Gallipoli: Why do Australians celebrate a military disaster?

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1. A fiasco that forged a legend

Imagine spending eight months in a trench dug under some cliffs. You are at constant risk from sniper fire. You're suffering from dysentery spread by flies hopping from decomposing bodies to your food. In the evenings you weigh up the benefits of a proper wash and the risk of losing a limb to an artillery shell.

This was what faced the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) at Gallipoli in 1915, their first ever campaign.

Ten thousand of them died on this Turkish peninsula during World War One for no material gain. Yet it is remembered and even celebrated on 25 April each year in Australia and New Zealand. This is because the battles produced something else – the legend of the Anzac soldier.

2. The Gallipoli Campaign

Infographic showing the location, events and impact on combatants of the Allied assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula in World War One.

The Gallipoli peninsula is in modern-day Turkey but in 1915 it was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were fighting alongside Germany. Britain and its allies wanted to knock them out of the war. The plan was to land forces at Gallipoli, move inland and take the capital Constantinople (now Istanbul). The plan did not work.

3. For King and country?

At the outbreak of World War One Australia and New Zealand were both fledgling countries.

Australia had only become an independent nation 13 years earlier in 1901, while New Zealand was granted effective independence from Britain in 1907.

The white population still saw itself as part of the British Empire and there was no question it would fight for the mother country. A fifth of those who flocked to the signup stations in 1914 had actually been born in Britain.

However, war also fanned the flames of nationalism. Ordinary men, or 'diggers', had the chance to 'do their country proud', and by joining the global conflict, Australia and New Zealand would establish themselves on the international stage.

Of course many young men were inspired to join up out of a simple sense of adventure and a desire to see the action. They had no concept of the horrors that lay ahead... no one had.

4. The birth of the Anzac spirit

As dawn broke on 25 April, 1915, the first Anzacs waded ashore at Gallipoli. It was the start of an eight-month ordeal that would test them to the limits.

John Torode delves into the lives of the ordinary blokes who volunteered to fight on the other side of the world. (Pictures courtesy of Getty, Mary Evans, Topfoto and AWM)

5. CLICKABLE: Making the myth

As the battle-weary survivors returned from Gallipoli, everyone from poets to politicians, painters to journalists tried to make sense of the slaughter and sacrifice. Click on the pictures below to see how.

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6. In search of heroes

Today there are no surviving Gallipoli veterans. Yet their actions 100 years ago inspire tens of thousands of Australians to visit the Turkish peninsula every year.

John Torode explores how Australians and New Zealanders think about Gallipoli today. (Pictures courtesy of Getty, Mary Evans and AWM. Footage from Associated R&R Films PTY LTD)

7. Identity crisis

How were other nations shaped by military failures in the 20th Century?



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Treaty of Versailles, WW1

Germany accept war guilt

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Dunkirk, WW2

British Army evacuated from France

Ordinary British seamen rescued troops retreating from the Nazis in a flotilla of small boats. The pluck shown was later celebrated as a national trait.



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Vietnam War

Withdrawal of US-led forces after 20 years

Opposition to the war in America fed in to a counterculture in the 1960s and 70s. It promoted an alternative lifestyle that encouraged peace, love and freedom.