Row over Irish soldiers labelled Australian in Gallipoli film


Historian accused of deliberately misidentifying soldiers to suit Australian interests, writes PÁDRAIG COLLINSin Sydney

TOMORROW IS the 95th anniversary of the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey – one of the bloodiest battles in the first World War.

A row has erupted over film footage of Irish and New Zealand soldiers there having been deliberately misidentified as Australians, however.

Gallipoli was the first major battle for the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac), and is a national day of remembrance in both countries each year.

Irish soldiers were heavily involved in the campaign from the first day, in both the British and Anzac ranks. Last month, President McAleese laid wreaths in Turkey and paid tribute to the more than 4,000 Irish soldiers who died at Gallipoli.

“The cost to the Turks was dreadful. The cost to the Allies was dreadful. The cost to the Irish became a story lost, suppressed and neglected for many decades in between,” said McAleese.

An Australian submarine which breached the Turkish defences on April 25th, 1915, was commanded by Dubliner Henry Dacre Stoker, cousin of Draculaauthor Bram Stoker. But New Zealand military historian Chris Pugsley has accused an Australian War Memorial historian of knowingly labelling soldiers from the 5th Irish Fusiliers fighting at Suvla Bay as Australian.

Pugsley, a lecturer at Britain’s Sandhurst Military Academy, identified the Irish soldiers by comparing a still photograph with the film footage.

He describes the 21-second scene as “perhaps the most iconic trench-fighting sequence that exists, where you see these guys in pith helmets furiously firing away”.

The footage was originally shot by Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, a British war correspondent, and edited by Australian War Memorial historian Charles Bean in 1919. A five-second scene involving New Zealand soldiers has also been misidentified until now as being Australian.

Dr Pugsley identified the New Zealanders by their distinctive hats – known as “lemon squeezers” – and a diary entry from commanding officer Lt Col William Malone, which confirmed Ashmead-Bartlett had filmed them. “He seemed a bit swollen-headed, and full of his own importance,” wrote Lt Col Malone. “I gave him a couple of thrills by taking him to a place open to Turkish fire at about 300 yards’ range.”

Pugsley says the misidentification of the Irish and New Zealand soldiers by Bean in 1919 was deliberate.

“Gallipoli had become the iconic centrepiece of the Australian achievements in the first World War, and so he looked at all these images and assessed how he could tell the Australian story with them,” he said.

“It wasn’t a mistake, it was deliberate. He wanted to tell the Australian story, and he wanted to tell it in popular terms, and so he used the best images that he had.”

The Australian War Memorial’s head of military history, Ashley Ekins, has defended Bean’s work and said he was not trying to mislead in how he edited the footage. “He was trying to give a narrative to an Australian audience and to keep it simple, because people had to read these titles in a silent movie cinema,” said Ekins.