When I was in Turkey at the beginning of June, we took a day trip to Gallipoli. It was a very long day: we were picked up from our hotel at 6 am, and didn't get back until around 10:30 pm, but it turned out to be well worth the effort.
I had felt a little bit funny about going. It felt a bit morbid, or touristy, or maybe disrespectul?... something vaguely uncomfortable. The whole experience was very interesting though, and quite moving. It was a nice refresher on WWI history, and a reminder of why war is so terrible; and hearing Australian accents for a whole day was nice.
Our guide was a Turkish man, who is now married to an Australian, and has been giving guided tours of Gallipoli for many many years. He had been having some trouble getting Australian citizenship, but one day an Australian immigration officer was in one of his tour groups, and decided that what he does is such a valuable service to Australians that he would help him out. He organised all the paperwork etc, and as an extra gesture of good-will, asked him where he would like his naturalisation ceremony. Our guide replied: "Gallipoli, of course!" because he thinks of it as both Australian and Turkish. So our guide became the first person ever to become an Australian citizen at a ceremony outside Australia.
A very quick (and over-simplified) summary of what happened at Gallipoli:
- The Allies hoped to take control of the Dardanelle straight, which connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara (which in turn connects to the Black Sea, via the Bosphorous) as this was the only access by sea between Western Europe and Russia;
- after Turkey joined the Central Powers in October 1914, the Allies could no longer provide supplies to Russia via the Mediterranean Sea;
- the battle began on 25 April 1915 and ended on 9 January 1916;
- the idea was for the Allied forces to land on the Gallipoli peninsula and cross overland to take control of the Dardenelle Strait;
- British and French forces landed at Cape Helles, and Australian and New Zealand forces at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915;
- the situation became a stale-mate, and both sides attempted attacks and counter-attacks over the next 7-8 months;
- an offensive was attempted by the Allies in August, but was unsuccessful;
- the Allies decided to withdraw, and began to plan an evacuation of troops, with a range of diversionary tactics (such as a self-firing rifle, giving the impression that soldiers were still there). In the end though, the Turkish forces had had enough, and (allegedly) let them go without a further fight;
- there were as many as half a million casualties throughout the campaign, although historians differ in their estimates.
These are gravesites of the Anzacs (top), and the Turkish people (bottom). The whole area is beautifully kept, and is very peaceful and quiet.
It was quite heart-breaking to see how young some of the men were (as young as 17). And some of the engravings on the tombstones were so Australian, like the one above: "Well done Ted."
This is Anzac Cove, where the Australian and New Zealanders landed. You can see from the second picture how steep the hill was, and how unsurprising it is that there were so many casualties.
This is an example of a trench (repaired but otherwise original). The Turkish and Allied trenches were often so close to each other that they could communicate with each other.
We were told quite a few stories of kindness between the Turkish forces and the Anzacs. For example, we were told one story of an Australian soldier who was injured, and was screaming out in pain in no man's land for hours and hours. Eventually, one of the Turkish soldiers took off his white underwear (which was probably not very white after months of stalemate), and waved them above the trenches as a white flag. The firing stopped, and the Turkish soldier went into no man's land, picked up the injured Australian soldier, and carried him to the Australian trench. He then went back to his own trench, and the firing continued. This is celebrated in the statue at the top of this post.
There were photographs in the museum of an Australian soldier giving water to an injured Turkish soldier, and we were told stories about the soldiers on each side swapping food supplies.
The whole peninsula is very beautiful, and it was a gorgeous sunny day.
The relationship between Turkey and the Anzacs these days is best demonstrated by this monument, erected by Ataturk:
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you
are now 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 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 at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our
sons as well."
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1934