The greatest success during the Gallipoli campaign came with the operation to “cut and run”. Between 10 and 20 December, 1915, the Allied survivors had the wit to slip away with next-to-no casualties.

How long will it be before the Australians in Iraq are allowed to emulate the ingenuity that the Anzacs displayed in getting out of somewhere else they should never have been? The urge to pull back from Gallipoli had appeared by dusk on the first Anzac Day when the Australian commander, General Bridges, and his New Zealand counterpart, wanted to take the Anzacs off the beach, but were overruled.

After four months of stalemate and worse, the British Commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, called for a surge of 95,000 troops. Instead, London diverted his reinforcements. Reports from Australian journalist Keith Murdoch encouraged strategists to consider evacuation. Hamilton bridled. He feared 50% casualties. Getting out would be more deadly than hanging on.

No sooner had his replacement, Sir Charles Munro, landed than he advocated withdrawal before winter set in. Lord Kitchener resisted until an inspection changed his mind. Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, was all for hanging in until the job of opening a supply route to support the Czar had been done. Churchill feared that the war would give rise to revolution, as it had in 1905. There was no talk of imposing democracy, only upholding autocracy.

Churchill shifted the blame for his failure to the general who had the task of cleaning up the mess. He summarised Munro’s command — “he came, he saw, he capitulated”.

The British occupied Gallipoli after the war. In 1922, Prime Minister Lloyd George tried to get Anzacs back there to protect — he pretended — the war graves from forces under Mustapha Kemal who had blocked the invasion in 1915.

A poet penned The Anzacs’ Reply to that scrap of deception:

You soil the honour of the dead,

laying upon their lips a lie.

Not for this cause their blood was shed:

“We died to set the whole world free

from war; but you, with war, betray

“The Anzacs of Gallipoli”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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