April 25, 1915 — Allied forces in WWI land on six beaches on the Gallipoli peninsula of the Ottoman Empire, including troops from France, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. There, Turkish forces lay in wait and set up a fierce resistance to the landing parties. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) were located to the north, and would be fighting against forces commanded by Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk and who would go on to become the Turkish president. This was the first major military action coming from Anzac forces in WWI, and remains etched in the psyche of those countries.
The purpose of the campaign was to gain control of the water route that led through modern-day Turkey and went up to Russia. By controlling this they would have been able to have easy access to supplement Russia’s efforts on the eastern front. However, the campaign was largely unsuccessful and turned into a stalemate; by January of the next year, the Allies were forced to retreat in full, after having taken approximately 300,000 casualties. 8,000 of the dead were Australians. It would be the only major victory for the Ottoman Empire in the duration of the war — by 1922 the entire empire would be dissolved.
It was on those fields that the Anzac soldiers possessed what would be called the Anzac spirit, otherwise known as the Anzac legend — a fighting comradery shared by both New Zealanders and Australians. It transcends class, race and other dividing constructs and boils down to the heroism and selflessness displayed for their countries and one another on the field of battle. C.E.W. Bean, Australian World War I war correspondent and historian, said, “Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valor in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.”
Now, every April 25th, Australia and New Zealand celebrate Anzac day. It is much like memorial day — in Australia and New Zealand it is even more widely recognized than Remembrance Day. They hold what is called the “Dawn Service,” a sunrise vigil reflecting the peace many returning war veterans found in the early hours of the morning. Some also say it is in memorial of the landings that occurred at dawn during the war. Either way, it is a memorial for those who were lost, and a reminder of all that they fought for.
Featured image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.