Fulton on MacLeod, 'Gallipoli'

Jenny MacLeod
Richard Fulton

Jenny MacLeod. Gallipoli. Great Battles Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 256 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-964487-2.

Reviewed by Richard Fulton (Independent Scholar) Published on H-Empire (April, 2016) Commissioned by Charles V. Reed

Gallipoli is one of four volumes in the Oxford University Press Great Battles series, edited by Hew Strahan. Strahan has asked his authors to describe the subject battle in reasonable detail; contextualize it within the war in which it took place; and then “discuss its legacy, its historical interpretation and reinterpretation, its place in national memory and commemoration, and its manifestations in art and culture” (p. ix). In Gallipoli, Jenny Macleod has succeeded in this complex assignment by assessing the place of the battle not only in Australia and New Zealand’s national cultures but in the cultures of three of the other primary participants as well: Turkey, Britain, and Ireland. It is in gathering the national stories in one place—particularly the Turkish and Irish studies—that she has made a significant contribution to the already massive amount of work on Gallipoli in this the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign.

Her first four chapters summarize the high points of the several battles on and around the Gallipoli Peninsula: the initial British plan for a naval campaign only, which lurched into a half-baked plan to combine an infantry landing with naval bombardments; the gathering of available infantry—two Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) divisions, two British army divisions (the 29th and the 42nd), a British naval division, an Indian brigade, and a French division—and the initial landings on April 25, 1915; the inconclusive fighting over the next three months that cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides; the horrible conditions; and the eventual withdrawal on January 9, 1916. The consistently inept planning in London and equally inept command on the ground have been exhaustively studied elsewhere; Macleod provides some of the highlights (or more often lowlights) of the campaign rather than delving into tactical minutiae. She also offers some insights into the tactics of the Turkish defenders and discusses both the Turkish leadership and the quality of the Turkish soldiers. She concludes her introductory survey with the comment that “the evacuations were the only thoroughly well-planned and successfully executed Allied operations of the entire Gallipoli campaign” (p. 65), and she provides the butcher’s bill for the roughly nine-month campaign: 250,000 Turkish casualties (101,279 killed), 70,000 British, 23,000 French, 25,725 Australians, 7,197 New Zealanders, and 5,478 Indians. And she seems to agree with Robin Prior, Rhys Crawley, Asley Ekins, and others that no matter what might have changed tactically on the British side in the Dardanelles, the excellent quality of the Turkish troops combined with the whole context of the geography of the site plus British incompetence, arrogance, and inability to plan realistically doomed the campaign from the start.

In the last 70 percent of her book, Macleod examines how the defeat in the Dardanelles worked its way into the national cultures of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, and Turkey. Her main focus is on Australia and New Zealand, where Anzac Day quickly became a day of national celebration. She notes that the first use of the term “Anzac Day” occurred in Australia in October 1915 when the troops were still stalemated in Gallipoli; widespread celebrations broke out all over the country in April 1916, which included a parade of four thousand returned soldiers in Sydney. Over the next several years, this Anzac Day celebration was used as a memorial day to remember Australian dead as a day to celebrate a unique Australian warrior ethos (unstinting bravery, mateship, good humor, etc.); and as an event to raise funds for the Returned Services League (RSL, the major Australian veterans’ association). The event quickly became gendered; by the end of the war, “women were expected to be an audience for—not participants in—commemorations,” she says with some asperity (p. 79). In New Zealand, the day initially became purely a solemn day of remembrance for the New Zealand soldiers of the Crown (as opposed to the Australian carnival-like atmosphere and celebration of Aussie manhood and exceptionalism). While the atmosphere of the celebrations lightened up as the century progressed, Anzac Day in New Zealand never really became the central day of national celebration as it did in Australia.

The last thirty years have seen a revised interest in Gallipoli and the Anzacs in both Australia and New Zealand. Macleod attributes the revival in part to the Peter Weir film Gallipoli (1981) (in Australia) and in part to a renewed interest by scholars and historians in the campaign (especially in New Zealand). In both countries, politicians have used the day for national purposes; thus, in Australia speeches emphasizing “valor” and “sacrifice” are used to rally Australians to continue to support Australia’s role in the wider world, and in New Zealand the integration of Maori people and Maori customs in the celebrations are used to focus on the unity of the New Zealand people.

Gallipoli was never the same kind of day in the other countries that participated in the campaign on the Allied side. Macleod points out that Britain in general seemed to be content with supporting the Anzacs in their celebrations. Bury and Manchester, home of the Lancashire divisions that composed a significant element of the British contingent, at first commemorated Gallipoli Day a week or more after April 25; later, in those scattered locations where Gallipoli was memorialized, it was memorialized fairly consistently as Anzac Day. A sort of romantic version of Gallipoli developed—part of a tradition that included Isandlwana and Maiwand and a host of heroic last stands across the empire—but the battle became just one of dozens of military metaphors for heroism against all odds, and duty, honor, and manhood. In Ireland, home of the Tenth (Irish) Division, the battle was celebrated early on, but in fact Ireland was far more caught up in the revolution than in looking back, and Gallipoli and all of the Great War became something of an embarrassment for the new Irish Republic. In recent years in both countries, says Macleod, people seem to be content to memorialize Gallipoli as an Anzac celebration when they memorialize it at all.

In her summary of the role of Gallipoli in modern Turkish culture, Macleod embeds the battle as part of modern Turkey’s struggle to be born out of the ancient Ottoman Empire. By far the most important foundation myth for Turkey is the War of Independence, but because Gallipoli was the one shining victory among many Ottoman defeats during the Great War, and because Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) commanded Ottoman troops at Gallipoli, the battle is still remembered with national pride. During World War II and later, the Turks reached out to the Anzacs in friendship, and a kind of joint celebration of martial pride has developed in recent years. But as Macleod points out, because the battle was fought at a time that ethnic cleansing and the Armenian genocide was taking place, the Great War in general is a period of some ambivalence for Turkish historians, and official celebrations on Gallipoli have often carried the freight of some difficult political messages. 

Macleod’s Gallipoli is a valuable contribution to the sea of Gallipoli scholarship available. Her focus on the meaning of the campaign to the cultures of several of the participant nations is a much-needed scholarly approach to what is often an emotional discussion (especially as it concerns the militaristic, gendered, racialized Australian creation myth). The presentation could have been strengthened by a list of abbreviations at the beginning (RSL for Returned Serves League,  MEF for Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, RND for Royal Naval Division, etc.). Also, at least a nod to the Indians and French, who suffered over 20 percent of the casualties, would have been helpful. Certainly the battle must have some cultural significance for the French especially, for whom this was a joint exercise albeit under British command. And there may be some memory in the home territories of the Sikh battalion, which was virtually wiped out with 74 percent casualties at the Third Battle of Kristhia. Still, her carefully researched accounts of the continuing importance of Gallipoli in the popular culture adds much to our appreciation of the meaning of the campaign to the participant nations.

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Citation: Richard Fulton. Review of MacLeod, Jenny, Gallipoli. H-Empire, H-Net Reviews. April, 2016. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=45608

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