And the Band Played “Waltzing Matilda”

26 04 2008

Yesterday was ANZAC Day. It’s the day we should honor “the forgotten heroes of a forgotten war“.

In 1915, the British and French governments decided to try and capture the strategic Dardanelles, which was held by Turkey, an ally of Germany. Through staggering levels of stupidity at the highest levels of their chain of command, incomprehensible levels of bigoted wog-bashing ignorance, and the utter failure to provide even the minutest pre-invasion intelligence gathering, the British and French decided to land a couple of divisions of troops at Suvla Bay.

Clueless British and French senior officers hampered the operation from the beginning, landing from converted coal-carrier boats onto beaches covered by Turkish machine guns and artillery. Casualties were appalling (over 70% in many units) and only got worse as more Turkish divisions arrived. The Turks eventually outnumbered the French and British by nearly three to one, they held all the high ground, and they were fighting for their homes and homeland.

In stark contrast to the imbeciles in charge of the French and British troops, the Turks had several excellent senior officers in charge. One of the Turkish commanders at Suvla was a man named Mustafa Kemal, who would later go on to become Kemal Ataturk- the leader of Turkey and the man who created the modern Turkish Republic.

After sending several hundred thousand men into a meatgrinder, any moron of average intelligence would probably realize that the campaign was a lost cause and give up. The British officer in charge of the campaign was not such a man. It wasn’t until journalists smuggled accurate reports of the carnage to the international press that anyone back in London questioned the status of the campaign. Even at that, it took Bulgaria joining the war against the Allies (thereby making it possible for the Germans to directly reinforce the Turks) before the General in charge was relieved and the decision made to evacuate.

The Turks alone lost 195,000 troops. Total casualties were in excess of 350,000. Some of the ANZAC units suffered 90% casualties. The New Zealand Wellington Battalion, for example, started the campaign with 760 men- 711 of which ended up as casualties.

The men who did the actual fighting at Gallipoli did all they could to win. No blame for the defeat rests with them. Those who should be blamed are the senior officers who casually disregarded basic operational security because “the wogs haven’t a chance against the Empire, don’t you know. We’re British.” The officers who casually fed more men into a cauldron of death, blood, and fire because they had nothing but contempt for the men serving under them. “Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians? They’re half wog themselves, you know. Bloody convicts and savages, really. Not proper British soldiers at all.” The officers who kept hurling the bodies of young men into the teeth of Turkish guns in the vain hope that they could somehow salvage their careers thereby.

War is a messy business. War should be avoided unless the alternatives are worse. When you do go to war, the soldiers and sailors and airmen who do all the actual fighting are capital assets, and should not be needlessly expended. The senseless waste of hundreds of thousands of lives at Gallipoli offends me greatly.

When I was a young man, I carried my pack, and I lived the free life of a rover.

From Murray’s green basin to the dusty Outback,I waltzed my matilda all over.

Then in Nineteen Fifteen, my country said, “Son. It’s time to stop rambling, for there’s work to be done.”

And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun, and they sent me away to the war.

And the band played “Waltzing Matilda”

As we sailed away from the quay.

And amidst all the tears,

the shouts, and the cheers,

we sailed off to Gallipoli.

By the way, the Turks set aside the whole end of the penninsula as a memorial to those who had fallen … on both sides. Visitors can still see the barbed wire, trenches, and artillery positions. Ships passing through the Dardanelles can see the towering monument erected on the site for miles. The Turks consider it sacred ground. And so do I.

Current status: Sad

Current music: And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by the Pogues



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