There are few anti-war songs that are better than Eric Bogle’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. My favourite version being the Pogues.
But what do we know about Gallipoli. Well…it was a British military disaster. And the point in History,where Australia and New Zealand achieved almost adulthood. It would take another generation and the death of anglophiles like the unlovely Robert Menzies before Australia and New Zealand would stop embarrassing themselves with “Mother Country” rhetoric but the ANZAC history, legend and myth…born in the mud and blood of Gallipoli ….is an important part of Australia and New Zealand nation-building.
And as much as fields in Flanders, the beaches of Turkey tell a story of “lions led by donkeys”, the enduring historical narrative of the First World War.
And of course 2,000 Irish soldiers died during the nine month campaign. It has become another narrative to say that they were airbrushed out of Irish history because Gallipoli was overshadowed by the Easter Rising, just one year later.
That is fair comment. The song about the Easter Rising….”The Foggy Dew” (written around 1920 by Canon Charles O’Neill, a priest from County Down) specifically mentions the Irish dead of Gallipoli. And it is not flattering.
“Oh had they died by Pearse’s side …or fought with Cathal Brugha….their names we would keep where the Fenians sleep…Neath the shroud of the Foggy Dew”.
So for a century the Irish Nation has not kept these names. Perhaps a wrong is being made right when yesterday President Michael D Higgins stands at a ceremony, alongside Turkish, New Zealand, Australian leaders and English “royals” (“Prince Charles” and “Prince The Ginger One” no less) to acknowledge the sacrifice.
But the awkward thing about Gallipoli is that the biggest donkey who led the lions was Winston Churchill and no serious analysis of Gallipoli is possible without analysing the role of that imperialist bastard. Yet the BBC are doing a sterling job in not mentioning him.
It is of course all part of the Decade of Centenaries into which we must all buy. That the Irish foot soldiers at Gallipoli were written out of the history of the Republic of Ireland is true but they were not there on a Turkish beach as any expression of Irish nationality. And of course they were there on the basis of a British lie. Even in 1915, it was apparent that the British Government had lied to unionists and/or nationalists to get them into Great War trenches.
So this year we commemorate Gallipoli bit we are adopting it to suit our 2015 narrative. LetsGetAlongerism.
Yet this year there will be no commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo. That was two hundred years ago. And more Irishmen died that day, fighting for Wellington, than died in the nine months of the Gallipoli disaster. And the American Civil War ended 150 years ago and a lot of Irish-born men died in that war.
But the “West” needs Turkey to support the various wars on Terrorism and People Trafficking. And the Irish can spot a marketing opportunity as Turkey is now a major player in the world economy. And there is all that “shared history” in the Decade of Centenaries.
But as the BBC talks about the centenary of “mass killings” of Armenians by the same Turks whose bravery and commitment to their Ottoman Empire is being commemorated….the thought crosses my mind that these killings of Christians by Islamists were not so very different from the kinda things ISIL is doing in Iraq, Syria and Kenya.
The thought also occurs that “mass killings” suggests a lone gunman going crazy in a shopping mall. But “mass killings” is an inadequate phrase when we talk about over one million men, women and children being murdered, simply because they were Armenian. The word for that is GENOCIDE but It would offend the Turks if that word is used.
Genocide eh? At least Australia would not do that kinda thing. But they DID do that kinda thing. And the British Empire would not do that kinda thing. But they DID do that kinda thing.
The Armenians are still here. The Aborgines are still here. The Irish are still here.