On this day, 100 years ago, the evacuation of ANZAC soldiers from the Gallipoli peninsula was completed. After eight months locked in an unwinnable struggle with Turkish forces, the remaining men left, in an early morning evacuation which was carefully planned in an attempt to minimise casualties.
When I was planning and writing my own story of these events (1915), I always knew that, since the story was to cover the calendar year, this evacuation would form a suitable end point for the book. But I found it harder to write than I expected.
I really believe that every book should end with the offer of some kind of hope, but (without wanting to give any spoilers) I wasn’t sure where my characters were going to find hope in this evacuation. Yes, those who left were leaving behind months of turmoil and suffering, but they were also leaving behind any chance for a victory, and, importantly, they were leaving the bodies of so many of their mates who were buried there and would never leave. They also didn’t know what lay ahead – while the campaign was over, the war most definitely wasn’t.
I had to dig deep to find hope for my character, Stanley, and for his family and friends. I thought about the fact that those survivors were still alive, and were leaving behind what were likely their worst life experiences to date. I thought about the knowledge for those at home that their loved ones were safe for now. I also thought about little things: the chance for a Christmas parcel from home, looking forward to a shower or a rest, contributing to the ANZAC Book in the last weeks of the campaign and so on.
Why am I so keen to offer hope to my characters? Simple, because I want to offer hope to my readers. Not happy ever after, not artificially fixing everything that goes wrong, but the feeling that even in dark times hope, no matter if it’s the tiniest spark, can be found.
For my character Stanley, and for those soldiers 100 years ago, I hope that they were able to find those moments of hope. And, as Christmas looms for us now as it did for the ANZACS then, I hope you, too, have a sense of hope.