A Gallipoli Tragedy
One of the greatest tragedies in Australian military history occurred at Gallipoli on 7 August 1915, when hundreds of Australian light horsemen were repeatedly ordered to charge the massed rifles and machine-guns of the Turkish enemy in an ill-fated attempt to break the stalemate.
The charge at The Nek has been immortalised in art, literature and film and has come to epitomise both the futility and courage of the Gallipoli campaign.
In this classic book, Peter Burness provides the best account ever published of the formation and training of the Light Horse regiments (including profiles of the officers involved), a vivid account of the battle itself and a careful consideration of how the suicidal charges were allowed to continue when any hope of success was lost.
For this new edition, the author has updated the text to include new information that has come to light since the book was first published in 1996, and he has also provided new maps and photographs.
Peter Burness is a Senior Historian at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the Memorial’s longest serving employee. A specialist in the battles of World War One, he has written several books on the subject, and has also worked on numerous permanent, temporary and travelling
exhibitions. A long-serving member of the Armed Services working group of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, he has contributed over 20 entries to the dictionary. Since 1994 he has led the Memorial’s annual tours to the Western Front.
‘Our chaps have landed at the Dardanelles now and no doubt will be fighting their way towards Constantinople. We are hoping that light horse will soon be wanted in the operations and no doubt they will.’
Excerpt from The Nek. Image is of the 8th Light Horse signallers in Egypt. Text and image copyright © Australian War Memorial 2012.
My long-held interest in the events described in this book probably developed from a familiarity with George Lambert’s famous painting, The Charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek, and the sad relics of the battle displayed in the Australian War Memorial. Having, over the years, collected information from major and obscure sources, often only brief references, I eventually decided that there was sufficient material for a book.
The first edition of The Nek appeared in 1996 and at that time I expressed my sympathy for all those men, of all ranks, who found themselves on, or near, that terrible battlefield on 7 August 1915. By publishing an account of the battle, I felt that I had joined the storytellers who, over the years, had kept alive the memory of the tragedy. Since then others have written on the topic. All of this has helped ensure that these men’s stories are not forgotten.
I was fortunate in 1984 to have had the opportunity to interview a handful of old soldiers who had been at The Nek on that tragic day. Their accounts provided a unique dimension to my study. As the decades passed, that generation of men departed. None are now left, and I realise more than ever what a remarkable privilege it was to hear their accounts. Those veteran Anzacs included the late Lionel Simpson DCM, who was the last survivor of the charge.
From the beginning, and extending to the present time, I have been helped and encouraged by many people, some of whom are mentioned in the notes. I have not attempted to mention all those who have helped for fear of missing out many. Management, colleagues and staff at the Memorial have made my work possible, and those individuals and families who gave me access to family papers and other information deserve my special thanks. It was particularly important for me to discover the private papers of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander White, the officer who died leading the charge, and to be given permission to use them. I have also enjoyed the exchange of details with other historians and writers who have tackled this subject. The De Lambert Largesse Foundation generously provided the resources for me to extend my study in this and other topics.
Anyone researching Australian participation in the First World War owes a great debt to Charles Bean, and I am no exception. I drew inspiration and knowledge from his published volumes, and from his diaries and correspondence preserved at the Australian War Memorial. My account of the battle may add detail and background, but it does nothing to undermine the authority of the description he presented in his second volume of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–18. Among modern scholars of the battle, Jeff Pickerd offered useful comments.
This edition of the book contains some additions and amendments. Although I have gathered some more descriptions of the battle, I have been circumspect in incorporating these into the text, preferring mostly to retain the existing construction of the original book. I truly hope that I have represented everyone fairly and honestly.
The battle for The Nek has become an important part of the story of Australia at war. Its place within the Anzac legend was reinforced by the film Gallipoli, which still retains a wide popularity after all these years, and by the retelling of the battle in more recent publications. But it is too easy to forget that many lives were lost, men were maimed and reputations suffered. This is a story that deserves to be remembered.
Australian War Memorial, Canberra May 2012
Name: The Nek: A Gallipoli Tragedy
Editors: Peter Burness
Size: 234 x 153mm or 9¼ X 6 in
Pages: 168 pages, plus 8 pages maps and photographs