Gallipoli 100 Weekend in Kells
Gallipoli is a place, we all know that. And yet few of us think of a place when we hear the name Gallipoli. Our memories, roused by a few hazy paragraphs in our schoolbooks if nothing else, tend to associate Gallipoli with profligate bloodshed and with the spectacular failure of the Allies to seize the Dardanelles in WW1. Or maybe we remember Eric Bogle’s passionate protest song “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, decrying the mindless carnage in Gallipoli, 100 years ago last April 25th.
To mark the centenary of this catastrophic military failure, RTE and Hay Festival Kells presented a commemoration event “Gallipoli 100” in Kells last weekend, featuring a plethora of historians drawn from diverse areas of expertise, to enlighten us further about the horror that was Gallipoli. Bringing a distinctively Irish slant to the weekend, we learned about the numbers of Irish soldiers slaughtered in Gallipoli (over 3,400), about the legacy of war poetry, including our own Francis Ledwidge, and about the propaganda machine which censored the Allied press (including in Ireland), effectively strangling the truth about what was really happening.
Letters home from soldiers at the front, published in the Cork Examiner, described a very different war to the gung-ho adventure covered in the British and Irish national press. And some of those letters were funny. One young soldier described his rifle fondly in a letter – a rifle he looked forward to bringing home to his misogynistic friend, so he could “shoot a few of them suffragettes”! In sharp contrast, another letter described the horror of a young soldier who tried shouting at his comrade to duck a shrapnel attack, but his comrade’s brains were blown into his mouth before he could make a sound.
The issue of how Australia actually celebrates the landing in Gallipoli on Anzac Day, despite their horrific losses, was explained in depth, as was their “Birth Of A Nation” – founded on the words of one single war correspondent, Charlie Bean, whose sole account of WW1 is still the official Australian history of the war.
RTE broadcaster Myles Dungan was MC for the event, held in the beautiful St Columba’s church. With each speaker he introduced, we were presented with a new clutch of historical nuggets. Collectively, the speakers depicted the wanton waste of a whole generation. These renowned academics and experts explored how a distorted war history has left a legacy that is at best incomplete, and at worst a triumph of self-delusion.
“Gallipoli 100” promised a weekend of “talks, tours, drama, music and poetry”. And it delivered. But it did much more. It wasn’t possible to emerge from this event without being shocked. And saddened. And angry. Because it seems that only the soldiers themselves leave us with a reliable, honest, and inglorious account of the horror of the Great War, and therefore it is their account that we need to remember. Lest we forget.
“Tomorrow will be loud with war
How will I be accounted for?” Francis Ledwidge