This part requires a mention on its own.
So on August 25th I arrived in Turkey, coming from Varna, Bulgaria, a rather long one-day ride – 506 km – most of it fighting a strong wind from the northeast. My destination was the small village of Eceabat. Eceabat sits at the southern end of the peninsula, at its east side, also just overlooking the Dardanelles.
Getting there, I realised that there is actually no place named ‘Gallipoli’ on the entire peninsula. There is however a small town called Geliboloui, although its location is much further up north and AFAIK it did not play any direct role in the events of 101 years ago.
Eceabat sits right at the edge of the Geliblou Yarimada, the name of a large national park covering the entire tip of the peninsula. This park and its monuments, and let me tell you there are many, is almost a Wallfahrtsort (pilgrim’s destination) for Turks. I was told that is it compulsory for Turkish school kids to visit here at least once during Primary School and learn about Turkish history right where it all happened.
The park covers about 490 square kms and contains 44 Turkish martyrs’ cemeteries. ‘Martyrs’ is the name given to all Turkish soldiers who died here. There are 20 Turkish memorials and altogether 34 foreign memorials and cemeteries, some of them Australian, some New Zealand, Canadian, French, India.
Just to put it all into perspective: this is a place of Victory for the Turks. A great Victory indeed. For the first time in 1915 Turkish forces stood their ground, thus denying victory for the otherwise almighty and always-winning Power Nations of this time: England and France. Russia wasn’t considered a power nation then. The Turks threw back the invasion of their country several times: on water, when Churchill had sent English warships to take Istanbul. Churchill wanted a safe shipping route to Russia, so he could strengthen the Russian forces with his weaponry. This necessitated the taking of Istanbul to gain access to the Black Sea. However these allied forces were badly beaten. Several large English & other ships sunk in the Dardanelles Straight in march of that year, 1915. They could not pass bye the fortification on the narrow part (~ 1.6 kms) on both sides of this straight. Subsequently the plan to land and invade the western side of this peninsula was born, ensuing an invasion attempt by landing on several spots on the western shores of the Peninsula. UK, Indian, Canadian, French, New Zealand and, of course Australian troops were involved. A small foothold was gained shedding so much blood and sacrifice on both sides. Nine months later, after many more had died, it was given up and the attempt was aborted.
Young men died on both sides for Nix – indeed died for double-Nix, but I’ll explain this in a moment. On top of this Victory for the Turkish defenders clearly stood a single Turk. A man presently commanding the 19th Infantry regiment with about 60 soldiers, when Australian troops landed at the south-western part, close to the tip but not at the tip. The English landed at the tip and despite heavy losses created a ‘bridge head’. The French, I didn’t even know that they were there as well … landed on the other side of the entrance to the straight at Kimkale. They were the only ones to achieve their objective pretty immediately. However, their landing was planned as an attempt to trick the Turks and lead their troops away from the prime landing zones.
Back to this local Turk, as he commanded the local unit of about sixty men, spoiling the landing attempt considerably. Indeed he went against the directive from removed Turkish generals to send his troops down to the southern tip. Instead he remained and almost ‘awaited’ the ANZACs landing. Looking at part war history, regardless of which nation was involved, you wish – with hindsight – that other military leaders on the front would have desisted some of the idiotic directions from Generals far away removed from the scene …
Mustafa Kemal soon assumed on-site command over the entire defence campaign. Mustafa Kemal – later became known as Ataturk, meaning the Father of All Turks and the Father of the Nation.
Who knows, if he hadn’t been there, perhaps all would have worked out differently, and the aim to take the peninsula’s west-side and then progress to its east-side to destroy the powerful cannons who had sunk the English warships ….. Well, I am sure many still would have died …
In Eceabat I made some lame attempts to book a tour, but wasn’t too persistent and my subconscious did me a favour. It turned out much more appropriate to explore the site of the battles on my own.
I am not a fan of past war-stuff or battle locations, however I’ve seen a few first-hand. One, the first one I ever saw still has stuck in my mind: Verdun, France. It was 1970 and I was driving for a brief weekend to Paris. Then it was all driving over what we would call today “B-roads”. The road let past Verdun and on the way back I decided to stop and have a look. I knew a little about Verdun from history lessons. Still today I can picture the huge cemetery – a field – literally – of white crosses. In its centre a small square stone building. Outside the bones of the fallen ones, the ones who couldn’t be identified. Inside a very small display of pictures of this trench warfare. Pictures of absolute destruction, not a single clump of earth left in its original place. Body parts hanging in burnt trees, well these were the times of political in-correctness. I also recall a photo of French and German soldiers celebrating Christmas together, shoulder to shoulder, only a day later they would try to kill each other without any hesitation… how can this make sense??
Later visits to Normandy, Cambodia’s killing fields offered the same pictures.
Now I had arrived on yet another of such places: the ANZAC Cove.
Going to this place here in Turkey had a bit more to it. Perhaps it will be part of another piece in the puzzle of my own and presumable never-ending assimilation and/or integration into Australia? After all, Gallipoli is a big thing each year all over Australia. Recently it has enjoyed renewed attention from the younger generation.
I still struggle with the celebration of it and the ‘presented reasons’ as to why we do it as we do it.
So riding the bike this morning out towards this area was special. I couldn’t miss the Canakkale Epic Promotion Centre preserving the history about this war event. I didn’t opt for the 1-hour light&sound show as –predictably- it is representing mostly the Turkish view, understandable of course. But I paid a few Turkish Lira to see the exhibition with artefacts, photos, models and other displays about the event. It also featured Australian and English exhibits. To my surprise they were German exhibits as well!?! German Officers took part in this war side-by-side with the Turkish Allies, some with decisive influence.
This visit refreshed my knowledge, indeed increased it. One display anchored itself deep into my mind: a little model (diorama) of the trench warfare. So fucking close to each other, that they could verbally communicate with each other! … and so they did. I read storied of exchanging not only messages, but also food! An hour later they charged against each other, trying to kill each other as much as they could! make sense of this – I can’t quite do it. History in its warped form repeating itself.
This model was complete with dead soldier rotting between the trenches. Disease played a big role killing men on both sides. 87.000 Turkish men – Mehmets or Mehetciks– died here. Almost 10 times as much as Australians death. This statement tries not to judge the worth of one Turkish life against an Australian life. All are equal, especially when dead. I just try to relate with these numbers the huge impact this failed landing had on all sides.
So, for me, the scene was set.
The night before I had marked on a map to find some points, names of places I had seen on TV or read about it so many times. I had a plan. Now, having been through the exhibition, I was about to see the location.
Brighton Beach came first approaching from the south.
Apparently here the young ANZACs took a swim in the ocean in relative safety when not being killed or killing others. Now, a tranquil beach with narrow strip of sand. My mind could see pictures of the Gallipoli movie. The evening prior I had been on a ferry, being able to see the landing points from the sea, probably the same vista the troops had when they were approaching. WTF! You couldn’t pick a worse spot for attempting to invade! Things like that make me mad about “the Generals” and the fat one with the cigar especially. How they just don’t give a shit wasting men’s’ lives for their half-cooked plans. The lives of the men to be killed just don’t seem to matter whatsoever. Far out!
But standing there and replaying the movie scene gave me a rather sad and sombre feeling. Contemplating the total waste of so many lives, for whose gain??
I travelled on a little, realising how close all this ‘spots’ were. The entire Gallipoli campaign for ANZACs happened on a relatively small patch of ground. Although it is small, it certainly is rugged and instantly peaking up from the beachfront. Up to 307 meters – Hill 97 – the ground rises.
Not nicely or gently undulating, rather in no pattern, with rough and unpredictably turning and twisting gullies. I cannot believe how anybody would have even contemplated to stage a successful ‘bridge-head’ campaign on this kind of ground. My mind boggled.
On this side of the park I was rather for myself. I arrived out of season and the Turkish busses were much more focussed on the Turkish sites, so nobody where I stood.
I met one fellow Australian, Ted W. from the Gold Coast, at ANZAC Cove who finally had arrived here to ‘apply’ his long-held interest and study about Gallipoli. I was good to talk to somebody, voicing one’s impressions and hearing another one. Ted and I spoke also about the post-event dynamics for returning ANZACs and contrasting these with the Vietnam Vets and more recent was returnees, or should I say “lucky survivors” …?
Further on I stopped and took in the … well, what? I guess the feelings this place and its long-gone history created in my head. Sadness mostly, anger as well, and a kind of being-at-a-loss that we, humans do not seem able to actually learn from history.
I conclude my visit with a moment at Lone Pine, it’s elevated physical place overlooking the entire area, being the actual spot for yet-another bloody battle with no winners.
In the end Turkish troops stood their ground and the trench warfare locked-in the front line. Occasional ‘gains’ mad by any party, were soon enough rebuked, so almost a status quo was attained. Each time though several hundred men lost their limbs and lives.
I found several names of my wife’s family. Not sure if and how they might be related, sad they are all!
So what about Gallipoli? Well, to me, I am glad I went. I am even gladder that I had the place almost entirely to my own. No crowds, no noise, no razzmatazz – rather time & space to reflect and think.
Do I understand it more? No, not really.
Perhaps what I do understand is that a people gets nicely manipulated to believe in a certain viewpoint, just as the Western Allies did when recruiting for the ANZAC troops to feed their war machine. So, the same must have been the case in Hitler’s Germany – a manipulated mass, who actually must have believed – or most of them – that it was exactly as reported in the press and by their leader/s. Considering this, it is impossible to judge. However I still can have an opinion. … and what would that be: well, clearly war is and has been shite! The losers are literally ‘the little people’, cannon fodder at best, but make’em heroes and give’em medals to keep up the story. The story owned and shaped by a few powerful, never ever close to shrapnel or action.
No doubt, men on each side behaved … brave, an over-used word, but I cannot find a better one.
Human acts of kindness endless on both sides. One monument depicts a Turkish Soldier carrying a wounded ANZAC to the hospital tent. Looks powerful and I like to believe these things happened.
Finally my most lasting impression are the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: