The Aftermath

Although the campaign is still regarded as a disaster, with little or nothing to show for the loss of life, ships and equipment, the fighting at Gallipoli had come close to breaking the Turkish army which had suffered over 87,000 fatalities. Nearly 46,000 sailors and soldiers of the British Empire had died, of whom some 22,000 lie buried in the beautifully maintained Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s 31 cemeteries on the peninsula. Of these only 9,000 were actually identified when the Commission began to gather up the unburied dead in 1919, and a further 14,000 men whose bodies were never found are commemorated on the memorials at Helles, Lone Pine and elsewhere on the old battlefields. In addition the French forces also had devastating losses, of which nearly 12,000 men who died, many now resting in the French cemetery at Helles.

British and French troops had begun to arrive at Salonika in the late summer of 1915 in a belated attempt to help the Serbs who, having resoundingly defeated the Austro-Hungarians earlier in the war, were now overwhelmed by the entry of Bulgaria on the side of the Central Powers. Following their harrowing retreat to the Adriatic the Serbs were taken off by the Anglo-French fleet and the force landed at Salonika was forced into an enclave where it remained bottled up for the rest of the war in what the High Command called 'The Entrenched Camp' or, as its inmates knew it, 'The Birdcage'. The first troops to go there from Gallipoli were those of Mahon's 10th (Irish) Division who left the peninsula in September. During the next three years, malaria killed many more of the garrison than did the enemy.

By the autumn of 1918 it was evident that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was on its last legs and, as harvest time drew near, even the hard-fighting Bulgarian army began to seep away from the battlefield. Greece had been on the verge of civil war for some time, divided between the followers of the Nationalist Prime Minister Venizelos and the King, who was compelled to resign by the allies when it seemed he might throw in his hand with the Central Powers. At one crucial stage the British fleet opened fire on the royal palace.

The end for the central Powers drew closer in the early autumn of 1918 when the Bulgarian Chief of Staff suggested to his royal master, Tsar Boris, that it would be prudent to sue for peace, to be told to go out and die with his troops, who beat off one final allied attack, inflicting such heavy casualties on the British troops that their commander, General Milne, informed the French Commander-in-Chief that his men could do no more. In one brigade alone, the 65th of the 22nd Division, only 200 officers and men remained. But this was the Bulgars' last throw and they started to melt away. On 29 September their government sued for an armistice. General Milne was directed to march his army east through Thrace, towards Constantinople. The Turks had already decided to call for an Armistice and used an unusual intermediary. General Sir Charles Townshend who had been held on comfortable captivity in Turkey since surrendering at Kut-al-Amara in 1915. He was now invited by the Turkish government to go to Lemnos and negotiate with the Senior Naval Officer. Following the success of his mission the allied fleet sailed unmolested through the Dardanelles and on to Constantinople.

There followed a period of political and social chaos throughout the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean and the tottering Ottoman Empire. It was the moment of destiny for Mustafa Kemal and he took it with both hands, forming an alternative provisional government at Angora (Ankara)and declaring it the new capital of Turkey when he eventually secured power. Before this, however, he had to deal with formidable problems; the allies had stationed occupation forces at the Dardanelles and in Constantinople to guarantee passage of the Bosphorus. The British force established itself in Chanak and in Constantinople. Many of the Nissen huts used to house the troops in the Chanak and Maidos area are still to be seen, having been swiftly 'liberated' by the local population after the allies departed in 1923. By then, Kemal had established a firm grip on the Turkish nation. He had conclusively defeated a Greek attempt to advance on Ankara from its allotted enclave around Smyrna (a move for which Venizelos and his colleagues, all apostles of the 'Greater Greece' movement, were ultimately responsible). As Smyrna fell to the new Turkish army the city burned and there was terrible loss of life as the allied fleet stood off, helpless to intervene. Kemal now ordained what amounted to a major exchange of populations, compulsorily sending the long-established Greek communities back to Greece in exchange for Turkish communities historically embedded in Grecian Thrace. Enormous suffering ensued; in addition, there had been appalling scenes within Anatolia during the war, when the Armenian population was driven from its historical homelands, a tragedy which may not even now be discussed openly in Turkey.

The reforms on which Kemal now embarked must rank as one of the outstanding political and social feats of all time. He established a firm boundary for the new Turkish State, abolished the Arabic script and many traditional forms of dress (including the Fez) and declared that henceforth Turkey would be a secular republic. Scholars were put to work to standardise the language in the Roman script, the education system was thoroughly overhauled and modern agricultural methods introduced. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, victor of Gallipoli, had become the father of a new nation, and was now Kemal Ataturk, 'Father of the Turks'.