Gallipoli legend lives on in Australia and New Zealand

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By Martin PARRY

The chaos and carnage of the bloody Gallipoli defeat helped to forge the identity of Australia and New Zealand as independent nations, with the exploits of those who fought and died still finding relevance 100 years on.

When more than 60,000 Australian and New Zealand troops joined an allied expeditionary landing on the peninsula in what is now Turkey a century ago this week, the objective was for a quick strike.

But the ill-fated plan to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies met fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders and 11,500 of them never returned.

The 1915 battle had a profound impact on those back home, culminating in Australia and New Zealand’s most important national occasion on the anniversary of the landings on April 25 — the Anzac Day public holiday.

Many view the bloodshed at Gallipoli as the foundation moment for both of the former British colonies, who were eager to establish their individual reputations.

It was the first time they had fought on such a scale as Australia and New Zealand, with Anzac troops hailed for their comradeship and courage.

“Yes it was, in a sense, the crucible in which our national identity was forged, but it left horrific scars,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in the lead-up to Anzac Day this year.

“Gallipoli was, obviously, in a critical sense our nation’s baptism of fire and 8,000 Australians didn’t come back.”

Today the word Anzac is a national symbol and the legend of Gallipoli a cornerstone of modern Australia and New Zealand, with the values exhibited a century ago taking on a myth-like quality.

“The Anzac legend has changed with Australian society,” said Joan Beaumont, from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

“It is no longer simply a story of soldiers, although it continues to honour the service of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and, thereby, making public criticism of their deployment in current conflicts difficult.

“Today the core vales of Anzac are civilian ones of compassion, endurance, sacrifice and mateship (camaraderie),” she added.

“Hence, in a highly materialistic society, Anzac serves the important social purpose of validating any sacrificial behaviour, be it by police officers, civil defence forces or firefighters, who voluntarily expose themselves to risk and subordinate their personal interest to those of the collective good.”

Pride and recognition

Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said youngsters continued to find relevance in Anzac Day, not because they were enamoured with the madness of war but because the virtues forged at Gallipoli and elsewhere give them a sense of what it means to be Australian.

He said values such as chivalry, loyalty, audacity, and endurance continued to strike a chord.

“This is a question of who we are, how we relate to one another and see our place in the world. It is who we were, but it’s got much more to do with the people we are and the people we might become,” he said.

“In the end what we need most and what our children will need most is one another, and that is principally what this centenary is about.”

Ceremonies are held in towns and cities across both countries to remember those who served and died as Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers, not only in World War I but all conflicts, with this year’s events assuming added significance.

A dawn service and the National Anzac Day Ceremony will take place at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Saturday, as it does every year. Similar events are planned in New Zealand.

Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders are also travelling to Turkey, with demand to attend the Gallipoli commemorations so great that a ballot had to be drawn.

Warships from both nations will also be there, along with the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth, which set sail from Sydney last month carrying a memorial wall of 11,500 poppies, commemorating each of the Anzac soldiers who died.

Onboard is Mark Keys, whose great-grandfather Francis Jensen perished in the battle.

“It’s a time of great pride and recognition of the struggle that both the soldiers who went over there and the families that were left behind went through,” Keys said of the upcoming ceremonies.

Australian War Memorial historian Ashley Ekins said the Gallipoli legend showed no signs of fading.

“It’s achieved a sort of resonance in our society — there’s almost a romance about this story of Gallipoli,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“It always compels people to go to all those cemeteries, and see the row after row of headstones of Australians buried on the other side of the world in a campaign that really seemed to have little difference on the outcome of the war in the end.”

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