There is no good in any war, but the ground attack by Britain and its allies against the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli in April 1915, causing the death of 8,709 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders, achieved a new level of grotesque pointlessness in warfare.
The meek compliance of Australia’s colonial high command to the often ill-advised commands of their British superiors ensured the demise of every second troop they sent to the battlefield. It is hard to generate pride in Australia’s contribution to this horrific military failure.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Lieutenant defending his homeland against the Anzacs invading the Dardanelles, and troops under his direct command must have killed hundreds of my countrymen. After the war he quickly rose to political prominence, and was bestowed his unique surname (“father of the Turks”) by the parliament of the new Turkish nation that he helped forge and over which he presided. His epitaph on the Turkish Memorial at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, is addressed directly to the mothers of the fallen Anzacs, and resonates with a level of compassion and generosity that should shame the allied commanders whom he defeated in battle.
It ends with the words: After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well. The voice in my setting of this text embodies the spirit of bereaved Anzac mothers, trying to make sense of their atrocious loss, seeking solace in the thoughtful words of one of those responsible for the killing. But no number of words can raise the dead, no amount of kindness can heal their wounds, and there is never redemption in bloodshed. When the war is over there is little left but loss.
Carl Vine, January 2015
Our Sons was commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and first performed by that ensemble with soprano Taryn Fiebig, directed by Richard Tognetti, at Llewellyn Hall Canberra on the 14th of March 2015.