Today, on Anzac Day (April 25), Ireland remembers the 4,000 Irishmen who lost their lives at Gallipoli, and during World War I, while fighting alongside the allied forces.
Anzac (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day, an annual commemoration noted around the world due to the massive size of the military campaign. During Winston Churchill's ill-fated eight-month campaign to force the Ottomans out of World War I and open the eastern front against Germany, over 100,000 men lost their lives. Their battle with the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire was catastrophic. The allied soldiers from Britain and Ireland and France, spent the rest of the year bogged down before retreating in December.
Last year, RTE journalist David Davin-Power released a new documentary, entitled “Gallipoli – Ireland’s forgotten Heroes,” highlighted how until recently the story of the Irish at Gallipoli remained largely untold.
Sadly, many of the Irishmen and their fellow soldiers, now lie in unmarked graves which are strewn across this foreign rugged landscape – their memories neglected for far too long. Davin-Power followed the stories of the horrific conditions and deaths in the trenches hacked into the hard Turkish soil.
As part of the documentary, the grandnephew of a young rugby player tells how their granduncle volunteered with his pals, thinking he was heading for ‘a great adventure’ but ended up being killed along with many of his friends. Another tale follows a man who left the family cottage in Tipperary to emigrate to Australia. He ended up signing up for the Anzacs and being killed in the first couple of days.
Ataturk – the Turkish commander who went on to lead his country – is quoted as having said of the thousands buried there “You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries.
“Wipe away your tears – your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace…having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”
Davin-Power’s own grandfather – Jack Power, from Kimmage, County Dublin – was one of the lucky ones who returned, but as Davin-Power admits “he became a prey to drink.”
Those who returned in 1916, had left as heroes and were now coming back to Ireland which had been transformed.
The song the Foggy Dew reflects the popular few at the time that it was “Better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sedd al Bahr.”
Another awful twist of fate is that some of the soldiers sent to Dublin in 1916 were Australians and New Zealanders, hardened soldiers from Gallipoli, many with Irish ancestry themselves, forced to battle civilians and quell a rising.
Sadly, many of those Irish World War heroes lucky enough to return suffered a great deal of shame, for having fought with the British among the allied, as the Ireland they had known was finding its Independence.
However, now, over 100 years on we remember the 200,000 Irishmen who fought in the First World War and the 49,000+ were killed. The sheer volume of these figures shows the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland.
* Originally published in Aug 2016.