30.12.2009 - 01.01.2010
[My apologies for the delay in getting this up but you will soon see why, a very significant place for me to visit and it is hard to tell half the story]
After ignoring the warnings of the touts in Istanbul I ventured off with another guy called Trav (which strangely caused people a surprising amount of confusion) headed for Gallipoli. We had eventually managed to find a place there that was willing to let us do what we wanted without the associated extras. When we arrived we found our hostel which we guessed would be targeted at Aussies & Kiwis, well it was super over the top targeted at them. The guys there simply loved Australia and as you can imagine the bar was covered in all the tacky Australian memorabilia which combined with the John Farnham blaring over the speakers was almost a little much but it was amusing.
Why was I here you may well ask, well after visiting memorials around the world to various coutries and battles it was time for me to visit and pay my respect to Australia's most significant memorial site at Gallipoli. This site is significant both for the number of lives lost here but also for being where the ANZAC forces forged their international reputation for their courage, bravery, mateship and professionalism. Whilst this is not the main reason most people visit Turkey this is an essential part of any itinerary for any Australian or New Zealander.
We took off on this tour with our driver who is as well as being a guide also happened to be a nearly retired tank driver in the Turkish military. Thus he was able to add his military experience and knowledge into the tour. He was a very passionate guy that loved his country, his job (just don’t mention the Iraq war) and Australians very much and was quick to assure us that there was no bad blood between the ANZACS and the Turks, even when they were fighting. Indeed in Turkey they respect the ANZAC traditions and that respect combined with Commonwealth funding has seen the area turned into a national park with little unnaturally changed from the fateful campaign except the memorials and a road added. This is nice and also preserves some absolutely stunning coast line that is comparable to the Australian coast and would almost certainly have been turned into resorts otherwise, for this I have a lot of respect for the Turkish government. As a further symbol of respect beside ANZAC cove lies a memorial from Ataturk declaring that all the soldiers that lost their lives rest in peace in a friendly country, that there is no difference between the Johnnies (ANZACS) and the Mehmets (Turkish) and that they have become sons of this country too. A very nice message and one that is placed as to be significant but also not to take away from the memorial at ANZAC cove.
The primary goal of the campaign was to capture the strategic port in the Dardanelles and therefore open up a shipping route through the Bosphorous into the Black sea to their allies Russia. The first stop on our tour was the now called “Brighton Beach” the name changed to correspond with the Allied name for the beach. This is the beach where the landing was supposed to take place and presented a nice flat beach that would be ideal to set up a beach head and difficult to defend. In fact the only a couple of hundred Turkish troops and 8km would have stood between them and their goal of capturing the port. One could argue that things would have gone very differently had the landing actually occurred here.
Instead current wasn’t taken into account and the landing took place at what is now known as Anzac Cove only some 4km down the beach. Here a couple of hundred Turks also waited but this time elevated on hills of approx 250m in height, perfect for a sniper. This advantage proved crucial and not only did it provide for a difficult landing but also provided time for Turkish reinforcements to arrive and defend the area. This advantage proved too great to overcome and despite the best efforts only about 1 km was gained. Here at Anzac Cove is the major memorial to ANZAC troops and is very simple and elegant (a nice change from some of the hideous soviet monuments that I have seen). The memorial gives allows you to capture the feeling of the area and also imagine the battle unfolding. Taking the time to walk around here it is impossible not to feel both a great sense of pride in being Australian but also a deep sorrow at such a waste of lives (over 8700 Australian men in the 10 month battle) on such a pointless task.
The national park here contains 31 allied cemeteries and again I must give a credit to the Turkish government for the way they are all maintained. The next site we visited was the Lone Pine cemetery, the place where the most headstones to Australian soldiers lay. The cemetery is known as Lone Pine for the one solitary pine tree that grows there. One pine tree existed there before the battle took place and as a mark of respect one single pine is grown there, using the seed of the old one to symbolize that the memory of the men that lost their lives will also live on.
Next drove along the road that now lays where once no man’s land stood, the area between the two trenches. Amazingly only 8m separated the two trenches in what pretty much remained the battle line for the remainder of the campaign. Bayonet raids were ofcourse conducted from one side to other with little success. Incredibly under between the Turkish and Australian armies they managed to dig about 32km of trenches into these hills – its hard to believe that it didn’t all collapse in fact! Here there is also a cemetery called Jolly Johnsons cemetery.
Amongst the fighting the two sides built up a healthy respect for one another and through this respect some great stories took place, which our guide was desperate for us to appreciate. The first story (for some sembelence of fluency) talks about how the allies were well supplied with chocolates and cigarettes and under supplied for water. With respect between the two forces developing Johnson during a ceasefire called out to the Turkish forces and threw over some chocolate and cigarettes, a few minutes later the Turkish forces called out his name and threw back some water. This started what became an exchange of gifts/supplies during ceasefires between the armies. The armies managed to agree on ceasefires quite often and the two most famous examples are for Christmas and boxing day where the allies played their famous cricket game and also to allow the Turksih soldiers to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Another famous story tells of the bravery of a Turkish soldier to put up a white flag and collect an Australian man who lay screaming in no man’s land and deliver him to the Australian trenches, as you would expect no shots were fired until he resumed his position.
Next we were off to see the most significant Turkish memorial at Chunuk Bair which remember the men who gave their lives after they ran out of bullets to provide time for reinforcements. Once again this memorial is understated and includes a small cemetery, a mosque and some comments of respect from Australian soldiers. It also includes the statue of the oldest Turksih veteran who opened the memorial and his granddaughter. We then checked out Ataturk’s headquarters which at the top of the highest hill allowed him to see out over the four areas of the peninsula and therefore all the battles. A very good point strategically and it certainly allowed him to dictate things, here they have preserved his bunker and erected a state in his honour next to the Turkish flag. Here also lies the most significant New Zealand monument.
The museum is also quite nice to visit and whilst not being all that big has a nice scattering of exhibits from the area. Probably the nicest thing in the museum is the photo of the oldest surviving veterans from both Australia and Turkey shaking hands as they opened the museum. All in all a great tour and certainly a must for any Australian or New Zealander when coming to Turkey as well as being a great advertisement for the Turkish government and their efforts to preserve the site.
Staying at a small town of little more than 5000 people didn’t really promise a great new years eve but that’s not everything and we were mainly here for the battlefields anyway. We did however do our best and we headed to the Boomerang bar (as I said very much marketed at aussies and kiwis). The owner here was a great guy and even handed us a plate of the family dinner but with no one there we decided to try our luck at Canakkale. There was a lot more people over there and we made it to the main square to hear the count down and watch the people celebrate, oddly almost immediately they all headed home. Still all in all a great way to round out the year that was 2009 for me, one in which I have seen so many places that I had always wanted to visit. Hopefully 2010 continues in this vein.
Happy New Year everyone!