The Marginalised Voices of Gallipoli


Troops of the 14th Sikhs of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade examining a piece of shell in Gallipoli. Image: IWM content licence.

Feature by Al Riddell and Harriet Onyett

The Gallipoli campaign (1915-16) of The Great War is mainly remembered here in Britain as a bloody and failed attempt to capture the Turkish capital of Constantinople (now Istanbul).

From a Western perspective the participation of troops from other nations has been largely forgotten and the significance of the campaign to other cultures is often underestimated.

Dr Richard Smith, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, thinks that World War One was the first truly multicultural war and many forget that a diverse range of allied nations and cultures fought in Gallipoli.

Dr Smith was speaking at the Postcards From Gallipoli event held at Goldsmiths; a symposium dedicated to remembering the involvement of Goldsmiths in the war and the impact on society in 1915.



Dr Smith believes the Gallipoli campaign is a crucial part of the national identity of many modern nations.

For instance, he thinks the identities of Australia and New Zealand have been irrevocably forged by their association with Gallipoli.

The two nations celebrate ANZAC Day on the 25th of April, a national day of remembrance commemorating all nationals who have served and died in conflicts.

ANZAC Day was originally to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during World War One. 

Of the 44,000 Allied soldiers killed in Gallipoli, more than 8,700 were Australian troops and 2,779 were of the New Zealand battalion.

Dr Smith explains how the involvement of ANZAC troops in the Gallipoli campaign informs the national identity of modern Australia.

The contribution of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand is often overlooked when the Western narratives of Gallipoli are considered.


A Maori in the Apex trenches on 30 November 1915. The cheerfulness of the Maoris in the New Zealand contingent, despite terrible conditions, was noted by many observers. Image: IWM content licence.

The Maori were initially not accepted into the army by British authorities due to prejudices about race and an imperialistic concern that the Maori would use their weapons against their previous colonisers.

However, as recruitment became more difficult there was a significant change in attitude.

It was perhaps the vast Indian contingent fighting in France that changed the mind of the British authorities.

From a Maori point of view, they believed that if they fought on the side of the British Empire they could strive for equality in New Zealand.

At Gallipoli some of the Maori formed a sniper unit that was integral to the survival of many allied forces.

The battle of Chunuk Bair on August 8th 1915 was the only success of the Gallipoli campaign and could not have happened without the warriors from New Zealand (the victory however was short lived as the mountain was lost a few days after the battle).

Through the fighting in Gallipoli the Maori lost a huge number of men but they created a name for themselves as strong, fearsome warriors.

Dr Richard Smith believes the Maori units played a key role both in the campaign of 1915-16 but also in forging the national identity of modern New Zealand.

Dr Smith says that the participation of the Indian, West Indian and South African units among other allied fighting forces have also been largely ignored.

The Postcards from Gallipoli event was a huge success that brought many alternative perspectives of The Great War and the Gallipoli campaign to the fore.

Dr Smith’s presentation was a welcome departure from the purely Western narrative of Gallipoli that is so commonly remembered here in Britain.

It was an eye-opening demonstration as to why we should consider diverse global perspectives to understand a true narrative of historic events.

A selection of photographs depicting various foreign fighting forces in Gallipoli. Included are troops from New Zealand, Australia, Senegal and Gurkha, Maori and Sikh soldiers. Images: IWM content licence. 

You can search for more collections of Gallipoli documents and photographs by visiting The Imperial War Museum website



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