Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

April Books 2) Field of Bones

2) Field of Bones: An Irish Division in Gallipoli, by Philip Orr

A few years ago I posted a letter from my grandfather written from Palestine in January 1918, during the first world war, and over the last year or so I've been trying to get a better picture of his experiences at the end on 1915 and in 1916 with the 6th Royal Dublin Fusiliers as part of the 10th Division in Macedonia. For some reason I had not especially got into the Gallipoli side of his military career, despite the explicit reference to "9th August" in the 1918 letter. But I spotted this book in a Belfast book shop when I was there last month, and discovered to my delight that it actually contained two references to my grandfather - one at the end to his death in 1949, but also another to his being wounded on 15 August 1915, during the British attempts to push east on the seaward side of the ridge north of Suvla Bay. This is practically the first reference I have found about him outside existing family lore. It seems that one of his friends left a fairly detailed account of the war, now in the National Army Museum archives in Chelsea.

Apart from my personal interest, I think this is a pretty good effort. Orr has very much gone for the soldier's-eye-view of the Suvla Bay campaign (with a minor excursion to follow the Irish soldiers detached to support the Anzacs further south).Of course, it seems that in this case the geopolitical or wider strategic aspects of the campaign would not make a lot of sense; he is deliberately concentrating on the experience of the 10th (Irish) Division, not the Allied forces as a whole. Also his source material is vivid stuff and he has put it together well. I think my biggest criticism is that he does not make as much as he could of the military failure of the campaign: the total failure of the landing to achieve any of its objectives, ie holding the high ground around the bowl-like bay from which the Turks eventually shelled them out, linking up effectively with the Anzacs a few miles to the south, let alone pushing up the peninsula to Istanbul over 200 km away.

Orr also reflects on the way in which the Suvla Bay campaign has been ignored by later Irish historians, in total contrast to the nation-forging effect of the Anzac landings on the people on the far side of the world. He credits Shane McGowan of the Pogues for doing more than anyone else to raise public awareness of it in the most recent period. The problem was that the 10th Division was too broad-based in its membership; within a year of its landing at Gallipoli, more exclusive military myths had been generated by each side much closer to home (the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme). And while there have certainly been greater efforts made of late by the Irish state to recognise the Irish contribution to the first world war, it has tended to concentrate on the Western Front rather than events further east. This readable book will help to redress the balance. And I now know the true identity of the Stuffer.
Tags: bookblog 2007, history: wwi, life: family

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