The hot commodity that made Winston Churchill launch the Gallipoli campaign, according to new book

Former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Photo credit: Getty

A new book claims Winston Churchill, who would go on to become UK Prime Minister, launched the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 over a surprising commodity - wheat.

Nicholas Lambert, the author of The War Lords and the Gallipoli Disaster, trawled through hundreds of documents to create an "eye-opening interpretation" of the Gallipoli campaign, focusing on the politics of global trade.

He found that Russia was desperate to export and sell wheat to continue to fund its part in World War I, Foreign Policy reported.

However, the Ottoman-controlled Turkish Straits had been closed to commercial shipping, making it hard to ship the wheat to other countries.

British leaders were reportedly keen to get the wheat imported to England, as bad harvests in North and South America and India had led to supply concerns and skyrocketing prices.

Lambert wrote a prospect of famine or extremely expensive bread could spark major social and political upheaval in Britain, Foreign Policy reported.

There were also fears among the British that if they couldn't import the wheat, Russia would be forced to turn to Germany for help.

Lambert wrote that the only viable option was for the British to take control of Gallipoli and open the Dardanelles strait to allow Russia to ship the wheat through.

"[Prime Minister Henry] Asquith ...had a single solution," Lambert wrote. "He expressed the appeal of the operation in his declaration that it would be 'easier' and 'much cheaper' to 'storm the Dardanelles' than any of the other alternatives for averting social and political unrest over food prices at home."

However, it appears the need for wheat was later diminished when unexpected record wheat harvests in America solved the problem.

And it turned out Russia didn't have any wheat ready to export anyway

The book is released ahead of ANZAC Day on Sunday, marking the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.

Among the tens of thousands killed during the Gallipoli campaign were about 8500 Australians and 2779 New Zealanders.

The 2020 memorial services were cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with New Zealand still in lockdown, but will resume again this year.