Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the road to Gallipoli..

We are in a bus full of Australian tourists. We are on the road to Gallipolli and there is a buzz in the air.
For some reason I have never been very interested in this bit of history, the first world war and the events surrounding it. Even though I know fully well it set the stage for the second world war. But today as the bus rolls through dense green pine forests, the voice of our guide brings the story of Gallipoli alive.

My Australian friend tells me that Gallipoli is considered one of the most important chapters of their history . It's the one thing they grow up learning about and the one place that they make a point to visit.

Driving to Gallipoli..
On one side is the sea and it is some kilometers from here that the first boats carrying ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Navy Corps ) arrived. But the story started much before that and had its roots in the colonial aspirations of the European powers Britain, France and Germany.

Today has been cold and rainy in distinct contrast to our previous day in Sunny Istanbul, and its wonderful watching the trees fly past from the warm confines of our bus.

The innocous looking sea and its shores, once the site of fierce fighting..
Britain, Spain and France were at the height of their colonial days in the events leading up to the first world war. This meant that they had a huge source of resources and wealth, things that went into building their armies and their nations. When Germany began asserting itself as a power in Europe, it turned to Turkey to bolster it's military might. This in a nutshell are the events leading up to the operation in Gallipoli our guide explains.

Between 25th April 1915 and 9th Jan 1916, a joint operation between Britain and France was launched to take control of Constantinople , the Ottoman capital. This would ensure that the allies (Britain, France and Russia) had the sea route to Russia open. To the operation were recruited men from the common wealth,  largely from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who were then posted in Egypt. They were mostly young boys and as a co-passenger put it, they were out on an adventure , not knowing the difficulty of the task that lay ahead in Gallipoli. The events that unfolded would end in tragedy for most of them.

We walk across to the beach and from where we stand we can see the ANZAC cove where 27,000 Australian, New Zealand landed between 25 April and 1 May 1915. The intended destination was  Brighton beach further South and take control of the Ottomon straits. Due to an error in judgement, they landed here under direct fire from the Turkish forces. Most of the leadership perished and what was originally intended to be a swift operation , turned into a long bloody one spanning many months and at the expense of many young lives.

The Anzac Cove..
Today the beach is a picture of calm. The waves gently roll up and down and pebbles glisten through the clear waters.  What must have been the bloody scene , filled with the sound of guns and fighting , today stands silent.

We walk around the graves. Some in our group are on a mission , to find the tombstones of friends or relatives who they knew or heard that fought in Gallipoli.

Azmak cemetry..

The Kemal attatuk Memorial to the Anzacs..
Outside stands a memorial, a touching tribute by Attatuk, the founder of Turkey to the Anzac and Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting.  When Gallipoli happened he was a lieutenant colonel who commanded the Turkish 19th infantry division.

Sign posts..

In all the tragedy and destruction, there were also stories of courage. Of soldiers crossing boundaries to save lives. And some of them stand frozen in stone , and we hear of the story of a Turkish soldier who hearing the wounded cries coming from somewhere in the field, waved a white flag asking for shooting to stop. And when it did he picked up and safely saw across the other, a commonwealth soldier, in need of help after which the fighting resumed.

In memoriam..
Our next stop is the Lone Pine memorial, so called because at the time the site was discovered , all that survived was a lone pine tree in the midst of carnage.
Lone pine memorial..
The memorial honours 4000 odd ANZAC soldiers who have no graves.
Statue of Hüseyin Kaçmaz, the oldest living member of the 57th Regiment..

At the entrance to the graves in memory of the Turkish soldiers stands the statue of Hüseyin Kaçmaz, the oldest living member of the 57th Regiment. He died in 1994. In his old withered hands are the hands of his great-granddaughter , and here they stand , him telling her about the battle.
The 57th Regiment that he was part of was led by Mustafa Kemal. This regiment held  back the original invasion long enough for reinforcements to arrive.Most of them were killed in action but Hüseyin Kaçmaz lived to tell the harrowing tale..

There are many more sites we see that day. In some places the actual trenches at the site of fighting have been carefully preserved.

Gallipoli is about the tragedy of war. It's about how countries and ideas and big schemes can consume ordinary people, boys in this case who thought they were off on an adventure in an unknown land.
It's about mindless bloodshed and in it are lessons that everybody can learn from.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


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