Legacies of War Seminar Series - Achilles Meets Mehmetcik: Heroism in British, Anzac and Turkish Poetry during the Gallipoli Campaign (1915)

Join us for the latest in our research seminar series, when we welcome speaker Berkan Ulu, Visiting Research Fellow at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds.

The Gallipoli Campaign (1915), one of the most catastrophic attempts of the First World War, was a great theatre of heroism. Each day bore new stories of bravery, sacrifice, and leadership as the allied forces pushed to capture the hills while the Turks tried to hold the line. Alongside the widely recorded and circulated acts of heroism in diaries, official records, and media of the time, the poetry composed on the front also relates much about the heroes and their deeds in Gallipoli while also providing insight into ‘how’ and ‘why’ these soldiers came to be known as ‘heroes’.

The aim of this talk is to revisit the poetry composed on the Gallipoli front in order to see how heroism is constructed and the motifs behind the various definitions of the concept. For a more vivid picture of the atmosphere in Gallipoli, the study includes poems from British, Anzac, and Turkish poets and soldiers.

To create a conceptual framework, the presentation starts with a critique of the idea of ‘heroism’ and the diverse ways a hero is defined. Turning to the Gallipoli Campaign, I then attempt to show the differences between the two sides in relation to the interpretation of heroism. This will include a study of the chivalric attitude in the British and Anzac soldiers’ verses as well as the recurrent Pan-Islamist and Turan (Pan-Turkism) ideas in the poetry written by the Turkish poets and soldiers.

A comparative evaluation of these poems show that poems from the British and Anzac poets and soldiers often turn to a retrospective perception of knighthood based on Greek and Roman mythologies as well as British history and the Crusades, while the Turkish side, as ‘the defenders against the offender’, foreground their trust in Allah and ‘Turkish blood’.

In the second part of the address, Berkan Ulu will argue that the idea of ‘heroism’ was not only limited to a fixed perception of knightly deeds or Islamic/Turkic ideals; rather, it evolved, especially in the works of British and Anzac soldiers, to become more individualistic and sincere as opposed to the jingoistic undertones adopted in the earlier days of the campaign. This can be explained through the failing attempts of the British and Anzac divisions and the drastically increasing number of casualties, which brought a new kind of awareness to the war-weary soldiers. Implying an appreciation of the value of ‘staying alive’, these poems reflect substantial alterations to the definition of heroism by cherishing seemingly less gallant acts of warfare and trench life like digging, transporting supplies, and even just eating or chatting. The study concludes with remarks on this change from ‘romanticised’ to ‘singular’ and comments on the changing perception of ‘heroism’ that was shaped during the Gallipoli Campaign.

The venue for this talk is Seminar Room B.22 (Basement), Parkinson Building, Woodhouse Lane, University of Leeds. See here for a campus map.
The event is free and all are welcome.

Berkan Ulu is Visiting Research Fellow (TUBITAK) at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds. He is a faculty member at Inonu University, Department of Western Languages and Literatures (Turkey). He studied English Language and Literature at Hacettepe University (Ankara) (BA in 2002, MA in 2005). His PhD is on the ekphrastic tradition in English Poetry (Ankara University, 2010). He has been working on the poems from the Gallipoli Front since 2014 and is currently writing a monograph on the British, Anzac, and Turkish soldier poets of the Gallipoli Campaign.

This seminar is in connection with Legacies of War, organised by the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies as part of the autumn research seminar series.

Image: Mehmetçiğe Saygı Anıtı, Bronze sculpture by Tankut Öktem, Gallipoli_Photo by Berkan Ulu