The Galipolli Peninsula
15.10.2009 - 16.10.2009 18 °C
Two buses, one ferry and 28.5 hours later (yes you read that correctly) we'd finally reached our destination of Ecabat on the Galipolli Peninsula and checked in to Crowded House Hotel. I wonder if they actually realise how appropriate their choice of name was. While Istanbul is flooded with properties whose names have strong Australian conotations, such as the Sydney Hostel, The Down Under Bar and the Southern Cross Hotel, Crowded House is a band that is decidedly ANZAC. The Fynn brothers are Kiwi's but the band is claimed by Australia and therefore the hotel provides much comfort to both nationalities, although personally we both think the name is cheesy and offers no reflection on the area and its history.
Our arrival in to Ecabat signalled a change in climate and weather patterns. Where we had once experienced sunshine and heat we now experienced the cold and the rain. The furious winds that blew in off the coast brought with it sagging grey clouds desperate to empty their load onto the Turkish mainland. Luckily we were prepared, we're expecting much worse than this once we get down to the southern point of South America.
Having arrived mid afternoon Thursday, we missed the days tour to the Galipolli memorials by just over an hour and half we had very little to do until the tour the next day.
Friday morning was just the same as Thursday, temperatures were low, well at least lower than that experienced in Eastern Turkey and on the Mediteranian Coast, the grey Clouds were omni present and the threat of showers continued right through the course of the day. Our tour was due to depart at 12:45 and as we waited in the lobby of our hotel members of the tour slowly wandered through the door, as to be expected they all from the southern hemisphere. Our departure was slightly delayed as we waited for a few tour members to arrive on the bus from Istanbul. The break down of the tour was 10 Aussies and us the two token Kiwi's. It was our responsibility to pay respects at Chunuk Bair. As it turns out it was our responsibility to pay proper respects at all memorials across the Galipolli peninsula but we'll rant about this a little bit later.
Our tour guide Bulant, or Bill for those with linguestic problems, while being Turkish sounded more Australian than Hannah ever has or probably will. While he's never been to Australia he puts this down to working as a tour guide for about 20 years and being surrounded by Australians on his tours. We'd like to know why he doesn't sound like a Kiwi. This is probably due to the fact that Kiwi's are a bit more reserved and pay the place its proper respect i.e we don't get drunk during ANZAC day service and embarass our country.
Our first stop on the tour was ANZAC cove, a small stretch of beach north of the original landing position known as Brighton Beach to the Allied Forces. There is much debate over whether or not the forces changed their plans or whether the landing at ANZAC Cove was a mistake. Either way the lads were going to be in for a hard time as Brighton Beach lay adjacent to a large flat plain there would have been no hiding from Turkish Forces had they disembarked at the origainlly planned position. ANZAC cove was met by a steep embankment rising up to the Nek and onwards to Chunuk Bair. Unkown to Allied Forces their arrival into ANZAC Cove presented them with another problem the leader of the Turkish Forces at this location was Mustafa Kamal, later known throughout out Turkey as Attaturk, the direct translation of this is Father Turk. Mustafa Kamal's last words to his troops before the first encounter with Allied troops was "I do not send you to fight I send you to die, but if we hold them long enough then our brothers will replace us". He lost his entire Batallion during the first skirmishes but he survived. He was instrumental in Turkey's victory and went on to become a national hero and later it's first president as the Ottoman Empire was disbanded. During his few years in control Turkey became a secular country, he created the Turkish alphabet doing away with Arabic as the countrie's main language for both reading, writing and speaking. He introduced educational reforms including suferage and did away with complusory headscarves in the education system.
ANZAC cove no longer resembles what it once was, the cove has now been filled in, the bay now almost meets immediately the road embankment. Due to heavy tourist traffic the Turkish Government funded a road improvement scheme within the area to enable tour coaches to more easily manouvere through the peninsula. This development resulted in a catch twenty two, the Australian Government and the Australian people were up in arms about the desecration of their most important location linking their country to the first world war. However I'm sure they would have been equally up in arms had the Turkish Government decided to restirct the number of vistors to the peninsula each year. Following our visit to Anzac Cove and a nearby grave yard we ventured on towards the Nek and the location of that most famous scene from the movie Galipolli.
Before arriving at the Nek we stopped along side a section of trenches left over from the war. The trenches had been cleaned up as we saw no remanants of barbed wire, unlike trenches in Belgium and France. However we could see how close the proximity of the fighting was. The road we travelled on basically represented the dead zone, fighting occured within 7 metres of each other. The Galipolli is still littered with traces of bloody battles. From time to time people on tour stumble across old shell casings, particularly when its raining, like it was the day we were there. As it so happens a gentlemen on our tour found a live unused bullet.
The Nek, is an important site for Australians in particular those from Victoria. The Nek is the location of Australia's greatest loss of life during the Galipolli campaign. At the Nek the ridge line restricts and the main forces from each side were brought within half a football pitch width of each other. It was at the Nek that waves of the light horse brigade were sent over the trenches in an effort to take the Turkish lines. In 30 minutes three lines were lost, tottaling between 2000 and 3000 troops. By the end of the initiative almost 4000 Australian troops lay dead without acheiving any improvement in their position. Today the Nek is in a position such that the view is one of sublime beauty. Looking northwards from the ridge one has a magnificant view towards Sulva Bay and eastwards towards the Dardanelles. Its hard to imagine what the view would have been like back in 1914, would the ocean have been the colour of blood? Maybe the red earth comes from the blood spilt by those young men on each side fighting for their own causes. The phrase for King and Country appeared on so many of the grave stones that we saw. Having experienced what they did, at the time of their departure from this earth did they truelly believe in these words or are these the words their family believe they would have uttered. The propaganda posters malliciouisly decieved so many young New Zealanders and Australians, they thought they were being offered the chance to travel the world and see Europe instead they were deposited on a beach in Turkey, a country they'd probably never heard of. Having seen what we have, having been read accounts from the front line I think not. I think their King would have been far from their mind. I think their country would have come second to their family. How many would leaped at the opportunity to be lifted from those trenches and returned to their mothers arms? A fair few I would have said.
Moving on from the Nek our next stop was Lone Pine and the main Australian memorial, although you wouldn't have known this with the amount of time and respect given to the place by the Australian contingent of our tour. The youngest Australian to die at Galipolli is recorded at Lone Pine, a 14 year old who lied about his age. Having asked his parents permission to go and having been denied he offered them an ultimatum, let me go and I will write, refuse me this and I will go but you'll never hear from me. Upon their refusal he absconded. During the campaign he fell ill with Typhoid, fearing his lie would be found out if he went to the doctor he persevered until it was too late. He went to the doctor but died shortly after.
Lone Pine got its name from the fact that during the Galipolli campaign all trees were removed from the ridge apart from this one Pine. During the campaign an Australian solider collected seeds from a pine cone and sent them back to Australia where his family planted them. The solider survived the Galipolli campaign but lost his life in France. Years later his family returned to Galipolli and with them they brought seeds from the tree they had grown. The Lone Pine had been lost towards the end of the Galipolli Campaign. These seeds were planted and a new tree was grown, this Ancestor of the Lone Pine remains today, seeds from this tree are given as gifts to visting Australian dignatries, as well as Australian Schools, it took my school three attempts to get their seedling to grow and as far as I'm aware CTHS still has an ancestor of the Lone Pine planted in their grounds.
The final stop for the tour was Chunuk Bair. This was the overall objective of the Galipolli Campaign. Its the highest point along the ridge line. Therefore who ever held Chunuk Bair effectively held the Galipolli Peninsula. As it so happens we're not only better at Rugby than Australia we're also better at acheiving military objectives. The Wellington Rifflemen were the only Allied forces to take Chunuk Bair and they held it for almost two weeks. They recieved no back up in the following days and were ejected from their position following an early morning offensive led by Mustafa Kamal Atatturk. It is for this very reason that the New Zealand Memorial is allowed the highest ground on the Galipolli Peninsula. From Chunuk Bair you have a full 360 degree view of the Galipolli Peninsula all the way from Anzac Cove up to Sulva Bay and across to the Dardenelles. The saddness one feels when you look upon names of countless soilders 5, 6 even 8 years younger than you is gut wrenching, how many of those soilders were set for greatness in their lives before being cut short all due to an arguement in a country far far away?. New Zealand and Australia have been the home to explorers, inventors, nobel winning scientists and some of the greatest sporting personalities of the early 20th century how much did society lose out on because the wrong decisions were made, unfortuantley this is something we will never know.
The Galipolli campaign could have quite possibly all been avoided, like any regrettable experience it can be tracked back to whether you make a let turn or a right turn. Or in this case, refuse to give Turkey the war ships they have paid you for, putting them into service within your own Navy and refusing to give them their money back. Turkey at this time was neutral. While there is no gaurantee they would have stayed neutral or joined Germany the provision of the war boats they'd already paid for probably wouldn't have hurt relations.
While Galipolli was a moving experience filled with much sorrow and anguish for the experiences of those who had gone before us it was slightly mared by the respect or lack there of, given to the peninsula by those other members of our tour. At each and every site we visted we seemed to be the first ones off the bus and last ones on, at The Nek and Lone Pine the time spent here by our tour members was less than 10 minutes in total. While it is not possible to pay respects to every name listed and tomb stone laid we tried to make a concious effort to visit as many as we could especially the more removed less visited ones, their sacrafice is not less than those nearer the main monument. The respect and time given at the New Zealand memorial was even worse, no attempt was made to visit the wall of names returning to the bus after only a couple of minutes. We only hope that this is not the norm and tha Galipolli hasn't just become a tourist site, visited by people who feel they have to rather than by people who feel they want to.
The peninsula is now a beautiful national park, the once baren hillsides have regained their green splendour but no amount of regrowth can hide the scars of the past folies of man, the red earth will forever remind us and the generations that go after us of the sacrafices we make in the name of anothers.