Documentary, Oral history
ABC Classics 481 1626
Reviewed by Inge Southcott, August 1st, 2015
Listening to these two remarkable CDs is an unforgettable and deeply moving experience. To read the history of the Gallipoli campaign is often shocking and saddening as one comes to terms with the fact it was a bungled British strategy – “a glorious failure” as one veteran describes it – costing the lives of nearly 9000 young Australians, but far more compelling for me was to listen to the story in graphic detail as told here by 23 veterans.
It was Martin Buzacott’s idea to make this compilation as a contribution to the Anzac Centenary celebrations and he has done a superb job. He has chosen recordings made originally between 1953 and 1990 by the ABC. We hear soldiers (privates and colonels), nurses, as well as C.E.W.Bean (Official War Correspondent, AIF) and General Rustu Erdelhun (2nd Army Turkish Land Forces) speaking frankly about their experiences at the time and their reflections in the aftermath. One can only admire and be inspired by their attitudes. As Buzacott puts it in his excellent cd notes – “they emerged from it with their moral compass, faith in humanity, and sense of humour all still intact”.
The recordings are arranged in a historical sequence with headings: “Enlistment”, “Albany to Lemnos”, “Towards Gallipoli”, “First landing (25 April)”, “Subsequent Landings”, “The Turkish Offensive (19-25 May)”, “Lone Pine (6-10 August) “and the “Evacuation”. There are also sections called “Reflections on Mortality,” “Johnny Turk “and “Aftermath”. He interweaves them with suitable music rather than having a narrator, and this works brilliantly.
The music drives the action forward, but also gives us time to absorb what has just been said, and it also makes the painful truths easier to bear because of its beauty. There is a wonderful sense of compassion and humanity in Ross Edward’s First Symphony: Da Pacem, Domine, which plays behind and between the narratives of the actual landings and the reflections on mortality that followed that slaughter. Excerpts from Elgar’s First Symphony are heard initially in the “Enlistment” section and in the “Aftermath”, because they speak so eloquently of the Edwardian sense of heroism that fuelled the campaign (Buzacott, p.3,CD notes). Vaughan William’s Symphonies No.2 and 5 feature too as this composer served alongside Australians in WW1, while the excerpt from Phillip Glass’s Metamorphosis 11 played by Sally Whitwell certainly highlights the anxiety felt by the men heading towards the beach just before the first landing, especially when they could see the high cliffs above them that they would need to scale. They knew something was wrong with the strategy, and many drowned in deep water because of the heavy packs they were wearing and never even made it to the beach. The wounded and searing sounds in Sculthorpe’s Mangrove and Earth Cry really heighten the emotions felt during the terrible battle of Lone Pine.
Many quotes from the veterans stick in my mind. Of the enlistment one Basil Holmes from the 17th Battalion AIF, 5th Brigade, 2nd Division, said: “I was keen, 100% keen, like we all were in those days” and Fred Mouritz of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade commented: “The only thing we were frightened of was it’d be over before we got there!”
The relationship with “Johnny Turk”, as they nicknamed them, was one of respect, not hate. It was a different sort of war then, and to this day there is a bond between our two countries born out of the shared experiences and shared grief. There were no atrocities carried out by the Turks despite propaganda to the contrary. There are lots of amusing and bitter sweet stories amongst the excerpts, for example, the one about the Aussies tossing cans of bully beef over to the Turkish trenches and the Turks throwing back cigarettes, under the nose of the disapproving officers. During the armistice called by the Turks after the slaughter of thousands of them during the offensive of 19-25 May, the Anzacs helped bury the dead in Monash Valley – one of the “most sickening episodes “of the whole campaign recalled another veteran, remembering the horror of it. While the April 25 landing was bungled, the evacuation in December was organized so well with attention to every detail and timing, and carried out so efficiently, that there were no casualties at all. Through various strategies they managed to convince the Turks that they were still there while they moved the men out silently under cover of darkness. It makes for fascinating listening.
This is a precious collection about an important period in our history and I can strongly recommend it. But be aware – pick a suitable time for listening to it as it is deeply affecting.