We will remember them, lest we forget
24.03.2010 - 24.03.2010 5 °C
It was a very early start for us (well, after four months of no alarms), with a 6.30am pick-up. However our toes started tapping 20 minutes later, when our street in Sultanahmet was still empty. Jac went to the travel agency, and found a young guy sleeping inside. As luck would have it, as soon as she roused him out to the chilly morning, our bus arrived! It was a minivan, packed with 9 other tourist and their luggage squeezed amongst us.
The Gallipoli penninsula itself (these days Gelibolu) is about 4 1/2 hours south by road, and it was a long and at sometimes hair-raising ride, no thanks to our driver!
We finally arrived in Eceabat on the eastern side of the penninsula about 11am, which is right on the banks of the Dardanelles strait - it was the capture of this body of water that was vital to the Gallipoli campaign. We had about an hour and a half before our tour actually began (couldn't we have slept in?!) so we took a walk along the water. We were unprepared for the change in weather overnight from sunny to icy cold, and our ears started to hurt from the whipping wind. Thus our first port of call was a shop to buy beanies and a scarf. After trawling the only half-open town we found a lingerie shop of all things, that sold them. We quickly put on our black beanies (very apt, considering) and then walked around an open air museum of battlefield memorabilia... we were getting a feel for it by now.
Our tour guide was an affable Brit, Graeme, who'd been in Turkey for about 20 years: "Ran out of money to go back," he jokingly informed us. There were a dozen of us, and interestingly only us, and a pair of Aussies were from ANZAC lands. The first stop was the small war museum at Kapa Tepe (Gaba Tepe in a lot of books). Kapa Tepe was an objective of the ANZACs, however never taken. The small museum is high on a ridge overlooking ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay to the north. Inside, aside from some telling photographs, the display was sparse, but chilling. Uniforms of the various allied troops that were at Gallipoli (English, French, some Indian as well as the ANZACs of course), old shells, mess tins, swords, bayonets etc... the usual museum stuff... but also some poignant reminders of the real war: a Turkish skull with bullet still embedded mid forehead... a boot with foot bones still inside... bloodstained tunics... boys' letters home to their Mums. Very sombre and very moving.
We next went right down on the water, on the ANZAC side of the penninsula, at the Hell's Spit cemetery. We were told a lot of the cemeteries, and there are 31 of them at Gallipoli, contain remains that were reinterred by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1920's, in an effort to consolidate the remains. The cemetery, like all the ones we saw, was beautifully maintained, with clipped lawns, and, being spring here, with flowers blooming everywhere. Despite being a cold, windy day, it was incredibly peaceful, with a flat sea... We wondered at how such a peaceful spot could have seen such carnage. Hell's Spit cemetery contains the grave of Simpson... of Simpson and his Donkey fame: the young Aussie who on the first day of the landings found and used a donkey to transport the wounded from the front lines back to the beaches for treatment. Sadly he was killed only days into the campaign, but became a legend in the process. We were also delighted to learn Simpson's role was taken over by a Kiwi lad called Henderson.
A minute along the coast road and we were at ANZAC Cove itself. We stopped at the southern end of the cove, to look over the entire landing site. A few years ago the Turks put a road along the coast, cutting off half the iconic hill at the northern end, and flattening a large portion of the old seashore (there was an uproar when it happened). Coastal erosion also meant the road is a sheer 10m above the beach. Standing there, and looking from shore, up all the way to ridgetops, we were in awe. Its almost had to get your head around the fact that young men were leaping off boats, and being ordered to run up almost vertical dirt cliffs. Again, it was hard to reconcile a calm wintery sea scene with bullets flying and bombs falling...
At the northern end of the Cove, we stopped at Ari Burnu, where the ANZAC day commemorations used to be held. It was another cemetery, and had a massive stone memorial with these words from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the ANZACs nemesis at Gallipoli - and later to become the leader, and founder of Modern Turkey):
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johhnies
and the Mehmets to us
where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well"
We then had the opportunity to take a walk on the beach at ANZAC Cove, remarkably, alone. With not another soul in sight we took a stroll along the grey, stony shore. 95 years on, there is not a single item, landmark, or sign, that this was the sight of such horror and carnage... nor that it was the base of operations for a 9 month campaign.
Walking north, further around from ANZAC Cove, we passed the remains of two jetties built of concrete. On North Beach some of the famous landmarks became visible... The "Sphinx": a rocky outcrop that reminded the troops, fresh from Egypt, of the other Sphinx, and Plugge's Plateau. Higher up, we could see Chanuk Bair, where NZ's memorial stood. Our stroll took us to the site of the modern ANZAC commemorations, with a work crew already putting up the stands for this year's ANZAC Day, still a whole month away.
Next stop, Lone Pine Cemetery, and the Australian Memorial (again, workcrews in action). It was poignant not only for it's commanding view over the south of the penninsula, but also for its dozens upon dozens of headstones bearing the words "Believed to be buried here". The vast majority of the soldiers killed on the ANZAC side were left where they fell until around 3 years after the end of WW1... fully 6 years on... and so were unidentifiable in a lot of cases. This cemetery also contains the remains of the youngest ANZAC to fall, a 14 yr old Aussie lad. Again, the cemetery was probably all the more moving for the obvious care with which it is maintained, and the spring flowers poking through between the graves.
Just up the road we had our first opportunity to visit the trenches, which were remarkably still quite clear and deep despite 95 years of being left as-is. They are nowadays about 4 feet deep. The sealed road at this point carves through no-man's land, with the ANZAC trenches on the left (western) side, and the Turkish trenches on the right. As you can imagine, all visitor interest is in the ANZAC trenches, and the left side of the road is quite open and accessible. You can actually walk through the trenches: see the dugouts, even tunnels remaining intact (one in fact still goes under the road almost to the Turk trenches), and you can follow the front line, back into reserve trenches et.. The Turkish side was predominantly overgrown and from all accounts almost not worth visiting (we didn't). From this vantage point up on the 'second ridge', you can get a sense of perspective: the distance to the beach, and the terrible terrain... This is the extent of the ANZAC push... it's a terrible thought when you realise that in 9 months our boys only got less than a couple of kilometres inland!!
The Turkish memorial looked a relatively new affair, as it was built in the 90's, compared to the ANZAC cemeteries and memorials which all date from the 20's. It was only after the construction of the Turkish memorial (they lost some 90,000 troops during the campaign) that the actual mass graves of the Turkish soldiers were discovered. The gravestones simply read "Mehmet son of Ahmed", for example, as the Turks did not have surnames until after Atatürk took the reins of the country. At this site, the trenches were literally only the width of the road - 8 meters - apart.
We also visited "The Nek", which, if you have seen the movie Gallipoli is the setting of the infamous scene where three waves of 150 Australian Lighthorsemen were ordered over the top of their trenches, straight into Turkish fire (which include machine gun fire). They were sent over a distance of no more than 60 meters (trench to trench) and a width of about 40m, with sheer drops on each side. Seeing the site itself almost brought tears to our eyes. The entire plateau is smaller than half a rugby field. There are only about 8 gravestones here... and more than 360 unidentifiable Aussie lads buried beneath the grass (again, they were unable to be buried until after the war).
The last stop for the day is the New Zealand memorial at Chunuk Bair. From here we could see the ultimate objective of the campaign, the Dardenelle Straits. This is as far as any of the troops got. The Kiwis took enormous losses to take this high ground, and kept it until relieved by the Brits, who days later were decimated by Kemal and his troops. It was freezing cold and windy as hell at this point, as we took a stroll past the wall of NZ names, dozens of them, and gazed over the entire Gallipoli battleground...
It was hard to imagine, having seen the terrain, that young Aussies and Kiwis (and of course Brits, Scots, Irish - the Irish PM was coincidently there laying a foundation stone for the Irish memorial) managed to not only get ashore, but survive in dirt holes for 9 months. Most of the gravestones were of young men, no more than 22 or 23 most of them. It was for them, a chance to see the world, have an adventure...
Monument to the Turkish effort in Ecebat
Hells Spit - one of the many headstones on the land
An old army pill box
Graham, our guide explaining the camps on the cove
Mustafa Kemal's words to his once enemies
Beach at ANZAC Cove
Reading about the battle with 'The Sphinx' overhead
Lone Pine - Australia's memorial
Chalky in the trenches
A trench tunnel
Jac by a monument to Turkish soldiers
At Chunuk Bair, the NZ Memorial