They must have known that, of course, within days, if not hours, of their arrival. But they refused to accept defeat, showing not just courage but good humour in the most odious of circumstances. When the Anzac troops held their position under fire, they entrenched themselves not only on the Turkish coastline but in the psyche of future generations for many years to come.

The Anzacs’ hallowed aura continues to gain momentum, with thousands of Antipodeans turning out at Gallipoli on April 25 each year to commemorate and give thanks. Having heard stories of previous years’ drunken misbehaviour at the site, I arrived on the peninsula in 2005 with some degree of trepidation. But the scenery was not the only thing that surprised me at Gallipoli. Not usually one for jingoistic brow-beating, I left Gallipoli as proud an Aussie as I’d ever been.

The pride was borne of a number of factors. Seeing the coarse, wiry scrub and unforgiving landscape put the battles in perspective. Visiting the museum at Kabatepe and reading the soldiers’ letters home put a human face on the suffering. But it was the communal pool of emotion that pervaded the dawn service that really gave me goosebumps as The Last Post sounded over Anzac Cove. How many other nations’ citizens travel in such numbers to a foreign land to commemorate troops who fought in what was, in military terms, such an ignominious defeat?

Of course, any large gathering of Australians and New Zealanders is not going to be without spirit. The day before, footballs were kicked (away from memorial sites); friendly banter echoed through the overnight wait for the dawn service; and a Mexican wave pre-empted proceedings at the Australian service at Lone Pine later that day. Such frivolities could be deemed inappropriate, but then part of the Anzac reputation was forged on their unique humour and indomitable spirit. Respect is paramount, but surely the Anzacs should be honoured in a way that befits their memory.

History of the Anzacs
The Gallipoli landings came about due to the stalemate that had developed along the Western Front in Belgium and northern France during World War I. With neither side able to gain ascendancy, First Admiralty of the British Navy Winston Churchill advocated a bold move to invade Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had sided with the Germans, and Churchill’s plan was to knock them out of the war and open up a supply route to Russia, one of Great Britain’s allies.

The initial plan was for a Navy assault, but the only way to Constantinople was through the Dardenelles, a narrow body of water joining the Aegean and Marmara seas. The Turks were able to repel Churchill’s original assault through staunch defending and naval mines.

Churchill’s plan B was to launch a land-based assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula. These troops, it was reasoned, could start their own bid towards Constantinople, while also providing coverage for the ships to come through the strait.

The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) was made up of not just Australians and New Zealanders, but Britons, Frenchmen, Indians, Canadians and north Africans. In fact, both Britain (21,255) and France (10,000) lost more troops than the Anzac countries (Australia 8709; New Zealand 2721) during the Gallipoli campaign, and the Turks lost 87,000 soldiers.

Australian troops landed at Ari Burnu (now Anzac Cove) at dawn on April 25, 1915. Their mission was to seize the beach and then secure the high ground. But the steep, scrub-covered terrain gave the Turkish soldiers too great an advantage. The Australians suffered heavy losses, as did other MEF nations landing elsewhere on the peninsula. But, they secured the beaches and refused to budge.

The Allied soldiers spent the next eight months camped in atrocious conditions on a strip of coastline as narrow as 100m in parts. It was here the Anzacs became known for their courage and good humour in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Ironically, the greatest success of the campaign was the Allied withdrawl, completed without major losses in January 1916.