Date: May 06 2012
Recent commemorations of Anzac Day furthered the myth, not least by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, that the Gallipoli campaign forged Australia as a nation.
The fact is that from a humanitarian and military view point, the Gallipoli landing and subsequent campaign there were a disgrace. Tens of thousands of men died needlessly in squalor and this should not be disguised by a reinterpretation of history.
Whether through bravery or blind obedience, the Anzacs condemned to that hell did their best to carry out the unachievable plans of their British military masters. It took those overseers about eight months to concede the task was unachievable.
That was not before adding to the initial folly with further carnage from ill-considered and appallingly co-ordinated attacks.
Perhaps the best, or is it the worst, example of these is the Battle of the Nek, where soldiers from the Australian Light Horse were ordered to take Turkish trenches by going through a pass only 60-80 metres wide. A handful of Turkish machine gunners on either side of the pass easily cut down the advancing troops.
The massacre was made worse by the failure to synchronise watches and an unrealistic expectation that support would come from other attacks which also failed. The delay by those in charge to admit their failure and their ordering even more men to their deaths compounded the horror.
To suggest this shambles was the foundation of Australia is to ignore the vision of those who worked for Federation, which was not based on Australian soldiers effectively used as pawns by British generals in a campaign which defied sound military practice.
Certainly we recognise the sacrifice of all Australians killed, injured and impaired in war, but the ''lest we forget'' should continue to remind us that Australian lives should not be controlled by the generals of other countries. This was repeated in World War II, particularly in New Guinea, when United States General Douglas MacArthur seemed to place little value on Australian lives.
Though the Gallipoli landing marked Australia's entry into World War I, it should not dominate our recollection of that war, particularly if we look for examples of the positive contribution Australians made to winning it.
Sir John Monash, who survived Gallipoli, and was far from uncritical of the British leadership there, went on to play a leading role in winning the war in Europe.
Less well known is Harry (Sir Henry) Chauvel who, in 1914, was appointed commander of the 1st Light Horse Brigade. He went with the brigade to Gallipoli and later became commander of the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division and all Australian forces in Egypt. From 1916 his regiments pursued the Turks through Sinai with famous victories at Beersheba and Jerusalem. On October 1, 1918 Chauvel led his troops into Damascus, where the Turks surrendered.
The Gallipoli campaign did not forge this nation, though something of its brash and irreverent character was reflected in some who served there, particularly leaders such as Monash and Chauvel, who were not cowed by the British toffs.
An excellent book on Chauvel is The Australian Light Horse by Roland Perry.
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