By Stavros T. Stavridis
The landing of Australian and New Zealand troops (Anzac) on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 is commemorated with reverence and is also a time of national reflection for soldiers who died in all conflicts in both countries.
The Anzacs were part of an Anglo-French expeditionary force that also included Canadian and Indian troops. When these troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli, they were mowed down by machine gun fire by Ottoman troops perched on top of high cliffs. Despite the courage and bravery of the Anzacs, this campaign proved to be an absolute military disaster, which led to an eventual withdrawal in January, 1916. It was on the shores of Gallipoli where it is said Australia’s national identity was forged.
What does Gallipoli have to do with us Greeks? There are several reasons which we will be explored below.
The island of Lemnos, situated near the entrance of the Dardanelles was the staging base for the Gallipoli campaign. Anzac forces trained and prepared for this mission on this important strategic island. Many injured soldiers received medical attention and recovered in the field hospitals and rest camps on Lemnos. A Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee was established in Melbourne, Australia in 2011 with the aim of “raising funds to create a lasting legacy of telling the story of Lemnos’ link to Gallipoli and Australia’s Anzac story.” Its main achievement so far was the “unveiling of the memorial erected in Australia commemorating Lemnos’ role in the Anzac story” in August, 2015. The committee is composed of both Greeks and Australians with Lee Tarlamis as its president and Jim Claven as its secretary. The former Greek-Australian parliamentarian, John Pandazopoulos is also involved with the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee. The harbor of Mudros, Lemnos was the place where the Ottoman Empire signed the armistice onboard the British ship, HMS Agamemnon, on October 30, 1918.
Twelve Greeks served with the Australian Imperial Force at Gallipoli. The military service records of Constantine Aroney (Cerigo/Kythera) , Leo Manusu (born in New South Wales) and Peter Rados (Athens) can be found in the National Archives of Australia. The latter was killed in action on May 19, 1915; his brother Nick resided in Atlantic City, NJ. Nick notified Australian military authorities that his brother had given Athens as his parents address as not jeopardize his enlistment. In fact, the parents were Ottoman subjects living in Smyrna who had sought the aid of their son, Nick through the American Ambassador. There were four young sisters living in Artaki (Erdek) under allied rule and both parents had died during the war. The surviving Greeks served with distinction on the western front in France.
When the Ottoman Empire cast its lot with the Central powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) in October 1914, British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey along with allied partners, France and Russia, sought the support of the Balkan states in early 1915. Meanwhile, Serbia was engaged in a life and death struggle against the central powers whereas Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania chose neutrality despite allied offers of territorial compensation. However, the Balkan states were suspicious of each other’s motives and intentions.
From the Greek perspective, the persecution of Greeks in Aivali including Britain’s offer of territorial compensation in Asia Minor caused Greek Premier, Eleftherios Venizelos to write his famous three memoranda to King Constantine. This presented a wonderful opportunity for Greece to fulfill its dream of the Megali Idea. Venizelos was prepared to place the Greek naval and military forces at the disposal of the allies for an assault on Gallipoli. However, the major stumbling was King Constantine adopting a neutral foreign policy. It took two Crown Councils and the Greek High Command to reject Venizelos’ proposal which led to the latter’s dismissal by the King in March, 1915.
IF GREECE JOINED IN
A Greek contribution to the Gallipoli campaign would have strengthened the allies, leading to a collapse of the Ottoman Empire and to the occupation of the latter’s capital, Constantinople. Russia wasn’t too keen to see the Greeks in Constantinople as they harbored their own claim to this famous city. It must not be forgotten, the Greek army and navy were well-armed , well- trained and experienced after its recent military successes in the Balkan wars 1912-13. Who knows whether Greece’s involvement might have saved the lives of thousands of ANZAC soldiers fighting in this brutal theater.
Finally, a State Department document emanating from Constantinople dated August 10, 1915, outlines in some detail the deportation and relocation of Greeks from the towns and cities in the Gallipoli Peninsula some two weeks before the Anzac landing. It is estimated that some 40,000 Greek refugees came from the dioceses of Gallipoli, Dardanelles and Princes Islands. The Greeks were forced to leave at short notice and allowed to take very few possessions with them. Greek houses and properties were plundered by the Turks. They were relocated to Turkish villages facing attendant dangers in language, customs, and religion. Some Greeks were deported into the Anatolian interior.
The Greek refugees received little or no assistance from the Ottoman government, were treated brutally, faced starvation, lived outdoors facing heat and possessed little or no money to purchase the necessities of life. A successful Greek and Anzac military assault at Gallipoli might have saved the Greek inhabitants from deportation and spared the Armenians from genocide by the Ottoman Turks.
I hope this article will assist our Greek Diaspora to consider the importance of Lemnos to the Gallipoli campaign and its contribution to Greek-Australian ties through the Anzac story. It would be great if our Greek sympatriotes in Europe and North America told their non-Greek friends about Lemnos and its important role in the Great War.