More French soldiers died at Gallipoli than Australians, writes Nic Maclellan, and many of the allied troops were African and Indian.
Australia’s “baptism of fire” has become a potent blend of memory and mythology. And for a few weeks recently, retailing also became part of that mix when Woolworths and other corporations tried to boost their profits on the back of the slaughter at Gallipoli. The fresh food people wanted us to keep the Anzac soldiers “fresh in our memories” and celebrate Anzac Day as “the birth of the Anzac spirit that we now pass on to all young Australians.”
Commentators were quick to denounce this branding exercise. But any attempt to purify the Gallipoli centenary can also distort the way we remember the events of 1915 by downplaying the multinational history of the conflict.
Among the forces serving in the Gallipoli campaign were thousands of British and French colonial troops – soldiers who fought and died on the peninsula but have largely been written out of the Centenary history. Alongside Anglo-Celtic Anzac soldiers were Indigenous Australians, Maoris, Senegalese, Zouaves, Sikhs, Gurkhas and Newfoundlanders, as well as a contingent of Zionists from Palestine who formed the Zion Mule Corps.
Bruce Scates, who chaired the Military and Cultural History Group of the Anzac Centenary Program, has argued that the Gallipoli commemorations often ignore the role of other nations. “We are in danger of returning to a narrow, nationalistic and self-congratulatory account of that costly and ill-conceived campaign,” he writes. “In our rush to remember, we run the danger of forgetting.”
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Image: Kings College Collectons