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Sharing the Story of the World War I Gallipoli Campaign 

Posted on Mon, September 11, 2017
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Gallipoli, 1981
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, and Bill Kerr

Gallipoli sets a classic tale of innocence lost in war during the World War I (WWI) Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). One of the few Hollywood movies to illustrate that WWI took place not only on the Western Front in France, Gallipoli tells the story of this major campaign through the experience of several Australian young men who travel halfway around the globe to fight for their country.

Also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, Gallipoli was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allies to control the sea route from Europe to Russia. The campaign began with a failed naval attack by the British and French in early 1915, and was followed by a land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 by the British and French, joined by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Lack of sufficient intelligence and knowledge of the terrain, along with fierce resistance from the Turkish troops, bogged down the invasion. By the year’s end, the decision was made to give up the battle and evacuate the Allied forces.

The costly campaign, with 46,000 Allied dead and 65,000 Turkish troops killed, is the backdrop for this fictional story of Australian boys who enlist with high ideals and a sense of adventure, only to confront the realities of war head on. Gallipoli powerfully and authentically depicts the nature of WWI trench warfare and the sacrifice so many made in this monumental battle.

The film, however, has been criticized for historical inaccuracy. It gives the impression that it was the British chain of command that contributed to errors of judgment resulting in heavy Australian losses.  In fact, it was Australian leadership that largely directed the effort at Gallipoli. Nonetheless, the film makes a moving statement about this battle that is central to both Australian and Turkish national identity.

Galipoli will be shown at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on September 15 at 7:00 pm. Request free tickets for the screenings. Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen is a year-long film series showing Hollywood’s finest feature films on World War I, and is part of the National Air and Space Museum’s observance of the hundredth anniversary of the First World War.

Before the screening on September 15 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC , join us for a presentation of moving letters from children caught up in the real-world circumstances of WWI. The Commission for Relief in Belgium (C.R.B.) was a predominantly American effort that arranged for the supply of food to German-occupied Belgium during the war. Alexander Heingartner, the U.S. Consul in Liege, Belgium, in 1915, and our speaker Nancy Heingartner’s great-grandfather, received thank-you letters from Belgian schoolgirls for the C.R.B. provisions. Nancy will give a presentation on the history and personal story of those beautiful hand-written letters.