Remembering Gallipoli troops who faced 'a death trap - they hadn't a hope'


The story of how almost 4,000 Irishmen lost their lives has been blotted out of Irish history annals

DOTTED AMONG the rolling hills of this rugged peninsula are more than 30 cemeteries where simple headstones help summon the story of why the name Gallipoli will forever be associated with one of the most disastrous campaigns in military history.

At the Green Hill cemetery, where President Mary McAleese yesterday unveiled a plaque commemorating the thousands of Irishmen who fought and died at Gallipoli, the epitaph on several graves offers a rebuke to those who would prefer to forget the ignominious defeat of Allied forces at the hands of the Turks. “Their glory shall not be blotted out,” it reads. As Mrs McAleese reminded those in attendance, the story of how almost 4,000 Irishmen lost their lives in this corner of what was then the dying Ottoman Empire has, up to now, suffered something of a blotting out in the annals of Irish history.

But their memory lived on in yesterday’s sombre ceremony, whether through the reading out of poignant letters home – dispatches that conveyed some measure of the horror of those long months in 1915-16; or through the presence of the mourners who had gathered on blustery Green Hill to honour relatives they had never known.

Irish soldier and poet Francis Ledwidge fought at Gallipoli and died in France in 1917. As the wind whistled through the surrounding pines, a commanding officer from the Royal Irish Regiment recited Ledwidge’s poem The Irish in Gallipoli: “Let Ireland weep but not for sorrow. . . and angels once again/ Come back like exile birds to guard their sleep.”

The Gallipoli campaign was launched with several objectives: to seize Istanbul and open another front; to force the Ottomans out of the war; and to secure a sea supply route to Russia.

The British, French and Anzac forces that took part soon became mired in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war as Turkish troops under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk successfully repelled their attack. Two incidents are lodged in the Irish memory of Gallipoli: the landing at V-Beach on April 25th, 1915, during which the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was decimated; and the Suvla Bay landings later that year when the 6th and 7th “Dublins” suffered huge losses.

As Tom Burke, chairman of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, told Mrs McAleese yesterday as he showed her the graves of some of those who had perished at V-Beach: “It was a complete death trap . . . They hadn’t a hope.”

At Green Hill, Dr Ian Adamson, chairman of the Somme Association, spoke of the gargantuan losses sustained by both Allied and Turkish forces on the shores and hills of Gallipoli. Each side suffered casualties that numbered 250,000. The events at Gallipoli had “resounded profoundly” throughout the world, he said, and it proved a defining moment for both Ireland and Turkey in terms of their national fortunes.

The Rev Canon Geoffrey Evans recalled the “courage and endurance of both friend and foe” 95 years after the beginning of the ill-fated campaign.

Maj Gen David The O’Morchoe, president of the Royal British Legion, recited the Act of Remembrance. A bugler from the Irish Defence Forces sounded The Reveillesoon after a Royal Irish Regiment bugler had sounded The Last Post.

But the wreaths left behind at the Green Hill monument after all the attendees had filed out of the cemetery told their own story. One laurel wreath wrapped in the colours of the Tricolour leaned against the white stone of the memorial surrounded by several poppy wreaths. A lesson in shared sacrifice and remembrance.