Highlighting History with Lizzi Tremayne, in honor of ANZAC Day.
As a new citizen to New Zealand in 1993, I first learned of the ANZACs and of the importance of map-reading. On 25 April, “down under” in New Zealand and Australia, in the UK, and at Gallipoli, we commemorate ANZAC day, honoring the fallen, as well as those who have returned.
The ANZACS, the acronym for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, the latter made up of Māori, Pakeha—New Zealanders of European descent—and Pacific Islanders. They were the proud men, along with their equids and dogs, of New Zealand and Australia who left their countries to support their allies as part of the British Empire on the far side of the world.
The date chosen for the commemoration is not random—it falls on the day of the fated landing of the ANZACs on the beach near Gaba Tepe, later called ANZAC Cove, in Turkey, which during WWI was part of the Ottoman Empire.
That particular landing was a mistake… an incredibly, devastatingly, costly mistake for the ANZACs.
Their rowboats, packed with up to 30 men, were towed by steamers in the dark from the great warships anchored further out to sea and loosed within rowing distance of shore.
Even as they leapt from the boats into the shallows of the beach in the early dawn, bullets rained down on them from above. Many of the ANZACS were farm boys who’d been hunters since they could carry a rifle, and to their eyes, there must have been some mistake. They’d been told they were to land on an open beach. How could they have been landed in such a place and expected to scale the 300-foot-high cliffs surrounding the bay, those cliffs topped by rugged ridges with sheltered gullies? Worse, they found a rough country full of soldiers of the Ottoman Turkish Army shooting.
Lt. General Hamilton of the British command planned the invasion for a month. Of course, word got out… and the Turks were waiting. Hamilton thought the area to be sparsely defended, if at all—Turkish opposition hadn’t even been considered. Mistake number one.
The ANZACS, against all odds, with no means of organized defense, clung to the cliffs, doing their best to survive and take the position. It got so bad by 9:15 pm, the senior officers on the ground requested a withdrawal, which was denied, as the naval commanders convinced Hamilton that an evacuation would be nigh impossible, and so he ordered the men to dig themselves in and stick it out… until they were safe.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has documented that nearly a thousand ANZACs died on that invasion day. The Australian Government estimates 2000 wounded left the beach on 25 April, but more wounded were still waiting on the battlefields. The NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage says that 20% of the 3000 New Zealanders became a casualty on that day.
The men had to fight on alone for three more days until more reinforcements came, and then the survivors stayed on to fight. Until December.
Overall, at Gallipoli, New Zealand troops suffered around 8000 casualties, including nearly three thousand dead. Australia’s 28,000 casualties included nearly 9000 deaths. The Ottomans in all paid about 250,000 deaths or casualties.
But the big question is why?
Why had they landed them there in the first place?
Hard to believe, but they were landed at the wrong beach. A mile away. By the time they figured it out, it was too late.
Entirely open to enemy fire from the cliffs above, perfect conditions for the entrenched Turkish army, and death to massive numbers of ANZACs. But then again, it’s been argued that where they actually landed was better than the planned place, as Anzac Cove was less defended by the Turks. We’ll never know the answer to that one.
So, we remember them. The motto is “Lest we Forget”.
Back to New Zealand, the dedication at the ANZAC day commemorations usually concludes with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
At the ceremonies, shivers race up my spine as all assembled repeat this verse. It’s well into the Kiwi psyche, and now into mine.
“So why write about the ANZACs?” people ask me. “Why glorify battle?”
This is not a glorification. For much of the world’s population, two or three generations of peace in their countries have offered no first-hand experience of war. It’s only been seventy-odd years since the last world war, but it’s long enough to let people forget. With forgetting may come a lessening of the horror, and perhaps a forgetting of the reasons we need peace— to prevent needless waste of our young lives, whether at home or on foreign soil.
This is why I write history. Perhaps by understanding the past we can positively impact today and prevent a repetition of mistakes of the past. History has shown that history repeats itself, but does it have to? I believe not if the past is understood.
Learn to read maps well.
Your life, and that of many others may well depend upon it.
If you want to read more:
If you’d like to go Gallipoli for ANZAC, read this
About the Author
Lizzi writes about the Old West, Russia, and Colonial New Zealand, as well as veterinary fiction and non-fiction—all with a horsey flair.
She grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods, became an equine veterinarian at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and practiced in the California Pony Express and Gold Country before emigrating to New Zealand.
Lizzi has two wonderful, grown-up boys and an awesome partner in this sea of green. When she’s not writing, she’s swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding, driving a carriage or playing on her hobby farm, singing, or working as an equine veterinarian or science teacher. She’s multiply published and awarded in fiction, special interest magazines, and veterinary periodicals.