Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_wrong at Gallipol

What went wrong at Gallipoli in 1915?

‘Gallipoli’ is a 1981 Australian film directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, about young men who enlist in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the First World War and find themselves fighting in Gallipoli. The ANZACs are portrayed as mostly country boys from the ‘outback’ whereas in fact this wasn’t true; most were born in urban areas and a third of them were British-born, with the majority having British heritage. (Photo by United Archives/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

These sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to explore some of the factors behind the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. The focus is primarily on the planning and communication process which preceded the campaign.

As a collection of eight sources the documents can be used simply to build up a picture of the meetings, discussions and communications which passed between the various politicians and commanders. Teachers could ask students to work through the entire collection or get individuals or pairs or small groups to look at a smaller number of sources and then report back. However, it’s probably better to try to get students to use the entire collection if possible. This way they can move beyond the sources as a batch of individual documents and use them more in the way a historian would, as a grouping of documents which illustrate the past more effectively as a coherent collection.

With this basis in mind, students who have looked at the sources might then be challenged with tasks which extend their thinking and understanding. For example:

Activity 1: What is the popular perception of Gallipoli?

At present much of the world is commemorating the centenary of the First World War and the major events of the conflict. Although the commemorations have done much to present a more balanced, complete and evidenced view of the war, there’s still a prevailing perception of the First World War generally as futile and that the war mainly involved brave young men being sacrificed by incompetent and out-of-date and out-of-touch commanders.

Gallipoli is no exception. The investigation page reflects on the fact that Gallipoli reflected badly on the General Staff and the British officers in command at Gallipoli. This perception has been long lasting. The feature film of 1981, starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, has played an important role in reinforcing this perception. You could use extracts from the film or simply the outline of the plot as a starting point and then consider whether the sources support or contradict the view presented in the film.

Activity 2: Would you prefer to defend or attack the General Staff?

Ask students to put themselves in the position of the officer in charge of the inquiry into Gallipoli. Various accusations have been made.

  • The Gallipoli plan didn’t have Kitchener’s support.
  • The British commanders behaved as though they were in a gentleman’s club.
  • There was no prearranged plan for attacking Gallipoli.

Use a table like this to see whether the evidence supports or contradicts the accusations.

SourceSupports all or some of the criticisms AT FACE VALUEDoes not support all or some of the criticisms AT FACE VALUEReasons why the source is strong or weak evidence about this particular issue








 Download table (PDF)
 Download table (Word document)

Activity 3: Honest History

There is an Australian web site called Honest History which has a particular interest in publishing evidence-based accounts of the actions of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops rather than continuing to publish selective and semi-mythical accounts. Use the source material in this investigation along with information from the recommended reading to create an account which Honest History might want to publish.

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