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  • Dan Crouch

Today in history: A brief window of humanity and compassion among all the horrors of war

War historian Mat McLachlan joined Flow to discuss a remarkable albeit brief truce between ANZAC and Turkish soldiers exactly 108 years ago on 24th May 1915, just one month into the Gallipoli campaign during World War 1.

    Image: Emrah Gurel
Image: Emrah Gurel. Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers take part in a ceremony to commemorate at the Lone Pine

It was a very brief window of humanity and compassion among all the horrors of war.

The truce was called in order to bury the thousands of soldiers who had died in no man’s land – the land in between the trenches where no man could go without certain death by the enemy – and it marked the first time the ANZACs came face to face with the Turkish soldiers. The rival soldiers spoke, exchanged gifts, and connected with each other before returning to the brutality of war.

“It was an interesting period because the truce lasted for nine hours. And before the truce, the Anzacs had been indoctrinated with this idea of the barbaric Turk, this sort of almost subhuman enemy that they were facing. But they realized during the truce that for the most part, the Turks were just like them, just young blokes trying to do their best to stay alive.”

The carnage during the first month after the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli leading up to the truce was unimaginable with thousands of casualties and dead bodies scattered all over no man’s land. Despite each side gaining a new perspective on their enemy during the truce, the fighting resumed in an equally barbaric fashion once it had ended and some of the most brutal fighting of the whole campaign took place over the months that followed, especially in August.

The truce was highly unique and not something often seen in war in any capacity, especially not a truce which was sanctioned by top ranking generals and agreed upon by everyone down the chain of command. The Christmas Day truce between German and British soldiers in 1914 is another example of a truce being called in no man’s land, but it was organized by soldiers on the ground and not officially sanctioned like 24th May 1915.

“This one was unique pretty much in the First World War because it was officially sanctioned from the highest levels. Everyone from the top generals down said that it was okay to hold this truce and effectively organized it. That was highly unusual and it was never repeated for the rest of the First World War, from the Australians or from any other side.”

You can learn more about the May 24th truce between ANZAC and Turkish soldiers at Mat McLachlan’s website.


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