We lost the Land­ing, not Bri­tish blimps


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ger­ard Wind­sor

Lost Boys of An­zac: First to Join, First to Fight, First to Die By Peter Stan­ley NewSouth, 368pp, $34.99 AN­ZAC Day is some­times pro­posed as a re­place­ment for the prob­lem­atic Aus­tralia Day. It would not be a wise move. A cel­e­bra­tion of yet an­other in­va­sion! And An­zac Day has had its own trou­bles, above all a feel­ing that the man­ner of its an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion de­bauched its heroic sig­nif­i­cance.

One of Aus­tralia’s most fa­mous plays, Alan Sey­mour’s The One Day of the Year, de­voted it­self to that prob­lem in 1960. The Day has been ti­died up since, and a hefty schol­arly and ed­u­ca­tional em­pha­sis on the orig­i­nal day, April 25, 1915, must be con­sid­ered a suc­cess. All par­ties now say that An­zac, or the An­zac leg­end, should be an es­sen­tial part of ev­ery Aus­tralian child’s his­tory cur­ricu­lum. What is taught, how-

April 19-20, 2014 ever, is go­ing to be in­creas­ingly, and rightly, fraught. En­ter Peter Stan­ley, and as­sorted soldiers, scribes, spear-car­ri­ers and so on. Stan­ley is re­search pro­fes­sor at the Aus­tralian De­fence Force Academy, and this is his fifth book on Aus­tralia in the Great War, all ex­hil­a­rat­ing mi­cro-stud­ies — in­di­vid­u­als and brief enough episodes rather than panora­mas and leg­ends.

Lost Boys of An­zac is an ac­count of the 101 men who landed in the first wave to reach An­zac Beach and who were all dead by mid­night that day. Al­ways sen­si­tive, Stan­ley treats his boys with the re­spect and com­pas­sion that his­to­ri­ans owe to men who have been in bat­tle.

He also chances his arm with judg­ments that give the wob­bles to the An­zac leg­end. Let me list his ma­jor claims. One, even if the boats landed on the wrong beach, it was no par­tic­u­lar dis­ad­van­tage. Two, the An­zacs were ini­tially met solely by ri­fle fire; the Ot­tomans had no ma­chine guns in for­ward po­si­tions. Three, the troops took no no­tice of their or­ders to or­gan­ise and co­here un­der their of­fi­cers’ su­per­vi­sion, and in­stead be­came ‘‘just a mob climb­ing the hills’’ (as one of their own sergeants de­scribed it). Stan­ley com­ments: ‘‘It was at that mo­ment, ar­guably, that the land­ing on Gal­lipoli turned from be­ing a pos­si­ble suc­cess to be­com­ing a prob­a­ble fail­ure.’’

Fourth, suc­ces­sive waves did not fol­low the first wave to their planned ob­jec­tives. In­stead the men dug de­fen­sive po­si­tions where they would stay for the rest of the cam­paign. ‘‘It was by or­ders of their com­man­ders,’’ Stan­ley com­ments. ‘‘Be­tween the land­ing and about noon, when the first counter-at­tacks de­vel­oped, the land­ing was lost ... by the time the Ot­toman troops had reached Gun Ridge, a hand­ful of Aus­tralian gen­er­als had thrown away the bat­tle for An­zac.’’ No men­tion, note, nor is there any­where in the book, of a fi­asco that was the do­ing of Bri­tish blimps and dolts. Aus­tralia blew it, is the Stan­ley the­sis.

Aus­tralians are, how­ever, not alone in be­ing found want­ing. Af­ter the evac­u­a­tion in De­cem­ber 1915, the An­zac po­si­tions were oc­cu­pied by Ot­toman troops. They used the wooden crosses on the graves for fire­wood, and they ‘‘and op­por­tunis­tic lo­cal civil­ians dug into the grave mounds in search of valu­ables — gold teeth, watches and any­thing of use — in the process oblit­er­at­ing graves’’. “This makes a mock­ery,’’ Stan­ley com­ments, ‘‘of the mod­ern Turk­ish rhetoric of Gal­lipoli. Apol­o­gists quot­ing the ubiq­ui­tous state­ment by Ataturk that ‘your sons are our sons’ ... are de­luded.’’

This is com­bat­ive stuff, but the fight­ing is over by page 145, and for the next 200 pages ex­cite­ment and con­tro­versy give way to quiet som­bre­ness. Even now only 19 of the 101 lie in known graves on Gal­lipoli, and Stan­ley de­tails

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