The late John O’Brien, Irishman and historian of Australia, used to assert that proportionately more Irishmen died at Gallipoli than Australians. Naturally he said this in a deliberate effort to stir up discussion, which it generally did, but the provocatively challenging nature of the allegation tells us something about the relative historical – and, no doubt, emotional – significance of Gallipoli to Australia and Ireland. The assertion, in fact, is not true, though the proportional difference between Irish and Australian fatalities is rather less than might be expected. For the Australians (whose statistics are more reliably recorded than those of the Irish), some 8,141 officers and men died serving in the Dardanelles theatre of operations. Allowing that there were 59,330 deaths among those serving in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, the proportion of Gallipoli deaths to total war fatalities is 1:7.1 Tom Johnstone has calculated that 3,411 Irishmen were killed in action or died of wounds at Gallipoli.2 Assuming 30,216 men of Irish birth fell serving with the British forces,3 the Irish ratio of Gallipoli dead to total dead is 1:8. While statistics like these are quite unreliable, and certainly susceptible to all sorts of analysis, the fact remains that, for reasons largely unconnected with the campaign itself, Gallipoli is disproportionately well remembered in Australia, and disproportionately poorly remembered in Ireland. Direct Irish military involvement with Gallipoli falls into two distinct
parts: first, that of Regular British Army units and, second, concerning those Irishmen who had volunteered since August 1914 for service in the 10th (Irish) Division, one of Kitchener’s ‘New Armies’.4 Among the regular units serving with the British 29th Division, two Irish battalions, the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, took part in the landings at V Beach, just east of Cape Helles, on Sunday, 25 April 1915, while a third battalion, the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, landed at X Beach, to the north-west of the Cape. The mixed experiences of these units matched that of the British (and, of course, British Empire) invasion forces as a whole. While the Inniskillings landed ‘without a casualty’,5
their southern Irish colleagues suffered devastating losses.