Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gallipoli: Remembering the Anzacs

When we realized that we could visit Gallipoli on a day trip from Istanbul, we decided it would be worth the effort.  An early morning rise and a 4-hour drive each way was required but we were keen to learn a little more about the history of this battle that is remembered in Australia every Anzac day.  Our van had a number of visitors from the UK and Australia but we realized later in the day that part of our party were going off to visit Troy and that it was just us and the other Australian couple who were going to Gallipoli.

Over the long drive south we got to know our fellow travellers.  We had some interesting conversations with Sally and Pete who were travellers from Adelaide and we found many common threads in our lives.  I am always amazed at how easy it is to connect with many of the people we bump into in our travels.  The two older ladies from the UK turned out to be sisters who were researching a book the younger of the two was proposing to write about an adventurous sailing trip she had undertaken with her dad and a friend while still a student.  Over lunch we listen in amazement to her stories.  There is also an older Italian immigrant to Australia in our midst.  He is in his early eighties and informs us he has just completed his 31st marathon!  And I thought I was adventurous…

We learn a little more about the Gallipoli Campaign, also referred to as the Dardanelles Campaign, which took place in the Gallipoli peninsula during the Ottoman Empire between April 1915 and January 1916, during World War I.  The idea behind this campaign was to secure a sea route to Russia and the British and French launched this naval campaign in an effort to force a route through the Dardanelles.  The amphibious landing undertaken on the Gallipoli peninsula was an attempt to capture Constantinople.  After 8 months, the campaign failed with many casualties amongst the Turks as well as the Allies. 

The Turkish victory was a great moment at a time when the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.  It was a catalyst for the Turkish War of Independence and resulted in the founding of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who had been a commander at Gallipoli.  The campaign also resulted in a sense of National consciousness and coming of age in Australia and we now commemorate Anzac Day, a national holiday on the 25th of April. 

I was surprised to learn there were Indians and Ceylonese who also lost their lives in this campaign. 

Our Turkish guide was full of information and we learnt a lot during our visit.  We got a real sense of what it would have been like to be a soldier fighting in the trenches.  It was a cold and dismal day during our visit and we wondered how anyone could stand a wet winter in a trench.  The trenches were full of water but the soldiers had nowhere else to go.  Many of the kids who fought here were young teenagers, who had left home for the first time.  Many were also under the impression they were going to fight the Germans and didn’t really know what they were actually here to do till the very stages of their journey. 

We were surprised to learn that the campaign involved the first aerial reconnaissance and mapping of the terrain as well as location of the Turkish companies by the Allied Forces.  A common story told in Australia is that the British dropped the Aussies on the wrong beach but the reality of this was a little different.  While the British indicated the stretch of coastline that was best for the landing it was an Australian general that determined the actual location and timing.  Our Turkish guide indicated this was the historical information in Australia’s own war records. 

As we visited a number of memorial sites in the peninsula we came across these words of Ataturk, which we found verymoving.  It confirmed for us there was no animosity toward the Australians within the Turkish community about what happened in Gallipoli.   

"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 now 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."

My wish is that we can learn from history and eliminate war completely and find a way to resolve our conflicts through understanding and communication.  

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