Published: June 2nd 2012April 8th 2012
The dead remembered at Lone Pine.
An essential part of any New Zealander's Turkish itinerary is a visit to the Gallipoli peninsula. Growing up in New Zealand you are constantly reminded of the New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives fighting in Gallipoli during World War I - New Zealand is a peaceful, isolated country you see, so it doesn't tend to get involved in any international skirmishes, nor is there any civil unrest, so the losses suffered in Gallipoli are the biggest the country have ever suffered due to war.
Our time had now come to pay our respects in person.
We had managed to get onto a convenient all-day tour that was picking us up in Istanbul, guiding us around all the important sites in Gallipoli and putting us up in a hostel in Eceabat for the night.
This meant an early pick up at 6am which I wasn't particularly thrilled about, but given what the ANZAC (Australiand & New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers had gone through all those years ago, I probably shouldn't have been complaining.
The girls weren't complaining either although they didn't look overly impressed as I showed up at the tour pick-up point five minutes after we were supposed to
Difficult to imagine what it was like all those years ago when it is such a peaceful, picturesque place now.
meet. This wouldn't be the last time...
When the tour bus eventually picked us up, we went on a bus tour of Istanbul as we stopped by a myriad of hotels to pick up passengers for the tour. I didn't envy the "tour guide" as he ran up a sweat trying to find passengers and guiding the bus through the narrowest old streets in Istanbul, all at a ridiculous hour of the morning.
Touring through the city, it was noticeable the number of old wooden Ottoman buildings that have been left in disrepair.
Around four hours later we arrived in the one horse town of Eceabat, where we had lunch as part of the tour and where we got talking to our fellow passengers who unsurprisingly were either Aussie or Kiwi. Crowded House - the hostel we were staying in, not the (Kiwi) band - was a bit too Aussie for my liking, in terms of the decorative paraphernalia anyway.
Our tour guide was Bulent, a local who grew up on the peninsula and thus knew the place inside out. What he also knew inside out was his history, as he explained exactly why soldiers all the
Australian memorial and cemetery.
way from Australia and New Zealand ended up fighting Ottoman soldiers on their own patch.
I discovered a lot of things that I hadn't really learnt from all my history lessons on Gallipoli at school, of which credit must go to Bulent. I found the military tactics and strategy extremely interesting, an off-shoot of my recently-discovered interest in international politics, itself an off-shoot of my age-old interest in the world of spies, black ops and clandestine operations. What can I say, I like my martinis shaken, not stirred.
Bulent's first story was how the Ottomans ended up entangled in World War I.
The story starts when a declining Ottoman Empire ordered battleships from the UK. When WWI broke out however, the British decided they need to keep the battleships they had produced for the Ottomans, which pissed the Ottomans off. Seeking a chance to gain an ally, the Germans then gave the Ottomans the battleships they wanted, in exchange for their support in fighting the Allies.
Remembered for his leadership in WWII, it was in fact Winston Churchill - First Lord of The Admiralty at the time - who decided the Allies needed to attack Gallipoli.
His logic was
The Unknown Soldier
AKA Mehmet, In honour of the thousands of Turkish soldiers who died but were never identified.
that if the Allies could take over the Gallipoli peninsula, and therefore control of the Dardanelles - the passage of water that leads up to Istanbul - it would allow for the swift capture of Istanbul which would eliminate the Ottomans from the war, and provide an effective supply line from the Mediterranean to fellow allies Russia via the Black Sea.
The ANZACs were the ones tasked with carrying out this invasion.
The first stop on our tour was Gaba Tepe, a headland from which a long beach stretched north. This beach was dubbed "Brighton Beach" by the Allies, and was the first planned landing point on the peninsula on April 25th 1915, a date etched into the memory of all New Zealanders.
The first of many crucial errors occurred right from the off as the pitch black of the night caused the first wave of invading troops to land 2.4km north of where they were supposed to, on the headland of Ari Burnu, the second stop on our tour.
The journey of the troops from the battleships to the shore was a complete mess and confusion reigned as the first troops landed around Ari Burnu, unintentionally bunched together.
Complete with war bunker.
Units of troops became intermingled, officers weren't sure where their units were and they indeed did not even know where they were themselves - many had thought they had landed at Gaba Tepe and found the steep terrain unfamiliar and unexpected. The confusion allowed the defending Ottoman troops to pick them off from the hills above. Those that survived the initial Ottoman gunfire attempted to climb the hills that lay in front of them, which made progress inland slow, and in some cases impossible.
Ari Burnu is a peaceful place these days - there is a cemetery of ANZAC soldiers whose graves look out to sea. Each headstone has the rank, name, age and home province of the fallen soldier and two things struck me when reading each one. Firstly, the familiarity of the place names that I was reading. Wellington, Auckland, Otago, Canterbury - these are place names I grew up with so the fact that these soldiers had come from these places really hit home that these really were our guys
that were slain so far from home. Secondly, it was staggering to see the number of teenagers and young men that died. It would have been like
ANZAC cemetery at Ari Burnu.
going to war with your schoolmates, something I almost can't comprehend. If I had died here aged seventeen, I would have died a boy, not a man.
Also at Ari Burnu, was also the most moving thing I had seen all day. A speech from Ataturk himself - who was a key figure in successfully defending Gallipoli from the ANZACs - is carved into a large concrete plaque, which reads; "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."
How can you ask someone to "wipe away your tears" after reading that? It would've made them bawl even more. I certainly for one, had a lump in my throat.
The third stop on the tour
Simple but poignant memorial at North Beach.
was North Beach - a beach just north of Ari Burnu - which had been set up with grandstands in preparation for the ANZAC Day ceremonies that were to take place in just over two weeks time. Bulent tells us that tours and accommodation for the 100th ANZAC Day anniversary here in three year's time has already sold out.
Picturesque Anzac Cove was the fourth stop of the tour and with the scenery and the brilliantly sunny weather, you almost couldn't imagine that this was once a place of war and suffering. Anzac Cove was the main base for the ANZAC soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign, which lasted eight months after the initial landing.
The fifth stop was inland at the site of the old trenches, which were literally metres apart. It was here that Bulent explained the other factors that conspired against the ANZACs, as well as the Ottomans - heat and disease. In the height of summer, it can get up to 40 degrees and combined with the squalid living conditions, the corpses lying around, and flies, it was just nightmare. The ANZAC bases were also poorly situated, making it difficult for them to receive already limited supplies.
Turkish trenches up at Chunuk Bair.
All this eventually led to the spread of dysentery throughout the ANZAC trenches.
The food the ANZACs were eating wasn't great either. Bulent tells us how the ANZACs and Ottomans would exchange food and messages by throwing them over to the opposition trenches, during the down time and cease fires. Apparently when a group of ANZAC soldiers threw over a can of the bully beef (corned beef) that they were eating to the Ottoman side, the Turks just threw it back.
Bulent uses this example to highlight how WWI was the last 'gentlemen's war'. They were trying to kill each other, but at the same time both sides respected each other as decent human beings. Both sides knew that there was no true evil intent on either side. The Allies were fighting to protect freedom, the Ottomans were fighting to defend their homeland. Cease fires were agreed so that each side could gather up their dead for burial.
Can you imagine that happening in war today? Compare it to the ethnic cleansing and the torture committed during World War II and the urination on Afghan corpses by American troops recently. People had different values back then - good, selfless values
Lone Pine memorial is surrounded by grandstands in preparation for ANZAC Day ceremonies.
that are rare in today's individualistic and consumption-driven society.
The sixth stop is at the Lone Pine memorial for the Australian soldiers. The original "lone pine" was a solitary pine tree that stood in the battlefield at the start of the Battle of Lone Pine, between Turkish and Australian forces. The Australians won that battle and is why the Australian memorial is situated there. The Battle of Lone Pine was one of the bloodiest of the war, with over 7,000 casualties in five days, within an area shorter than a football pitch. Speaking of football pitches, the memorial cemetery was surrounded by grandstands for the ANZAC Day commemorations and the place resembled a small football stadium. The memorial was serene and tranquil, where a visitor had the space and peace to reflect.
The seventh stop of the tour was "The Nek", a battleground that had a wonderful view over the west coast of the peninsula. Again the scenery was at odds with the tragedy that occurred here.
On the 7th August 1915, the Australian troops here were supposed to charge at the Turkish trenches a mere 27m away, in four waves of 150 men each, with the first wave to
View From The Nek
Fantastic view overlooking Suvla Bay.
be preceded by an artillery bombardment of the Turkish line to open a window for the first wave to charge while the Turks regrouped from the bombardment. The bombardment was to cease at 4.30am, the same time that the first wave of Australian troops were to make their charge. The second wave would charge two minutes after the first and the third wave would charge two minutes after the second and so on. Tragically, the watches of the artillery officer and the officer releasing the first wave of soldiers were out of sync meaning that there was a seven minute delay between the ceasing of artillery bombardment and the first wave attacks - enough time for the Turks to regroup and prepare for the waves of Australian troops that they now knew were coming. As soon as the first wave of troops jumped out of their trenches they were met with a hail of machine gun fire and all 150 men were gunned down within 30 seconds. The second wave charged two minutes later in accordance with the plan and met the same fate as the first. Attempts were made to cancel the third wave when it became obvious that
The Turks suffered heavy losses too.
charging the at the Turkish line was suicide. Due to confusion and the subsequent communication breakdown as a result, the third wave and half of the fourth wave still charged and were cut down in under a minute. Not everyone that charged was killed, but 372 soldiers were killed or wounded in just ten minutes.
If the story of The Nek sounds familiar to you, then you've probably watched the 1981 film Gallipoli, starring a young Mel Gibson, where the Battle of The Nek provides the film's climax. I have always vividly remembered the final few minutes of the film, it has stuck with me forever, especially the final frame that freezes on the main character Archy as he gets hit by a bullet after losing his head and mindlessly sprinting towards the Turkish line completely unarmed.
The penultimate stop on the tour was the Turkish memorial, which was teeming with Turks who had come to pay their respects. Bulent didn't give us any historical background about this particular area and a lot of our tour group didn't really bother looking around the memorial - however, there were two sides in the war, and I personally thought it'd be disrespectful
not to at least look around.
The final stop on the tour was the highest point in the peninsula, and of the most significance to New Zealanders - Chunuk Bair. The capture of Chunuk Bair was one of the key strategic objectives of the August Offensive - the final attempt by the ANZACs to seize control of the peninsula - and was the only success enjoyed by the Allies during the entire campaign. The success was only fleeting however - as desperately as the New Zealanders and the British tried to hold Chunuk Bair, the peak was too difficult to defend and were eventually overwhelmed by Ottoman reinforcements after only two days.
These days Chunuk Bair is home to two memorials; the large statue of Ataturk celebrating the Ottoman victory in the campaign; and the New Zealand memorial, aptly on the site of New Zealand's biggest military success in the campaign, and marked by a large memorial column. There were a lot of Turks visiting the place while we were there and with drinks and ice cream stalls at the peak's entrance the place resembled a circus. It felt a bit unfortunate that New Zealand's memorial did not have the
Statue in honour of the Turkish victory in the campaign, led by Ataturk.
same peacefulness and serenity as the Australian memorial at Lone Pine, but the recapture of Chunuk Bair from the Allies was ultimately the decisive battle that won the campaign for the Ottomans and thus the Turks have every right to commemorate their victory in the same place.
With my brain exploding with facts and my emotions exhausted from all the sombre reflection, we were all pretty historied out after the tour. And hungry.
There is only one restaurant in Eceabat worth going to, and fish was its speciality. Lying on an ice shelf, you could pick the fish you wanted and the friendly staff would take it off the shelf and fry it for you. Along with some fried mussels, the meal was very satisfying.
There really isn't anything else in Eceabat, apart from a seaside promenade lined with arts and crafts stalls. Knackered from the early start that morning, it was of no surprise that we hit settled in straight after dinner.
While always respectful of what the ANZACs sacrificed in Gallipoli, I have always felt somewhat disconnected from from the annual commemorations that took place every year on ANZAC Day, as I didn't have any relatives
New Zealand Headstones
At the New Zealand memorial up at Chunuk Bair.
who had died for New Zealand during the campaign. It wasn't as big a deal to me as it was to others when I was growing up.
It wasn't really until I got a bit older that I understood why those soldiers had gone to war and realised that their sacrifices were for the protection of the freedom we enjoy today.
Having lived abroad now for almost five years, visiting Gallipoli and hearing the stories of courage, the stories of hopelessness, and the stories of tragedy lived out by the ANZACs in a place so far from home, my appreciation of their sacrifice is much bigger than it was before. The pride I have in my country has swelled, and I've certainly been reminded about where home really is and where it will always be - New Zealand.
Lest we forget.
There are more photos below