April 27, 2015

Horse 1883 - April 27: The Day After Tomorrow

Now that ANZAC Day is over and all of the mythmaking appears to have passed us, I wonder if it's time for Australia to commemorate April 27.
"What happened on April 27?" you ask. Only that the Ottoman defenders halted the advance of Allied troops between Helles headland and the little village of Krithia and by nightfall, 3000 Allied troops lay dead.

Were their lives spent needlessly in vain? Absolutely.

I don't doubt for a second, the virtues of courage, of bravery and valour shown on the battlefield but history has shown that in spending the coin of the realm of the battlefield, the commanders and directors who spent much of their time far away from the front lines, were reckless in that spending.

If you look at the difference between a Roman legionary and an ANZAC rifleman, the difference is that a Roman legionary was equipped with mail and scale armour, a scutum which was a big semi-cylindrical shield and a galea which was a bronze helmet; whereas an ANZAC rifleman had a rifle and bayonet and a slouch hat. In all honesty, a hundred of Roman legionaries would have been better equipped to defend themselves, even with 2000 year old equipment than the lads who had to scramble up cliffs; often to certain death.
The result was identical to what would later be mirrored on the western front. The solution to losing troops was in many cases, to add more troops; throwing wave after wave after wave of men at the enemy to precisely the same effect, the destruction of all.

It is telling that on January 8 1916, after the deaths of 252,000 Allied troops and 220,000 Ottoman troops, precisely nothing had changed. The Ottoman Empire had defended its lands, quite rightly, and the Allies fell well short of their goals to capture Constantinople, much less the open the Dardanelles.
Roughly 1800 people died each day and every day, for 258 days. It is questionable how much the campaign would have helped matters anyway, considering that the object of opening the Dardanelles as a supply line to Russia, would have ultimately been in vain because in 1917, the Russian Empire imploded in two revolutions which saw the Tsar Nicholas II deposed and the beginnings of Soviet power.

It is unfashionable to dare to suggest that the myth of ANZAC is overly lionised. I think that it has become worse now that everyone from the First World War has grown old and passed on. The weird thing is that more than five times the number of Australian and New Zealand troops died on the Western Front in the three years which followed the failure at Gallipoli and yet few Australians and New Zealanders today, can even recall the names of Ypres, Pozières, Fromelles, the Somme and Passchendaele.
How the legend of ANZAC has come to stand in place of Armistice Day, when everyone put down their weapons and stopped fighting, when the bloody carnage finally came to an end, is totally beyond me. I think that it is because Australia became a nation through the process of a vote and not a war and New Zealand was granted dominion status and with it autonomy by Royal Proclamation, that there is no grand day of independence like as is the case in the United States, Canada or India.

ANZAC Day might be the day of commemoration to recall those who have fallen but at the time (and as is still the case), the families of soldiers would have rather their sons and fathers be returned to them, than a memorial plaque or even a Victoria Cross; even if it came in a silk lined box.
April 27 is a day which no-one remembers, which no-one would remember. It like the other 258 days, was a day on which lions were led by donkeys, a day on which they were cut down and their commanders remembered them not.

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