Sunday, 20 December 2015, marks 100 years since the last Australian troops evacuated Gallipoli.
More than 8,700 Australians lost their lives over the eight month campaign, with more than 2,000 on the first day alone.
On 7 December 1915, the British Cabinet agreed to the evacuation of Anzac Cove and Cape Suvla. However, local planning for the evacuation had already begun following a visit from Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief of the British Army, on 13 November.
After this decision, a detailed evacuation plan was devised by Australian Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White. This involved operations such as the ‘silent stunts’ of late November, where there was no artillery fire or sniping from the allied lines, in the hope that this would suggest to the enemy that preparations were underway for the coming winter, instead of a complete withdrawal.
"What will the world say? What will Australia say? Will she heave a sigh of thankfulness that we have given up a position which was whittling away her manhood? Or will she become enraged at leadership which caused these casualties without any measureable benefit?" (Private Harry Gissing, diary, 17 December 1915, p. 175. Gissing was later promoted to sergeant)
The evacuation plan had three key stages:
In the preliminary stage, men and equipment were removed in a similar fashion to winter preparations.
Then, in the intermediate stage, troop numbers were significantly reduced, leaving enough soldiers to hold off a major Turkish attack for only a week.
In early December, before the evacuation began, there were more than 50,000 men at Suvla and more than 41,000 at Anzac. By 18 December, the last phase of the withdrawal, only around 19,500 men remained on these two fronts.
The remaining troops were withdrawn over two nights in the final stage of the evacuation from 18–20 December 1915.
The last group of Australians left Anzac at about 4:00am on the morning of 20 December 1915 while the last boats left Suvla at around 5:00am.
In the end, 80,000 men were evacuated with only about a half dozen casualties. British forces remained at Cape Hellas until 8 January 1916, and their evacuation signalled the end of the Gallipoli Campaign.
"It broke me up when we had to leave the peninsula, after burying so many good, brave lads, but we all knew that it was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Don’t you think we did well without having one man killed?" (John Bell, letter, 27 January 1916, cited in D. Blair, Dinkum Diggers, an Australian Battalion at War, 2001, p. 97.)
Of course, this was not the end of the war for the troops at Gallipoli – the horrors of the Western Front awaited many for the remainder of the war.