Wishful Thinking by the British on the Gallipoli Invasion:
A 1915 Cartoon that Reflects Putting the Cart Before the Horse
Armenian News Network /
September 5, 2021
by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
Two periods might arguably be selected above all others to convey the message of the complete madness of World War I. The first is the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 by the British (and French) with the view of securing the Dardanelles straits, that narrow strip of land leading to Constantinople and the Black Sea, thus giving Russia troops access so as to put Turkey out of the War. It was becoming more clear on the part of the Allies that the War was going to be more protracted than originally thought.
The other is the period of 1919-1923 just after the War, when the future of Turkey’s Christian population was deliberately sacrificed by the Allies when they conveniently and totally forgot prior claims of their nominally unflinching dedication to a quest for justice for the assailed minorities.
It will not have escaped the notice of Groong readers that the onset of the Armenian Genocide coincided with the British and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) invasion at Gallipoli.
Many will also know that the Gallipoli invasion was doomed to failure from the outset. Nine months later the troops were withdrawn in humiliation. Some have said that the exit strategy used and the evacuation were the only part of the entire debacle that was carried with professional competence and efficiency. The Allies had underestimated the strength of long planned Turkish and German defensive plans, the kinds of armaments held by the Turks and their German allies, the fighting commitment of the Turks and their excellent leadership, the pitifully out-of-date knowledge on the part of the invaders of the geography of the area being invaded, virtually useless maps, and last but not least, the utter incompetence of the Allied command. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill who had fostered and spearheaded the entire misadventure resigned as a result.
Much has been written about the mis-management of Gallipoli. Films have been made which have been acclaimed as quite faithful to the facts. The British and ANZACS lost on best estimate some 36,000 men killed or missing, the French about 11,000 killed or missing. Turkey states the Turks lost 68,000 killed or missing.
Far less has been written about the arrogance, vanity and self-importance presumed and shown by the British. The entire operation was to be, to use modern parlance, ‘a piece of cake.’- a ‘done deal.’
Nowhere is this shown more flagrantly than in a cartoon that appeared in “The Passing Show” on April 10, 1915. (“The Passing Show” was a weekly magazine published by Odhams Press in London between 20-Mar-1915 – 19-Mar-1926. We need not bother with its subsequent history to 1939).
The story (late February 1915) had been run in a number of newspapers in America and abroad that Le Matin newspaper in Paris had received a dispatch from its Athens correspondent stating that “the Sultan is preparing to leave Constantinople, and that to this end imperial trains are kept, with steam up, in the railroad station. The inhabitants of the Prinkipo Islands, in the Sea of Marmora, not far from Constantinople, have been instructed to hold themselves in readiness to leave.” While it is true that the possibility of the Ottoman government moving to Asia Minor to re-establish itself at the city of Brusa, some 20 miles from the Sea of Marmara, had been very seriously considered. It never came to pass since there was no need. Brusa had been the former Ottoman capital since 1326 C.E.. An article in the Boston Daily Globe, 7 March 1915 pg. 14, provides a detailed notice of the contemplated move to Brusa and some views of the city.
Alfred Leete, a well-known British graphic designer (his full name was Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete, 1882–1933) drew a rather amusing view of the Sultan’s move in his cartoon “Moving Day.” Since the cartoon occupied a two-page spread, we think it would be best for us to first present it in its entirety, and then in two sections for closer examination. See Figs. 1a, 1b and 1c.
The heading to the cartoon reads: “Moving Day in Constantinople.” It continues with the ditty
“With an ache in every heart,
With the harem in the cart.
And with Allies’ guns a-barking out their warning
Hun and Turk have caught it hot,
So they do the Turkey Trot.
And leave Constantinople in the morning.”
“Moving Day in Constantinople.” From The Passing Show April 10, 1915 pg. 13.
Left side of “Moving Day in Constantinople.”
Right side of “Moving Day in Constantinople.”
The details of the cartoon are quite clever and funny, if only one to ascribe some justification for it other than over-confidence and wishful thinking. The wish was that the Turks would be routed in short order.
One of the features of a political cartoon that is usually held as important and is appreciated is the supposed timeliness of what is being portrayed or joked about.
One can only wonder what Leete thought about his cartoon after the Gallipoli campaign quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster. Turkey turned out to be a much ‘tougher customer’ than had been anticipated.
Parenthetically, as early as 1878 cartoons were presented ridiculing the asininity of war mongers who hadn’t a clue of what was really involved. An ass in the lion’s skin tells it all. Aesop’s fable was right on the mark – as usual! ) “A fool may deceive by his dress and appearance, but his words will soon show what he really is.”
From Punch, The London Charivari vol. 74, pg. 7 (1878).
Leete probably chose to ignore the cartoon after it came out. No one likes being wrong. His cartoon on Moving Day seems only to have been published in The Passing Show. We came across it by chance at the British Library while we were tracking down another cartoon.
There is little doubt that Alfred Leete was a talented graphic artist. He published the famous, today iconic, image of Lord Kitchener with outstretched hand and finger stating “Your Country Needs You” on the cover of the London Opinion of 5 September 1914. (The history of that image has been delved into in great detail by James Taylor in his 2013 book “Your country needs you: the secret history of the ultimate propaganda poster” (Saraband: Glasgow).
It would have been life-saving for the Armenians and other Christians of the Empire if Gallipoli had been a success. It could be argued that there would not have been a genocide. Today, the celebration of ANZAC Day, April 25, by Australians and Kiwis, has come to serve as a way to obscure the reality of the Genocide. Turkey has adopted commemoration of the day as a weapon, and subtly and not so subtly, threatens making it difficult for Australians and New Zealanders to commemorate the date with the full cooperation of Turkey should anyone dare stray from the near-scripted accepted narrative (see David Monger and Sarah Murray, Reflections on the Commemoration of the First World War. Perspectives from the former British Empire, Routledge Ltd, Andover.) 2020 and James Robins When the Dead Awaken: Australia, New Zealand and the Armenian Genocide, I.B. Tauris, London, 2021. We shall refrain from discussing Robins’ use of the same title from Henrik Ibsen’s play originally written in Norwegian at the end of 1899, which we believe would be lost on most readers today, but there certainly is no reason for missing the meaning of the direct subtitle. The sad fact is that the ANZAC troops witnessed the Armenian genocide. There can be no altering of that fact. What they elect to do with the information is in the hands of the Australian and New Zealand governments and politicians. Thus far, the Turks have done quite well in suppressing publicizing the crime committed by their ancestors.)
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