We shall soon be at the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, which are at the centre of Eugene Rogan’s new book. Turkey will lay on a considerable show, for Gallipoli was the first battle, more or less since 1770, in which the Turks defeated European enemies. The British campaign planners were notoriously slapdash. The uphill terrain made an amphibious operation hard to pull off. Drinking water was also a problem and had to be brought by barge from Alexandria and then rowed ashore through enemy fire. Budgetary parsimony meant that there were not even mosquito screens for the windows, which probably resulted in the death from septicaemia of Rupert Brooke. Dysentery enfeebled the troops and trenches collapsed in flash floods. Almost everyone seems to have assumed that, at first sight of the vast British battleships, the Turks would just crumple and Constantinople would fall. Only two men on the British side said that the campaign was a mistake: Aubrey Herbert, an MP who knew the Middle East and its languages, and Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, who had performed a peacekeeping role in Turkey during the upheavals of 1908–9 and grasped its problems. Both men well understood that it was a mistake to put the Turks’ backs to the wall. Doughty-Wylie admired them; in the First Balkan War he had served on the front with the Red Cross. In 1915 he went ashore at Gallipoli with the first disembarkation, but refused to carry a gun: he did not intend to kill. He was, however, shot.
There was another disaster a year after Gallipoli, at Kut al-Amara, southeast of Baghdad, where a British division surrendered after weeks of siege. Russell Braddon’s wonderful book about this battle, The Siege, which was based on interviews with surviving British prisoners, describes the dreadful incompetence of the Indian Army officers