Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Gallipoli - Turkey

Gallipoli peninsula
  The sun glittered on a smooth sea during the short ferry trip from Cannukale to the Gallipoli peninsula but despite the glorious day we were in a somewhat sombre mood. This was a pilgrimage, of sorts,  to a battlefield which saw the loss of life of 2779 New Zealanders. 

The many cemeteries on Gallipoli

We were fortunate to have Muhammad, a Turkish historian, as our guide for the day. He gave us a very full account of the campaign.  This was very sobering and somewhat embarrassing. Sobering, to consider the pointless loss of life of 44,000 British and their allies and 87,000 Ottomans (Turkish) and embarrassing to think that the British and their allies attacked the Ottomans on their own soil. I am not qualified to give an in depth analysis of what happened there, however, there have been many, many books written by historians which recount the lead up to and reasons for the attack on Gallipoli. 

At the time New Zealand was still a young country very much tied to Britain.  New Zealanders took pride in supporting the British Empire and were proud of the courage of their men who endured shocking conditions in the trenches in what proved to be a lengthy campaign. New Zealand and Australian forces (Anzacs) landed, in an extremely ill fated manoeuvre, on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.  Anzac Day was established as a national holiday in New Zealand to remember the fallen, commemorate this campaign and also give thanks to those who have given service to New Zealand in both war and peace since.  One of my great uncles fought in the Gallipoli campaign but, fortunately, survived.  The bugle he carried throughout his war years is now on display at a museum in Rotorua, New Zealand. Gallipoli has become somewhat mythologised in the New Zealand psyche and is claimed as the birth of our independent nation.  This is not entirely true and is more an example of placing modern day values on something that happened 100 years ago. 

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli
 Anzac Cove, the site of the notorious landings is today a small, peaceful bay and, on this day, was overlooking a calm, blue sea.  It was so hard to imagine the horrors of the landings when the sea was said to be red with blood and thick with the bodies of soldiers who had drowned under the heavy weight of their packs and weapons.  We felt incredibly moved by the enormity of what had happened there.

Ataturk's inscription  at Anzac Cove
                                                  Most of us shed a tear as we read Ataturk's quoted inscription on the Anzac memorial and lay sprigs of rosemary, for remembrance, at it's base.  Walking around a New Zealand cemetery we were shocked to see that some New Zealanders lost their lives at only 16 years of age.   We later visited the Australian cemetery at Lone Pine.  The youngest Australian casualty was even younger at 14. They were just boys.

"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 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."
                                                                                          Ataturk 1934

Inspecting the graves in a New Zealand cemetery
For the Anzacs the Gallipoli campaign was a young man's war - teenagers and 20 year olds  looking for adventure - but for the Turks, men of all ages and walks of life fought resulting in a devastating loss to the country of well educated professionals.

I'm on the left, with my friend, Hilary at Anzac Cove

Our guide in what is left of the trenches.  There are a few trenches
which have been dug out and restored to their original depth

Looking out to Suvla Bay from Chunuk Bair

  On the top of a mountain with views of both sides of the peninsula, Chunuk Bair was an important strategic stronghold.  The New Zealanders managed to capture Chunuk Bair but held it for only two days before being driven back by the Turks under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)

The New Zealand memorial at Chunuk Bair the inscription reads: "From the uttermost ends of the earth"

I am so pleased I visited Gallipoli.  What happened there played a huge and significant part in New Zealand's history and to visit Gallipoli brings it all home.  It is impressive that the whole peninsula is a beautifully maintained national park and humbling to note the care and attention the Turks give to the cemeteries and monuments to those who were their enemies. I am pleased that the Turks were triumphant.....but can't help thinking of the terrible cost in loss of lives on both sides.