Kiwis and Aussies tried to change history in what was then a crumbling European empire
Issue 31, April 2009
by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
On 30 April 1915, when Australia learned that five days earlier the country's first overseas army corps had landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, a wave of joy swept through the streets. The day was declared a public holiday. Everybody kept repeating, mantra-like, what was so commonly heard at the beginning of the Great War: "We'll soon win and everything will be OK!" The Anzacs, as the soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps came to be known, together with British and French units, aimed to conquer the fortified Ottoman positions controlling the Dardanelles.
A few days later, according to the plans of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Constantinople would fall. Thus Germany would lose a major ally. Bulgaria, which was still a neutral country at the time, would join the Triple Entente. Allied ships would have a safe route to supply weapons and humanitarian aid to Russia, which fought on the Eastern front. The defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary would be a matter of months.
But, as the Bulgarians say, the easiest way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans.
The atmosphere in Australia and New Zealand during the first anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli was far from festive. Everybody had already learned the terrible truth about Anzac Day. On the first day of the landing 2,000 of their soldiers died. The fights lasted eight months – eight long months of relentless trench warfare in which the Ottomans triumphed.
At the beginning of January 1916 the Allies withdrew. Bulgaria had already joined in the war in August 1915 – siding with Germany. The planned aid never made it to Russia and the military crisis grew to such an extent that in 1917 the Bolsheviks started their fatal revolution.
Anzac Day and the Gallipoli Campaign are significant in making the Kiwis and Aussies realise they are separate nations, and not simply part of the Commonwealth. So 25 April 1915 came to be regarded as a turning point in the formation of the two nations and the heroism of the men who fell as a result of their government's national pride.
In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day is a day of remembrance and has been celebrated with the so-called Dawn Service since the 1920s. The tradition is a symbolic echo of the landing at Gallipoli, which took place in the early morning just before dawn.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, commemorative services have been held on the Gallipoli Peninsula too, attracting more tourists there than at any other time of year. Coming mainly from Australia and New Zealand, visitors gather for the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove, the site of the landing, at 5.30 am. When dawn breaks, they would lay wreaths on the memorials of the Turkish, British and French soldiers on the southern Cape Hellas and pay their respects at the war cemetery of the Anzacs.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers