Virtually since he was booted from the British admiralty in 1915 for his role in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, Winston Churchill has been vilified for masterminding the venture, one of Britain’s worst defeats in World War I.
The whole plan for the failed campaign has long been seen as Churchill’s conception, launched in a bid to make an end run around the mud and blood of Flanders. For Australians and New Zealanders, whose troops had just arrived in Europe and suffered a deadly baptism of fire on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is today Turkey, the episode — and Churchill’s role in it — remains a bitter memory. Even during World War II, lingering Australian ire at Churchill helped underpin Canberra’s determination to wrench Australian troops out of the then-prime minister’s hands and bring them home to fight for Australia, not the empire.
But, argues Nicholas Lambert in The War Lords and the Gallipoli Disaster, the deadly fiasco wasn’t just about Churchill — and it wasn’t any sort of strategic alternative to escape the stalemate on the Western Front. Rather, Gallipoli was all about wheat. More specifically, Russian wheat — grain that Moscow needed to export to earn hard currency to stay in the war and food that British leaders felt they desperately needed as the world (and their island nation) faced skyrocketing prices and fears of scarcity.