Oliver Riddell reviews "The Nek"
A Gallipoli Tragedy
With the rapid approach of the centennial of the beginning of
World War 1, there is also a rapid increase in the number of
books being published to cash in on the event.
The Nek is part of the Anzac Battles Series of books and
recounts in exhaustive detail one of the searing tragedies to
which young Australia was subjected in 1915 during the
Gallipoli was directed by generals whose knowledge of the
military arts was limited to discipline and courage.
They had virtually no concept of flexibility and initiative,
and the resulting disasters have been well documented in the
The series is intended to be a collection of books describing
"the great military battles" fought by Australian and New
Zealand soldiers during the wars of the 20th century.
This particular book has hardly anything about New Zealand
soldiers, and nor should it. The Nek was an entirely
Australian experience, although there is a slighting
reference to "the New Zealanders had made unnecessary halts"
to explain the Kiwi failure at Chunuk Bair, which had been
intended to support the Aussies at The Nek. It is not clear
if Burness wants New Zealand's soldiers to share the blame
for the resulting bloodbath at The Nek.
As a textbook military disaster it is hard to imagine what
The Nek lacked.
It had elderly and incompetent commanders who generally
loathed each other. So four waves of men were ordered to
charge one after the other into unsubdued enemy fire. The
capacity for sensible direction was entirely absent.
The soldiers, on the other hand, were light horsemen and were
not trained or equipped to fight as infantry in Gallipoli's
Their courage was frequently sublime. The author equates
their performance with the much better-known Charge of the
Light Brigade, of which a French general commented "it is
magnificent, but it is not war". The comparison is apt.
The Nek is not as well known to New Zealanders as it deserves
to be. This book will go some way towards remedying that.
• Oliver Riddell is a Wellington writer