Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders have gathered at Gallipoli to mark the 100th anniversary of one of World War One’s bloodiest battles.

People gathered to mark one of the bloodiest battles of World War One. Photo: Getty Images.

People gathered to mark one of the bloodiest battles of World War One. Photo: Getty Images.

The Day hails the sacrifice of the thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand killed in the Battle of Gallipoli, 100 years after they launched the first attacks on the western Turkish peninsula. At least 45,000 allied soldiers lost their lives during the ill-fated nine-month campaign to take the peninsula and knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war. A further 86,000 Turkish troops died, and an additional 300,000 troops from both sides are thought to have been wounded.

Thousands of miles away in Australia and New Zealand, dawn services and other events were also held on Saturday morning to mark the centenary of the landings amid tight security.

“They loved and were loved in return, were prepared to fight for their beliefs, were, like us, prey to fears and human despair,” said Australian Chief of Army David Morrison in an address at the Canberra Australian war memorial.

“It makes their sacrifice and their capacity to endure real despite the passage of time.”

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and his New Zealand counterpart John Key are among the host of dignitaries attending a two-day programme of commemorative events in Istanbul and on the Gallipoli peninsula. Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Irish president Michael Higgins and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan are also among those leading the ceremonies.

Addressing an international ceremony at Abide, on the Gallipoli peninsula, Prince Charles spoke of a “shared duty” to overcome tolerance and fight prejudice “so we can say we have honoured the sacrifice of all those who have fought and died here on the battlefield at Gallipoli and elsewhere.”

Tony Abbott described Australian troops at Gallipoli as founding heroes of modern Australia

Abbott addressed the traditional dawn service on the Gallipoli peninsula at what is now called Anzac Cove where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) came ashore in amphibious assaults on the morning of April 25, 1915.

“Like every generation since, we are here on Gallipoli because we believe that the Anzacs represented Australians at our best,” said Abbott.

Prime minister Abbott, speaking ahead of the centenary, described Gallipoli as “the crucible in which our national identity was forged.” He added: “But it left horrific scars. It was, in a critical sense, our nation’s baptism of fire – and 8000 Australians didn’t come back.”

Anzac Day – Important national occasion for Australia and New Zealand

Gallipoli holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation’s emergence onto the world stage.

The 100th anniversary adds a special poignancy to this year’s Anzac Day commemorations on April 25. Australia and New Zealand’s annual day of remembrance pays tribute to those from both countries who have served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping duties, plus the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.

Anzac Day was originally held specifically to honour the contribution of members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought for the Allies against the Ottoman Turks during the Gallipoli campaign. The peninsula has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors who travel halfway around the world to visit the graves of their nations’ fallen on Anzac Day.

The Gallipoli campaign – badly planned and poorly executed – was intended to open up the Dardanelles straits to allied shipping and lead to the capture of Constantinople – present-day Istanbul. But the 50-mile-long Gallipoli peninsula was heavily fortified, and the invading troops came under deadly fire from the moment they hit the beach at dawn on April 25, 1915.

The allies’ death toll over the next nine months is estimated at 25,000 British and Irish soldiers – including some Canadian troops who fought with the British army – 10,000 Anzac troops, and 10,000 French troops. Few ever made it much further than a few hundred meters from the shore. The war council in London finally accepted the inevitable when it withdrew the Anzac troops in December 1915, with the remaining British soldiers leaving in January 1916.

What was Gallipoli?

  • After a failed naval attack, the Allies tried to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) via the Gallipoli peninsula by land assault
  • The amphibious assault started at dawn on 25 April, 1915
  • British, French and their dominions’ troops – including soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, India and Newfoundland – took part
  • They faced months of shelling, sniper fire and sickness, before abandoning the campaign
  • 45,000 Allied troops died for no material gain, although the Turkish Army was tied down for eight months
  • 86,000 Turkish troops died. Commander Mustafa Kemal survived and went on to found modern Turkey