Remembering all who died at Gallipoli

Due honour to the 4,000 Irishmen who perished

 

There are in the oft-cited words of the Gallipoli message sent by Kemal Ataturk to Anzac veterans in 1934 a poignancy and generosity that have down the years provided enormous comfort to former enemies. They now grace memorials on three continents, including at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, and have been repeatedly cited by Australian prime ministers and others, including our own Presidents McAleese and Higgins, in remembering the dead of that disastrous campaign which opened 100 years ago on this day.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives,” Ataturk allegedly wrote (words attributed now plausibly by some to his interior minister Sukru Kaya) . “You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Would that we could truly say the same ourselves of the 4,000 or so Irishmen, who died at Gallipoli alongside 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders.Among the 58,000 Allied and 100,000 Turkish dead. Our sons, yes, but until recent years all-but written out of our history, of our traditional national narrative of unswerving commitment to throwing off the British yoke. As Lord Dunsany, Francis Ledwidge’s great mentor, wrote in tribute to Ireland’s neglected dead of the Great War, “Sleep on, forgot a few more years, and then/ The ages, that I prophesy, shall see/ Due honours paid to you by juster men ...”

Not so with the Anzacs, whose Gallipoli story is central to their nations’ proud history. And is told without any sense that the Great War was somehow a noble cause, or that its generals, not least in the Dardanelles, were not donkeys leading lions. Commemorated, not celebrated. And now we too are learning how we can remember and honour the Munsters’ landing at V beach, only 60 men unscathed from the first assault of 400. And the 10th Irish division at Suvla Bay, and the survivors of the attrition of months in the trenches on body and mind, and the “Pals” from Lansdowne Road, decimated ...

This was a disastrously costly attempt to begin a second front against the Ottoman Empire, ultimately futile, and whose only redeeming military feature was the impeccable retreat. The British Empire at its incompetent, destructive worst. But there is little point, or satisfaction, for nationalists now to continue to play a game of historical, retrospective “I told you so” about those, our grandfathers, great uncles, and cousins, who paid the price, many with extraordinary courage, for succumbing to Redmond’s terrible delusion. Now we should give “due honour”.