This year’s Poppy Day carries an added poignancy: By November 1915 it was clear the war would not be over by Christmas, Andy Milne writes.
Fighting on the Western Front stalled as soldiers dug in for trench warfare. The Allied invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli had failed altogether.
On the morning of 10 November, allied commander, Lord Kitchener, landed on the Gallipoli peninsular and spent the day talking to men and officers. Later he visited forward positions and took stock of what had become a hopeless position.
The invasion of Turkey had been undertaken earlier that year in a bid to take pressure off the Russians.
In the First World War, Turkey ended up part of the German-Austrian bloc, at war with Britain, France and Russia.
The campaign in Gallipoli had not gone well. The terrain is harsh and the Turks held the high ground. By late summer, the idea of taking Istanbul seemed absurd.
The Turkish commander at Gallipoli was one Mustafa Kemal, better know to history as Ataturk. A brilliant strategist, Ataturk already believed the war was lost.
A pro-Western secularist, Ataturk would go on to lay the foundations of the modern Turkish state. The road to freedom, he believed, was through education and he built thousands of schools. Importantly, his success in the Dardanelles enabled him to win over the army which became a guarantor of the unfolding revolution in the 1920s.
Ataturk never forgot the troops he commanded or those he fought. His example remains an inspiration. This year, railway staff redoubled efforts to support Poppy Day and the unstinting efforts of the Royal British Legion in support of Britain’s armed forces. Thousands of volunteer collectors, including veterans from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, benefitted from free rail travel.
A Remembrance Sculpture comprising six three- metre high poppies was unveiled at London’s Waterloo station. The giant poppies – each approximately a metre in diameter – served as a collection point for donations in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday. The sculpture was commissioned by Interserve which looks after Waterloo station and has close ties with the military.
Sacrifice for freedom
Back in 1915, the troops, most of them Australian and New Zealanders, started leaving the peninsular in December. The evacuation was completed by January 1916. Thousands never left and are buried locally.
The disaster put a black mark against Winston Churchill who, as Sea Lord, had backed the campaign against the advice of colleagues. Ataturk, as described, did much better.
A magnanimous man, some years after the war he caused a memorial to be set up on the sea front at Cannakale. It is still worth a visit.
At its base runs an inscription in Turkish and English. From memory it reads: Mothers weep not for your sons, for they lie at peace in a friendly land and by their sacrifice for freedom they have become our sons as well.’