Myths of Gallipoli

Facts turn into stories. Stories turn into myths. In wartime, the facts are sometimes unhelpful. Bad orders, poor supplies, too many deaths – these make life hard for the soldiers being asked to put their lives on the line. They also make it hard for the loved ones left at home. So the stories begin, using only the facts that suit the storyteller. Later, the stories turn into myths, leaving the facts out altogether and telling of superhuman feats, unexplained events, strange happenings. This section looks at some of the myths of Gallipoli.

How do myths start?

Stephen Chambers, author and battlefield guide, tells us how myths start and how historians look at the evidence and try to piece together what really happened.

Click here for a video of three Australian historians discussing how and why the history of Gallipoli became the story of Gallipoli.


Film of the Gallipoli landings – fact or fiction?

Film of Gallipoli landings 1915 2     Anzac landing Steve Chambers

These photos were both taken in 1915. They show the ANZAC soldiers landing on the beach at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. One is real and the other is a fake. Can you tell which is which? (Credits: left, Smythe Family; right, Stephen Chambers)

When the ANZAC soldiers landed at Gallipoli in April 1915 there were no film cameras running, so in July 1915 a regiment still in Australia sent some men to act out the landings on a beach near Sydney. A film was made for the newsreels, to be shown in cinemas.  In the film, soldiers leap from their boats and are mown down by Turkish machine gunners, while bombs and shells explode all around.  You can see the film here. In this version Percy Smythe, one of the soldiers who took part in the film, describes how it was made.

Stephen Chambers, interviewed above, gives his opinion of how accurate the film is:

1. The film shows the landings taking place in full daylight, when in fact the first men hit the beach about 4.30, an hour before the sun was up.

2. With the exception of the isolated Fisherman’s Hut landing further up the coast, VERY few casualties were on the beaches.

3. The background is far too rocky, not the sandy bush covered cliffs that faced the Anzacs that morning.

4. The vast majority of Australians were wearing the British style flat cap with the peak for the landings, and not the slouch hat as portrayed during most of this film.

5. There were no Turkish machine guns firing onto the beach.

Of course Percy Smythe and the other soldiers had never been to Gallipoli at this point although they soon left Australia, landing at Gallipoli in August.

Women snipers?

In letters home some soldiers said that there were female Turkish snipers hiding in the trees. Were these just rumours, or even myths? See here for more information.


Five common Anzac myths

  1. The Anzacs landed on the wrong beach
  2. The British generals were to blame
  3. The Aussies were natural athletes and bushmen
  4. Australian hero Simpson and his donkey
  5. The Anzacs deceived the Turks with a ‘drip gun’

Click here to find out whether these are fact or fiction.


Five more Gallipoli myths

  1. It was a good idea let down by poor leadership
  2. It was mainly an Anzac affair
  3. Gallipoli was where the nation of Australia was born
  4. The August offensive was nearly successful
  5. It was a heroic-romantic campaign

Click here to see a discussion of these myths by Prof. Gary Sheffield.


. . . and did Mustafa Kemal Atatürk actually write the famous ‘Those heroes that shed their blood’ speech?

Ataturk memorial GCEP

The memorial at Ari Burnu. Are these actually Atatürk’s words? (Photo: R. Clutterbuck)

These are perhaps the most famous words from Gallipoli – click on the photo for a larger version. They are displayed on this monument near Anzac Cove, and were written by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1934. They have a very powerful message of reconciliation. However there is very little evidence that Atatürk actually ever said them.  See an exploration of the evidence here. If he didn’t write them, who did, and when – and why say they were Atatürk’s own words?  Was this Turkish myth-making, to create better relations with the Australians?