Some are quick to make conclusions of the events of history including one of the greatest disasters of the Allies in World War I, the Gallipoli. Hopes were high when Winston Churchill cooked up the plan that could send a major military blow to the Central Powers. He certainly was able to rally the British Government’s War Council on January 15, 1915. A month after, British and ANZAC troops were positioned against the Turkish troops in the Dardanelles.
Since the arrival of Allied Troops in the Gallipoli peninsula, they suffered severe defeat after defeat the military officers heading the campaign would rather have nothing to do with the plan. When the guns, and bombs of Turkish soldiers were unsuccessful, the dysentery and the cliffs did the job of multiplying the number of deaths. The only considered victory of the Gallipoli campaign was the successful evacuation and retreat of the troops from Helles headed by Clement Attlee. Overall, the campaign took 200,000 lives.
Jeremy Paxman remembers his Uncle Charlie as one of the British Royal Army Medical Corps where he “certainly neither killed nor wounded a German”. Charles Edmund Dickson, or Uncle Charlie as Jeremy Paxman would fondly call him, was among the names carved in the Helles Memorial along with 21,000 others. His death, however, remained a mystery to relatives and generations who only heard of tales of the great Uncle Charlie and who only saw a few documents deteriorated and reduced to antiquity through the passing of time.
All the documents, though they contain expressions of empathy and sorrow over the death of “Private C. Dickson”, and letters after letters that remembered Uncle Charlie as someone who “DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOR”, they somehow felt impersonal, mass-produced and full of remorse for the mistakes the top brass made at the expense of thousands of lives. Despite the theatrics, the family of Uncle Charlie, including Jeremy Paxman would remember him to be a legend.
Today, Gallipoli and the First World War could easily be defined as an unnecessary waste of millions of innocent lives due to the greedy whims of dullards who happened to hold political and economic power. Jeremy Paxman would further state that the post-war mindset would view Uncle Charlie and his comrades “the common man ordered to advance into machinegun fire by upper-class twits sitting in comfortable headquarters miles away”.
In the end, Jeremy Paxman notes that we are all a product of our ignorance. The “donkeys” who made the call to attack Gallipoli were ignorant and acted despite the lack of concrete information about the enemy troops in the peninsula as well as the terrain. They paid a heavy price for their blunder.
Today, we are all as ignorant of the war because most of us are lucky to enjoy the “absence” of a Great War now. So much has changed overtime. Anti-war sentiments grew with intensity only after the war.
“What aggravates our ignorance is the false assumption that we do understand the First World War. We need to cast ourselves back into the minds of these men and their families, to try to inhabit the assumptions of their society rather than to replace them with our own”, Jeremy Paxman firmly states.
As for Uncle Charlie and the volunteers, their deaths cannot be simplified by reducing the First World War to purposelessness. Whether he died of machine gun fire, dysentery or drowning, he chose to make a sacrifice for his country, against a tyrannical ideology and to respond to the call of duty at that distinct turning-point in world history. It was a sacrifice when he chose to part from the comforts of home and the company of families to march to the unknown yet more likely doom. While we could not fathom nor comprehend the First World War and the roles that each individual played in the carnage, the nation suffered the grief of the loss of thousands of children during the war. As Jeremy Paxman finally puts it, “the entire nation has been conducting a form of séance ever since”.