Day 6: Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey

by - August 04, 2011

Having spent most of this week looking at ruins, we decided that we couldn’t drive to Istanbul without stopping at the legendary Gallipoli Peninsular.  The battles that were fought here in World War One in 1915 are a major part of British history, perhaps a turning point in world history and to Australians and New Zealanders a key part of the national psyche.  The aim had been to open up the Dardanelles and march on Istanbul, but a combination of stubborn Ottoman resistance, bad luck and bad leadership meant that after a war of attrition the soldiers of the British Empire were pushed off the little strip of land.  As fierce as the fighting was however, it is often referred to by historians as the last of the ‘gentleman wars’ where each side would treat each other with respect and dignity.  To give dad a break from driving and to secure the services of a guide, we decided to take the Gallipoli battlefields tour that was offered by Crowded House hotel.

Brighton Beach, Gallipoli
We started off at Brighton Beach, the place where the amphibious landings were supposed to take place.  Under the cover of darkness however, the boats were drifted up the coast to the little cove which was eventually nicknamed Anzac Cove (which I will come to in a bit).  As with most places in the area, the British wartime nickname has stuck and the beach does have a local name which I can’t remember.  Our tour guide, a man called Bill who is actually mentioned by name in Lonely Planet, took the chance to sit the group down and got out a map to spend 20 minutes or so explaining the general characteristics of the nine month campaign.  I’m not going to go through the history on the blog because I don’t have enough space and I don’t think I will do it justice, but if you have never heard of it, it would definitely be worth looking it up.  The main thing that we gathered from our stop at Brighton Beach was that it was a broad, flat beach which lends itself to a landing.  It was however heavily defended, so it is difficult to go through the 'what-ifs?’ for if the landings hadn’t been blown off course.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli
Anzac Cove is only two miles up the coast, but there is a massive contrast in the terrain.  The little beach at the cove is surrounded by steep cliffs, which meant that the Australian and New Zealand troops that landed had to immediately climb up the cliffs to attack the Turkish troops that were defending them.  While the terrain is in stark contrast to Brighton Beach, so to were the defences.  At Anzac Cove, only 160 men and a machine gun post were overlooking the beaches and these were actually overcome with ease.  The main objective of the campaign, the heights of Chaunuk Bair, was only 3 miles from the beaches and within a few hours the troops had travelled 2 miles.  At this point however a young Turkish lieutenant colonel got his 160 men to lie down in the grass with fixed bayonets to give the impression that their numbers were larger.  This officer was Mustafa Kemal, later to be known as Ataturk - the founder of modern Turkey.  This bluff held the invaders up and allowed time for Turkish reinforcements to throw the Anzacs back to within a mile of the beaches, where they remained for most of the campaign.

Lone Pine Cemetary, Gallipoli
After Anzac Cove we headed up to North Beach where a large arena has been created.  The huge swell of tourists who came for the Anzac Day ceremonies a few years ago swamped the cemetaries and as a result a joint Turkish/Australian/New Zealander agreement resulted ın the constructıon of an arena where servıces can take place.  In 2015 it will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and tens of thousands of Aussies and Kiwis are expected.  We had now seen all of the Anzac landing points and therefore headed inland to the heights which were so bitterly fought over.  The main Australian cemetary is called Lone Pine, so called because the intense shelling left only one tree standing.  In four days of fıghting over an area of land about the same size as a football pıtch, 7000 Australians dıed.  A soldıer took a seed from the original 'lone pine’ and the tree that now stands in the middle of the cemetary is the great grandson of that original tree.

Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli
From here we passed several trenches on our way up to Chunuk Bair.  One of the cemetaries is called “Johnston’s Jolly” as the relationship between the Australians and Turks here was particularly jovial - the Aussies lacked tobacco for their cigarettes while the Turks lacked paper and as a result they were always throwing supplies across the trenches to each other.  It was here that our guide showed us a particularly striking bit of war propaganda which encouraged men to sign up for a 'free trip to Great Britain and Europe’.  On our way to the summit we passed by an Ottoman cemetary.  While the soldiers are buried in separate cemetaries, there is a feeling that they are all equal at Gallipoli and this attitude is best summed up by Ataturk’s message to the mothers of foreign soldiers, inscribed in a memorial, which says that ’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’.  We were now approaching the end of the tour and the last stop was Chunuk Bair itself, where there is a major New Zealander cemetary.  The summit was finally captured by Kiwi troops, but it was only held for two days after fierce fighting.  Chunuk Bair is to New Zealanders what Lone Pine is to Australians.

The tour was now over and we headed back to Eceabat, stopping off for some complimetary watermelon from a fruit stall on the way back to the hotel.  It had been a really good tour and I think it was far better for us to have a tour than to try and drive around the sites ourselves.  Sometimes it is better to join the group and get a guide than to travel totally independantly and this was the case today.

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