casualties around 2,000 men, which included 749 dead. The Turks too, had suffered around about the same number of casualties.
The great hope of a sweeping victory over the Turks would be put to rest very quickly. No one, especially the British admiralty, would be dinning in Constantinople any time soon. Under British command, the whole allied operation would eventually stagnate into a mortal stalemate that dragged on until their evacuation in late December 1915.
Beneath a picturesque view of the pyramids, an Australian soldier is playing with a kangaroo, the regimental mascot. Many units brought kangaroos and other Australian animals to Egypt, to remind them of home.
While the Gallipoli campaign was ultimately an absolute disaster, the naive young men of Australia, who first arrived on the peninsula, would be hardened soldiers by the end of their experience. They had truly cut their teeth in battle earning the respect of their officers and the Turkish army. They proved themselves in many great battles, which included the Battle of Lone Pine and the tragic charge at The Nek. It was during this conflict that military historians and commentators alike, also like to point out that the Anzac spirit was born here. Faced with hardship and danger, and at all cost, these first Australian soldiers on the Gallipoli peninsula, numbering in their thousands, showed great courage, endurance, discipline and ‘mateship’.
Eventually, they would be shipped off to fight in the war effort along the western front. Heroic deeds and respect would be earned all over again in France. Not bad for colonials, who dutifully answered the call of their mother country.
Photo credit: The images used here of Australian soldiers in Egypt are courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. These photographs copyright have expired and are now in the public domain. The header image ID Number is P05717.001 and the image with the kangaroo ID number is CO2588.