A Call from the Dardanelles

Today every Australian knows of Gallipoli, but 100 years ago Australians were anxious for news from the Dardanelles. To Turks the conflict is known as the Battle of Çanakkale (Çanakkale Savaşı).

When Germany invaded France in August 1914, Britain declared war. In November the Ottoman Empire, which had been in rapid decline during the eighteenth century and wanted to regain territories previously lost, sided with Germany and declared a military jihad against France, Russia and Great Britain.

Australia’s prompt response came via Prime Minister Joseph Cook: … when the Empire is at war so is Australia at war; and Opposition Labor leader, Andrew Fisher: Australians will stand beside our own and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.

With no radio or television, newspapers were Australia’s lifeline to the rest of the world; stories were wired home and people pored over them for the latest war news and to check the lists of dead and wounded. Telegrams were dreaded.

The government’s propaganda machine targeted callow young men seeking adventure, and those who naïvely wrote ‘Australian’ on their application forms had it replaced with ‘Natural Born British Subject’.

Posters enticed with: A call from the Dardanelles: “Coo-ee – Won’t YOU come?” and: Enlist in the Sportsmen’s Thousand. Show the enemy what Australian sporting men can do.

My great-uncle, Leo Tasman Armitage, born December 1900, wanted to be part of the great adventure. Determined, he said he’d abscond to South Australia to enlist if his mother did not give her consent. So, she did.

Leo ‘marched out to the front on 9 May 1918’, was hospitalised on 5 June and on 5 October was to returned Australia ‘under age’. In his uniform in 1917, aged 16 years and 10 months, he looked like a boy playing dress-ups. Not a strapping lad from the country, Leo had a slight frame of 59 kg. Obviously recruiters didn’t dissuade unsuitable volunteers.

British and French warships had tried but failed to force their way through the narrow Dardanelles Straits to regain access to Russia. On 25 April 1915, Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The 70 000 troops included 15 000 Australians and New Zealanders. Of the first 200 soldiers disembarked at dawn, only 21 reached the beach.

After heavy fighting, out of ammunition and left with nothing but bayonets to meet the invaders coming up the slopes to Chunuk Bair, every man of Turkey’s 57th Infantry regiment was either killed or wounded. As a sign of respect, the 57th Regiment no longer exists in the Turkish Army.

The eight-month Gallipoli campaign, fought from 25 April 1915 to 9 January 1916, was a defeat for the Allies with Turkey successfully defeating the invasion of its homeland.

‘Their duty was to come here and invade, ours was to defend.’ – Adil Shahin, Turkish veteran of Gallipoli.

The number of casualties during the Battle of the Dardanelles varies depending on the source but it is estimated that nearly 115 000 men (roughly 57 000 on each side) died. At the end of the Great War, nine million soldiers and seven million civilians were dead.


Raine Biancalt
Return to Bulletin #136