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Brutal conflict that forged Anzac legend

25 August 2012 2,213 views No Comment

THE four-day battle for Lone Pine, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, was arguably the most brutal fought by our troops in any war.

From August 6 to August 9, 1915, close to 2800 Australians were slaughtered in hand-to-hand fighting and trench warfare, while Turkish deaths at Lone Pine were at least double that.

It is, as David W. Cameron concedes here, impossible to write any meaningful history of Lone Pine without continually referring to Volume 2 of Charles Bean’s The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

Nevertheless, in this first book devoted to a cornerstone of the Anzac legend, Cameron has unearthed many moving first-hand accounts from Turkish and Australian sources.

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As Cameron’s well-researched book explains, the reality is that of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians for the Gallipoli campaign, seven were for ”outstanding actions of bravery and valour” during those four days at Lone Pine.

Indeed, five VCs were earned in a single day of fighting at Lone Pine, which remains a record in Australian military history.

Many who fought there believed other soldiers would have made worthy VC recipients. But the officers who might well have nominated them died fighting at Lone Pine. Remarkably, all of the battalion commanders who participated in the initial attack became casualties, including two who died there.

Given the huge significance of the Battle of Lone Pine to Australia’s military history, it is also fitting that we now have a powerfully written and well-illustrated book that focuses on this tragic action, which resulted in such devastating human cost. Amid a wider tactical failure, Lone Pine was our only victory at Gallipoli.

As Cameron argues, it seems entirely fitting that our official commemoration of the Gallipoli conflict is conducted each Anzac Day in the Lone Pine Cemetery, which is built over what was in 1915 ”the killing field of the no-man’s-land” between the Australian and Turkish trenches. It is instructive to be told that the western wall of the cemetery ”sits on the original Australian frontline trenches at a position nicknamed The Pimple”, while its eastern wall rests upon the original Turkish frontline at Lone Pine, known to the Turks as Kanli Sirt, or ”Bloody Ridge”.

Finally, as a great fan of the 25-year-old British Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who was shot through the heart by a Turkish machine-gunner while ferrying a wounded man to the beach on his donkey, I am pleased Cameron gives the legendary pair due respect.

Indeed he recounts that, on the day Simpson died, another Anzac legend was born. This was when 22-year-old Albert Jacka ”single-handedly retook an Australian position that had been captured by the Turks (the only position they were to capture that day – if only for a few minutes), shooting five dead and bayoneting another two”.

While debate persists about whether ”the man with the donkey” should have been awarded a VC, there seems to be no dispute that Jacka deserved Australia’s first VC for World War I.

Gallipoli may have been a tragic conflict of epic proportions but it still inspires and underscores our sense of nationhood.

That’s nothing to do with glorifying war and everything to do with paying tribute to the bravery that Australians exemplified at Lone Pine and elsewhere.

THE BATTLE FOR LONE PINE
David W. Cameron
Viking, 386pp, $29.95

Sydney Morning Herald, August 25-26 2012, SPECTRUM p 31.