Gallipoli by Peter Fitzsimons

Gallipoli by Peter FitzsimonsGallipoli by Peter FitzSimons
Published by Random House Australia on November 3rd 2014
Genres: History
Pages: 824
Format: Audiobook

On 25 April 1915, Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in present-day Turkey to secure the sea route between Britain and France in the west and Russia in the east. After eight months of terrible fighting, they would fail.

Turkey regards the victory to this day as a defining moment in its history, a heroic last stand in the defence of the nation's Ottoman Empire. But, counter-intuitively, it would signify something perhaps even greater for the defeated Australians and New Zealanders involved: the birth of their countries' sense of nationhood.

Now approaching its centenary, the Gallipoli campaign, commemorated each year on Anzac Day, reverberates with importance as the origin and symbol of Australian and New Zealand identity. As such, the facts of the battle – which was minor against the scale of the First World War and cost less than a sixth of the Australian deaths on the Western Front – are often forgotten or obscured.

Peter FitzSimons, with his trademark vibrancy and expert melding of writing and research, recreates the disaster as experienced by those who endured it or perished in the attempt.

This is one of those history books that should get one’s blood boiling. Fitzsimons takes a detailed look at the deeds and misdeeds of the ANZACs, and their commanding generals, who took part in the battles on the Gallipoli Peninsula. There has been a tendency to mythologise, or lionize the ANZAC ‘legend’ in Australia, and while there are a great many valourous actions which took place there, it does those fighting men and women a disservice, I believe, to examine the events through rose-coloured glasses.

Fitzsimons takes us back to an era which seems almost impossible to conceive of by today’s standards. The young men of Australia were signing up in droves to go and fight in someone else’s war, in a far off land, just because mother England came calling. Fitzsimons does an excellent job of capturing the palpable atmosphere which was present at the time, and as a reader you get a sense of the camaraderie which existed.

The story begins long before the landings at Gallipoli, and follows the men as they journey first to England, and then on to Egypt where they spend a great deal of time training, drinking and carousing with the locals. I think one of the most enjoyable parts of listening to an audio book of this story were the very-Australian accents which were performed by the reader. It reminded me that you can take an Australian out of the bush, dump him in a far away place, but you can never take the bush out of an Australian.

In reading other non-fiction works about the first world war, I have long-since come to the conclusion that it is some sort of miracle that anyone won the war. There are countless anecdotes of incompetency, mismanagement, and sheer disregard for the lives of the fighting men by an officer class who often weren’t even on the scene. The sheer ignorant madness of some of the orders given, which resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds and thousands of Australian soldiers is so infuriating in hindsight.

Fitzsimons has a gift for story-telling, and through the use of primary sources, along with some likely fabrications, has woven an eminently readable tale of courage and tragedy. Although the battles at Gallipoli were a sort of coming-of-age for Australia, this is not just an Australia tale, as we are taken behind the scenes and trenches of the Turkish lines. As much as this is a tragic tale, there are also moments of humour, and humanity, and comradeship between the opposing sides in a way that would be unthinkable today.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to those who wish to learn more about the Gallipoli landings, and who are looking for more than just a recitation of the old legends. It is a hard book, that is sure to stir up emotions, as it did with me, but a worthy read nonetheless.

I also highly commend listening to the audiobook, which is available through Audible.

Rating Report
Overall: four-half-stars

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