Published: March 4th 2010February 24th 2010
We really enjoyed Canakkale - a small town that was easy to explore, in a beautiful setting. It is southwest of Istanbul (about a 6 hour drive) and located right on the Dardenelle straits which run between the Aegean and Marmara seas.
Our first morning we visited the city's fortress which is also the Army and Navy Museum. It was built in the 15th century with 9 foot thick walls in certain sections (ie the officer's quarters....!). The grounds are well maintained and now include a lovely garden area overlooking the mouth of the Dardenelle. The day we were there, a large number of new cadets were being toured around as part of their training - perhaps this is why we were assigned a young officer (well, maybe not an officer) who gave us a guided tour and some history. He was terrific and of course I took the opportunity to ask him many non-museum questions. As it turns out, all males in Turkey must serve and you do this as soon as you are finished school (high school, or if you are continuing on, after college. This can be delayed if there are extenuating circumstances). He ended up in
the navy and stationed here, but is multilingual (and obviously very bright) and had been hoping for a posting at NATO in Brussels - which his buddy won instead of him. Looking out over the beautiful view, though, he did admit that perhaps he was the luckier one. So we got the tour and a brief history of the area, saw where a bomb had hit one of the walls (and is still imbedded) during the early days of WW1, and then spent some time enjoying the view. The docked mine placer was off limits today because it was being refurbished and cleaned. Our visit to this fortress museum was a good intro to our afternoon excursion to Gallipoli.
So, why a fortress at Canakkale? The very short answer is that it is a strategic location (likely the same reason for the battle of Troy - just down the road - and not Helen after all. Although that doesn't make for as good a story:)). It is located near the mouth of the straits, the Dardenelle, that lead from the Aegean to the Marmara - and from there to the Black Sea and access to all of Eastern Europe.
This is why the straits were seen as critical to control at the start of WW1. "The Dardenelles ran through the heart of Turkey, an ally of the Germans. To take these waters and hold them meant the opening of a vital supply link to embattled Russia. A successful attack on the Dardenelles would link the separated allies."(Mustafa Askin:Gallipoli A Turning Point).
Some Background: The Ottoman Empire was chaotic in the days before the first world war, having been depleted by the Balkan wars. Defeats had decimated the army (and the government's coffers) and they were in no condition to fight. So although the world wanted to see Turkey neutral, she understandably felt the need for an ally and had to choose between Britain and Germany. Turkey seemed to have closer ties to Britain, but the presence of Russia in the Alliance was problematic. Turkey was concerned that Russia would extend its empire at their expense, and since Russia was part of the Alliance Turkey felt it would not be able to expect support from Britain or France should that happen. At the same time, Germany was war-ready and some key military folk in Turkey had spent time
View from fortress
Across the straits to the Gallipoli peninsula.
as attaches in Berlin and had connections there. With Germany's help, the Ottoman army was equipped and modernized. The decision was effectively made, and a treaty of alliance was signed in August 1914.
I would encourage you, if at all interested, to read a bit about the Gallipoli battles - I really don't want to detail them here. Or, to get a bit of a flavour of what it was like you could watch the movie Gallipoli (starring a very very young Mel Gibson). It is heartbreaking; the arrogance that cost so many young lives. At that time, you could still buy a commission in the British military - no aptitude or life experience necessary...Anyway.
Today the Gallipoli peninsula is effectively one big memorial to the many Aussies, New Zealanders and Turks who lost their lives here. March 15th, the date of the first battle and Allie defeat, is a huge date on the Turkish calendar; likewise April's ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand.
So why did we Canadians head to Gallipoli for a visit?
In late 1914 an 18 year old by the name of Samuel Taylor joined the Army Service Corps. Sam was
a fisherman from northern England. I bet he was hoping to get to drive one of those new motorized vehicles, but instead he was attached to the "Horsed Transport". The service corps were those fellows who built 'roads' where necessary and ensured that food and munitions and supplies got to the front lines - and helped with the fighting as well. They performed a vital function, but were often the butt of jokes since, as one fellow put it, there was an assumption that they were keeping all the strawberries for themselves.:)
By March 1915 Sam was attached to the 1st Battalion Essex as part of the 29th Division. Originally intended for France, Lord Kitchener bowed to pressure and deployed the Division to Gallipoli. The Division shipped out via Malta to Alexandria Egypt, and then on to Cape Helles on Gallipoli in late April. It must have been terribly exciting for a young lad to head on such a trip. And then he saw his first action, according to the records, on May 16th (likely in the second Battle of Krithia), two months short of his 19th birthday.
Gallipoli was a complete disaster, of course, with huge losses
due not only to fighting, but disease. It was hot, and there was nowhere to bury the dead. On 7-8 January 1916, the Division was evacuated from Gallipoli (the last group to go) ending up first in Egypt and then to the Western Front for the remainder of the war. They were in every major action in Europe. After the Armistice the Division was among those to march into Germany and occupy the Rhine bridgehead.
Sam was de-mobilized on August 2nd 1919 just after his 23rd birthday, a 4 year veteran of Gallipoli, Egypt, and the battlefronts of Europe at such a tender age. At the time there was concern that the Armistice might not last so he, along with all other trained and experienced soldiers, were transferred to Reserve instead of being released, on the understanding that they could be called up again at any time. This condition remained in place until March 1920 - and it didn't take long for Sam to get on with his life after that. The following Jan 1 he married Hannah Ward and, soon after, emigrated to Canada.
Sam was my grandfather.
When his youngest child (my father) was a
toddler, he died at the age of 37, leaving a devastated young widow who had seen too much loss in her short life. I had always heard that Sam had been wounded in the Dardenelles but I have not found any military records to support that (although many were destroyed during Second World War bombings). I think it is probably more likely that he contracted malaria and tuberculosis there (but it is also true that ships were torpedoed at Gallipoli, with survivors, and he could have been one of those). His discharge papers say he was in A-1 condition, but we know differently, and his early death confirms this.
So we visited for Sam.
It was a heavy place - it felt like the world was pressing down on you. And, almost 100 years after the fighting ended, there was not one bird singing. I think the winds have not yet blown away the heartache from this place.
There are more photos below