Kallipolis, Gallipoli, is not just yet-another First World War centenary. It is one of the significant moments in World History. It is the last occasion when the forces of what we could then still call Christendom engaged the Ottoman Empire. It was the last Crusade, when we set out to retake Constantinople. It was an enterprise which was part of our alliance with Christian Russia, Holy Russia. Strange, though, that Churchill was its begetter.
It was a failure. Even though Turkey was involved in the eventual defeat of Germany and her associates, and Constantinople was indeed occupied by the victorious Allies between 1918 and 1923, the Gallipoli campaign itself ended in ignominious defeat. It involved a great loss of life. As well as all the Allied troops who died, we remember most particularly on ANZAC day the Anzacs, "the poor dead Australians", and the New Zealanders, our kinsmen, and we pray for the repose of their souls. That defeat was the baptism of fire which represented the birth of those two great nations ... for which we also pray, for their good estate, for Christian civilisation which is still alive in their Christian communities.
It was a failure. The problem about the triumphalist, Whiggish view of History upon which many of us were brought up is it indoctrinates its victims with the idea that the Goodies always win; that the winners must therefore have been the Goodies. That this is not so, is one of the most important lessons to be learned; and we British Catholics, with our counter-cultural hermeneutic of our own Island History in the centuries after 1559, ought to be among the first to understand this and to teach it.
Like many British families, mine still has the little brass tin which the Princess Mary had sent to all fighting men (and women auxiliaries) of the "Imperium Britannicum" at Christmas 1914. It reminds us that we bore arms with the French and the Russians. Every time I look at it, I wonder whether our politicians are right so to demonise Russia, without qualification, at a time when, whatever its failings, Russia is no longer an atheist power and when it faces the same threats from militant Islam as we do ourselves.
I trust that all my readers will remember to pray for the soldiers who died near the Beautiful City, and for the sailors who died in the seas around Constantinople.