Gallipoli – the sources

Almost every Australian has some knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign. It is taught in school, and stories about Anzac abound. Many people, however, would be unaware of the sheer volume of material that has been published about Gallipoli. Some material deals with a specific aspect of the campaign, while other works discuss the campaign as a whole, or incorporate the Gallipoli story into broader histories of the First World War. Much of what has been written is of interest mainly to specialists, but for those who wish to learn more about the campaign there is a wealth of material available.

General histories

Two of the best known general histories of the campaign are Alan Moorehead's 1956 book Gallipoli and Robert Rhodes James's 1965 book of the same name. In the introduction to his 1999 edition, Rhodes James wrote that although he was at first very impressed with Moorehead's study, a second reading led him to a different conclusion. Moorehead's Gallipoli, he wrote, was the work of "'a brilliant journalist, not an historian". It is true that Moorehead wrote with the flair of an experienced journalist and, for the general reader who wants to gain a feel for the campaign and those who conducted it, his book provides an interesting and readable overview. It concentrates mainly on the tactical and command aspects of the campaign and Australian readers might be disappointed at the relative lack of information about the role of their soldiers. The tragic charge at the Nek, for example, occupies only a few sentences; more weight is given to Keith Murdoch, whose visit to the peninsula lasted only a few days, than to Charles Bean, who chronicled the entire campaign and is not mentioned at all. Rhodes James was able to interview many men who participated in the campaign, and his book contains judgments on some of its leading figures, including those on the Turkish side, that may surprise readers who have been exposed to the many myths about Gallipoli. Overall, Rhodes James's Gallipoli remains one of the best single-volume histories of the campaign.

Specific aspects of the campaign

Australians have been well-served by literature on the role of their own soldiers at Gallipoli. It is, however, also interesting to consider a book that deals with the British experience. Nigel Steel and Peter Hart's Defeat at Gallipoli emphasises the experience of ordinary soldiers, using extensive quotes from participants. What emerges strongly from this book is a reiteration of the widely accepted view that the campaign was both poorly planned and dreadful for those who fought in it. With their focus on the British experience of Gallipoli, Steel and Hart are concerned predominantly with Helles and Suvla Bay. Among the more interesting chapters in this book is "Conditions at Gallipoli", in which we learn of the soldiers' attitudes to and experience of combat, disease, wounds, death, and daily life in a war zone that was very unlike the more familiar Western Front.

In Australia the word "Anzac" has become synonymous with the Gallipoli campaign and, to some extent, appropriated without much thought for the New Zealanders. The relative absence of New Zealanders from accounts of Gallipoli was redressed by Christopher Pugsley in his excellent 1984 book, Gallipoli: the New Zealand story. Pugsley weaves personal recollections into his narrative, combining a soldier's view of the campaign with material on its broader direction. One of the strengths of Pugsley's book is the large number of photographs, few of which would be familiar to the average Australian reader and many of which graphically illustrate the nature of the fighting on the peninsula. Pugsley's work on the close-quarter fighting at Quinn's Post paints a vivid picture of life and death in the most dangerous position at ANZAC Cove and his chapter on Helles sheds light on a little-known episode. Of particular interest to Australian readers is Pugsley's discussion of what the ANZAC legend means to New Zealanders and how this differs from the legend that has grown up in Australia.

Ron Austin's 1989 book, The White Gurkhas, is devoted entirely to Australia's part in the Battle of Krithia in May 1915. Austin tells the story of the Australian 2nd Brigade, sent to assist the British and French at Helles, as they sought to capture the village of Krithia and the dominating heights of Achi Baba. This was the first time during the war the Australians charged against entrenched enemy positions over open ground. As on many subsequent occasions, the cost was terrible. Austin provides both an overview of this part of the campaign.

Many other works on Gallipoli also focus on particular events or individuals. For example, Dennis Winter's 1994 book, 25 April 1915: the inevitable tragedy, is primarily concerned with the first day of fighting at what would become known as Anzac Cove. Winter sets the scene with an overview of how the Australians found themselves in Egypt, rather than England, early in the war. He then discusses in some detail their training and life at Mena Camp and the final days on Lemnos Island before the landing. Winter's main contribution to scholarship on Gallipoli is his detailed analysis of why the troops were landed in front of the cliffs and gullies of Ari Burnu, rather than further south as originally planned. While 25 April dominates Winter's work, his most moving passages appear in the final chapter, "The reckoning". Here, Winter explores the grief felt by Australians when news of the day's losses reached the public.

In Australia the Anzac legend has been personified by one man, John Simpson, the man with the donkey. In 1992 Peter Cochrane published an interesting examination of the Simpson legend, Simpson and his donkey. While the book tells us little of the Gallipoli campaign, it is a fascinating study into how Simpson, a member of the 3rd Field Ambulance, has passed into legend, and of how that legend came to affect individual recollections of the campaign. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the skillful and painstaking way in which Cochrane exposes and dispatches the many myths that have grown up around the story of Simpson, a man whose scantily documented past has retreated further into obscurity through a process of exaggeration, speculation, and outright falsehood. Cochrane's discussion of why the Gallipoli legend is served so well by the story of the heroic deeds of a stretcher bearer, as opposed to a combatant, makes stimulating reading.

For those interested in the broader medical aspects of the campaign, A.G. Butler's first volume of the Official History of the Australian Medical Services 1914–1918, Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, is the most comprehensive study available. Michael Tyquin revisited the subject in his 1993 book, Gallipoli: the medical war, which deals at some length with the nature and treatment of the wounds and diseases that were prevalent on the peninsula.

It is impossible to view the Gallipoli campaign in its entirety without some knowledge of the naval attempts to force a passage through the Dardanelles in the months before the landings. Both Moorehead and Rhodes James pay considerable attention to this aspect of the campaign but readers may wish to know more about the role of the Australian navy at Gallipoli. Tom Frame's The shores of Gallipoli: naval aspects of the ANZAC campaign opens with a brief overview of the Australian navy in the years before the First World War. Not surprisingly, however, most of the first half of The shores of Gallipoli is concerned with the submarine AE2, its passage through the Dardanelles, and the captivity of its crew after it was sunk in the Sea of Marmora. The second half of the book is taken up largely with Australia's other naval contribution to the campaign, the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train that was sent to Suvla to assist with the August landings. Frame describes this contribution at some length, including the story of what happened to this unit in the months and years after Gallipoli was abandoned.

Frame's book provides an interesting account of the relatively limited role played by the Royal Australian Navy at Gallipoli. Most of the book's final section, however, deals in some detail with the question that has exercised the minds of many students of the campaign – why the Australians were put ashore a mile north of their intended landing place on the first morning.

No essay about sources on Gallipoli could ignore the works of Australia's official historian of the First World War, Charles Bean. It would be impossible to embark on a study of Australia's role on Gallipoli without reference to Bean's first two volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, The story of ANZAC. Bean's work is the most comprehensive chronicle of the campaign, but it is generally considered too detailed for the general reader. Bean's diaries constitute an incredibly rich primary source for students of Gallipoli, but are generally studied only by serious scholars. Fortunately for the general reader, extracts from this fascinating source were published in Kevin Fewster's book, Frontline Gallipoli: C.E.W. Bean's diaries from the trenches. Fewster's selection begins with Bean's departure from Australia with the first convoy in 1914 and ends on 31 December 1915, as he prepared for the journey to London and then the Western Front. Bean's diary is the work of a skilled chronicler, and it describes in vivid detail daily life on the peninsula from the first day until almost the last.

Students of Gallipoli owe Bean an enormous debt. But for the general reader one of his most accessible books is Gallipoli mission, which tells the story of the Australian Historical Mission's return to the peninsula in early 1919. Bean and other members of the mission returned to Gallipoli to answer some of the many remaining questions about the campaign and to collect relics for the war memorial Bean hoped to establish on his return to Australia. Regarded by some as Bean's finest book, it is an easy and extremely informative read. Although its focus is the mission's visit to Gallipoli in 1919, the work tells us much about the campaign; members of the mission retraced the steps of the first men to land on 25 April 1915 and visited the sites of all of the major battles fought at ANZAC Cove. With the assistance of a Turkish officer, Zeki Bey, who had also fought in the campaign, the historical mission answered some of the riddles that had puzzled participants in the fighting. Zeki Bey's contribution adds much to Bean's narrative, as he was able to describe many incidents of interest to Bean, from the Turkish point of view.

There are a great many more books and articles dealing with Gallipoli, and it would be a serious omission not to mention the work of Bill Gammage. His 1974 book, The broken years, describes the experience of Australian soldiers in the First World War, based on the letters and diaries of the men of the 1st Australian Imperial Force. Much of his material on Gallipoli is deeply moving, and any of those whose reminiscences he used were killed during the fighting. More a social than a military history, this remains one of the finest books about Australians at war.

For those wishing to consult other works on the campaign, a useful starting point is John Robertson's 1990 historiographical survey, ANZAC and Empire: the tragedy and glory of Gallipoli.

Sources and further reading:

Ronald J. Austin, The White Gurkhas: the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade at Krithia, Gallipoli, McCrae, Vic., R.J. and S.P. Austin, 1989

C.E.W. Bean, The story of the ANZAC, Official History of Australia in the War 1914 –1918, vols 1 and 2, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1938

C.E.W. Bean, Gallipoli mission, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1948

A. G. Butler, Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea, The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914 –1918, vol. 1, Melbourne, Australian War Memorial, 1938

Peter Cochrane, Simpson and the donkey: the making of a legend, Portland, Or., International Specialized Book Services, 1992

Kevin Fewster, Gallipoli correspondent: the frontline diary of C.E.W. Bean, Sydney, George Allen & Unwin, 1983

Thomas R. Frame, The shores of Gallipoli: naval aspects of the ANZAC Campaign, Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 2000

Bill Gammage, The broken years, Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1974

Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1965

Alan Moorehead, Gallipoli, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1956

Christopher Pugsley, Gallipoli: the New Zealand story, Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984

John Robertson, ANZAC and Empire: the tragedy and glory of Gallipoli, Richmond, Vic., Hamlyn Australia, 1990

Nigel Steel and Peter Hart, Defeat at Gallipoli, London, Macmillan, 1994

Denis Winter, 25 April 1915: the inevitable tragedy, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1994