A century passes since the evacuation from Gallipoli

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Minister for Human Services

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

Today, Sunday 20 December, marks 100 years since the last Australian and New Zealand troops were evacuated from Gallipoli.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Stuart Robert, said the evacuation of the Anzac and Suvla areas of Gallipoli occurred over 12 nights, from 8 to 20 December 1915, with only minimal casualties, in what would be celebrated as the greatest achievement of the unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign.

“By December 1915, as the campaign dragged on into its eighth month, it became obvious that the stalemate on the battlefield could not be broken. The August Offensive had failed and increasingly heavy shelling pounded the Anzac-held sectors,” Mr Robert said.

“After months of deliberation, the snow, blizzards, frostbite, illness, and shortages of supplies and reinforcements finally forced a decision: the peninsula would be evacuated and the Gallipoli campaign would be over.

“Although Turkish soldiers were probably aware that something was taking place, the evacuation operations were a triumph of staff planning, and on the last two nights the final 2,000 Australians silently boarded the waiting boats and left Gallipoli behind.

“Those who were among the last to leave kept up the appearance of normality, maintaining the sporadic fire that had come to characterise the fighting on the peninsula. Anzac losses had been heavy on the peninsula, totalling more than 28,000 Australian casualties, almost 9,000 of whom had been killed in action or died of wounds or disease.”

To this day almost half of these servicemen have no known graves, having been reported “missing in action” or “buried at sea”. The New Zealanders, British, French, Indians, and other allied troops similarly counted their casualties in the thousands.

The campaign involved a total of almost one million men on both sides. The heaviest losses were among the Turkish forces, who suffered more than 251,000 casualties, of whom 87,000 died.

In the second volume of the Official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918, Australia’s war historian Charles Bean wrote: “There were few people in Australasia of whom some near relative or close friend did not lie on those hillsides abandoned to the enemy.”

As part of the commemorations, Minister Robert will introduce the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial today, focusing on the story of Staff Sergeant Harry Bowser, who was one of the few Australian casualties resulting from the evacuation.

Representatives of many of the countries that took part in the Gallipoli campaign will also attend and lay wreaths at the Last Post Ceremony.

Media Contact:
Richard Briedis (Minister Robert’s Office): 0477 391 174
Dale Starr (Department of Veterans’ Affairs): 0428 805 578

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)
can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling.
Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546)