Challenging the ANZAC legend

By Rhys Crawley

When I tell people that I am an historian and that my speciality is the Gallipoli campaign, I am often asked: "How can you possibly write something new about something that is already the subject of hundreds of books?"

The answer is simple. Despite what we might think, there is much we still don't know about Gallipoli.

Since the newspaper articles of 1915, nearly every account of Gallipoli has focused on what happened, rather than how and why.

The reasons for this are varied.

One is that battles such as the landings on 25 April, or the tragic charge at the Nek that ends Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli, provide a ready-made epic narrative.

Another is that the vast majority of the books on Gallipoli have been written from an Australian perspective.

Some of these perpetuate the Anzac legend, and nearly all are a product of primary sources that only tell an Australian (or New Zealand, if we're lucky) story.

But Gallipoli was not just an ANZAC story.

Indeed, Gallipoli was a British-run-and-led campaign.

British forces were given the main (and most difficult) objectives; Britain was responsible for keeping its own forces, plus the ANZACs, Indians, and Newfoundlanders, supplied with food, water, and war materials (the French were responsible for their own logistics); and all of the important decisions were made either in London or by British military commanders in the theatre.

Thus, any history of how the allies performed at Gallipoli must have British primary sources, private and official - located in British (not Australian) archival repositories - at its core. It is from these sources that I base my work.

Context is as important to the study of war as it is for understanding any historical event or time.

To comprehend why Gallipoli turned out the way it did, or why the allied commanders tried to fight it in a particular fashion, it is essential to understand the state of warfare - on all fronts - in 1915.

The opening stages of the First World War did not unfold as either side had envisaged.

By the end of 1914 the opposing armies found themselves locked into trench warfare right across the Western Front.