Most Kiwis grow up learning about the Anzacs killed during the war in Gallipoli (or Gelibolu, as it it known in Turkey) while at school. Having my early school years in the US, I never really had a great insight into this important slice of New Zealand history other than bits and pieces I picked up in the news around Anzac Day each April. And as I stated before, my history knowledge is shameful at the best of times.
Of course, I couldn’t be travelling in Turkey and not pay a visit to the old battlefields, and what better place to get an education in NZ’s WW1 history. I could have organised my itinerary so that I was there for Anzac Day two weeks later, but decided against that as I understand that it’s become such a popular event, particularly with the younger backpacker crowd who tend to turn it into a party scene, that it would actually detract from the experience.
I’m also not normally a fan of group tours, but this was one place where I felt it was necessary. Aside from the fact that the sites are quite spread out and would be difficult to get to without a car, I didn’t want to miss out on the commentary. The tour run by Crowded House Tours was a worthwhile experience – the facts and history that the guide knew was phenomenal. Even though the war was pretty much the Commonwealth against the Turks there are no lingering grudges, and Kiwi’s and Aussies are now considered special friends of Turkey now. Accordingly, the tour guide presented an excellent fair and objective commentary.
I took the ferry across the Dardenelles strait to Eceabat, where I would meet the tour group. Arriving an hour early, I used the time to check out the waterfront open-air museum that the tour company recommended. It was incredible – and one of the best museum displays I think I have ever seen. The have constructed a life-size replica of a battlefield (The Bomb Ridge Case), depicting both the Turk and the Anzac trenches.
There was a sign posted at the site, quoting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turks at the time, describing the scene from the Turks perspective:
“Distance between mutual trenches is eight meters, that is, death is imminent, imminent… Those standing in the first trench were constantly falling with nobody surviving, and the ones standing in the second one are replacing them However, you cannot imagine their calmness and faith which is so admirable. They saw the men falling before him, knew he would die in three minutes, yet showed no sign of abatement or trembling. Those capable of reading were reading the Koran, getting prepared to enter into the heaven. Those who were not literate were reciting Islamic confession of faith. This is a very astonishing and admirable example showing the soul strength in Turkish soldiers. One can be sure that it is this high soul which made us win a victory in Gallipoli battles. ”
I found the whole scene gut-wrenchingly realistic and helped me to comprehend what I was about to learn throughout the day.
The first stop of our tour was at Brighton Beach, which was where the Anzacs were supposed to land on the morning of 25 April 1915. It is from there that they would be able to quickly get into position along the ridges and prepare for the next stage of their planned attack. Of course, as history played out, they didn’t land here as intended. The warships lost direction in the dark, inadvertently landed a kilometer or two further north.
Our next stop was at the Ari Burnu point, where the battleships converged. At 3.30 in the morning, 36 row boats carrying 1200 soldiers came ashore, soon followed by the rest. It wasn’t long before they were under fire.
“As the boats grounded all around Ari Burnu point, men jumped into the water. Some were hit and drowned; most scrambled ashore soaking wet and made for the cover of the sandy banks of the beach. They soon realised that they landed in the wrong place. The commanding officer’s response when questions about what to do next? ‘I don’t know, I’m sure. Everything is a terrible muddle’. But the orders had been drummed in: ‘You must go forward … you must get on whatever the opposition’. One of the leaders yelled at his men: ‘Come on boys, they can’t hit you’ and then led them straight up the hill towards the Turkish gunfire.”
And here is where many ended up:
It is a beautifully maintained cemetery, in a very peaceful spot. It’s hard to reconcile what went on here all those years ago. This is also where, until recently, the dawn Anzac Day commemoration ceremonies used to be held. It had to be moved to a new location a bit further away north to the massive increase of people now attending.
There is a Turkish memorial also at Ari Burnu, with these words inscribed:
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 Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front 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
These words of peace and reconciliation were expressed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a leader in the war in a message read to NZ and Australian and English representatives in 1934.
Most of the Anzacs, however, landed at Anzac Cove, of course. In total, around 27,000 Australians, Kiwis, Brits and Indians landed here over a one week period, from 25 April. It was a relatively warm and sunny day when I was there, but it still gets bitterly cold at night. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like as the soldiers came ashore that night.
We continued to the new site for the commemoration ceremony is now held. They were in the process of setting up all the seating. This is where the speakers will stand….
and this is the backdrop that they will be facing:
Apparently people camp out here overnight to ensure that they have a seat, and are actually here in time for the start of the opening ceremony at dawn.
From there, we moved on to the Lone Pine, considered by the Australians to be one of the bloodiest and hard-fought actions of the campaign: the Battle of Lone Pine. 7000 men lost their lives over a 4-day battle in an area the size of a soccer field. As quoted by one Australian Private:
The wounded bodies of both Turks and our own … were piled up 3 and 4 deep … the bombs simply poured in but as fast as our men went down another would take his place. Besides our own wounded the Turks’ wounded lying in our trench were cut to pieces with their own bombs. We had no time to think of our wounded … their pleas for mercy were not heeded … Some poor fellows lay for 30 hours waiting for help and many died still waiting.
The Lone Pine cemetery is the site of another Anzac Day ceremony, hence the temporary seating in the background. Again, it’s a beautifully and immaculately maintained cemetery – but the number of graves (only a small portion shown above) and list of the dead engraved on the walls surrounding the monument are staggering.
Continuing on to Johnston’s Jolly, we saw the remains of some of the trenches and underground tunnels. (It’s kind of hard to make a photo of an old trench look interesting!)
A massive battle took place here, and the upshot was that 3000 Turks were killed (7000 wounded). The Anzacs only lost 160 men with another 460 wounded, managing to fire 948,000 rifle and machine gun bullets.
“One Australian likened the whole event to a ‘wallaby drive’ where the enemy were ‘shot down in droves’ while another talked of how they had stood virtually on top of their trenches ‘shooting as fast as they could’ until gun barrels became too hot to touch”
From Johnson’s Jolly, we moved on to the Turkish 57th Regiment memorial. This is the monument for the Ottoman 57th Regiment, sacrificed by their leader, Mustafa Kemal to stop the first Anzac attacks as their made their way to Chunuk Bair (the site of the NZ memorial).
As the Anzac troops made their way up the scrub-covered slopes on 25 April, Mustafa gave this infamous order:
“I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time it takes us to die, other troops and commanders will arrive to take our places”.
The 57th was wiped out, but manage to hold the battle line and inflict equally heavy casualties on the Anzac forces below.
And finally, we came to the New Zealand memorial at Chunuk Bair.
Chunuk Bair was also at the centre of another battle between 6-10 August when 30,000 men were killed on the ridge. This deadly attack involved the NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade and a Maori contingent.
I have to say, the NZ memorial was perhaps the most underwhelming of all the memorials that I saw. A pity really.
By the end of the day, we had only visited only a portion of all the sites (battlegrounds and cemeteries) that are scattered around the peninsula. The entire Gallipoli campaign lasted 9 months, ending in January 1916 and resulted with more than half a million casualties, of which 130,000 were deaths, including:
- New Zealanders: 2,700
- Australians: 8,700
- French: 8,800
- Turkish: 86,700
What I find absolutely astounding is that both sides considered this to be a ”gentleman’s war” with examples of the Turks and the Anzacs showing mutual respect and at times, provided assistance to their enemy (as depicted in the photo of at the top of this post, where a Turkish soldier is carrying a wounded enemy soldier back to his trench). They showed mutual respect, that is, when they weren’t busy killing each other.
There was so much more to this war than what I have written, obviously. But the utter futility of this war, with the pointless loss of life, is something that I just can’t get my head around. But then I guess all wars are like that.
As you know, cloth poppies are sold on Anzac Day in New Zealand (and Australia presumably?) as fundraising measures for the last surviving Anzac soldiers. It never occurred to me that I would see poppies in bloom around the Gallipoli peninsula (and in fact, throughout Turkey).
Self-guided Anzac Walk and online commentary
For anyone coming to Gallipoli, and wanting to see the sites on their own, there is a good online Anzac Walk guide that provides directions, online commentary as well as an audio guide. (It is a combination of this site, and signs posted at the different memorials that I got the quotes and facts contained in my post above).
UPDATE 5/4/2015: Interactive Trails and mobile app audio guide
I haven’t checked this out, but just read out about it today. There is now another site from where you can download a free app for interactive trail maps and audio guide. There is also information on the website to help plan your personalised trip to Gallipoli. Might be worth checking out! http://www.ngatapuwae.govt.nz/