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Turkish delights: history lessons at Gallipoli

I’ve always wanted to go to Gallipoli. After learning about the ANZACs landing there in the First World War, I’ve always wanted to see firsthand what they went through for our country’s freedom. I went there with Travel Talk, as part of a tour around Turkey.

Our drive followed the road, which curled through the hills. It’s crazy to be driving through Europe, looking across to Asia. The Marmaran sea was the only thing separating us. Gallipoli is an area held close to Kiwi and Australian hearts. But soldiers from England, France, India and Canada all fought here too. Over 100,00 lost their lives here in the First World War.

From the day the Anzacs landed on the 25th of April, fighting was at a standstill until the 19th of May. The Turkish army made a push, and both sides lost a lot of lives that day. There was a two day armistice following this. Both sides came out of the trenches, and met each other face to face for the first time.

It is labelled ‘the last Gentlemen’s war’. There are so many tales of compassion and respect from both sides. Anzacs helping wounded Turkish soldiers drink water. Turkish soldiers waving a white flag and carrying dead Kiwi soldiers back to an Anzac trench. Singing to each other across the trenches, throwing cigarettes and canned food across. There is a large statue of a Turkish soldier, carrying a wounded Anzac soldier back to his trench.

Statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Anzac soldier

Our first stop was Kabatepe. This was where the soldiers were supposed to land. A calm, gentle beach, and a flat valley through to allow access to take the Dardanelles. No one is allowed to swim in the water along the peninsula, as there was so much bloodshed. It is one big unnamed graveyard.

Beach in Gallipoli

I felt sick as we pulled up at North Beach. It is the site of the dawn service every year. My head was spinning as I looked up at the imposing cliffs. I could see why the Anzacs thought they had landed in Egypt; it looked like the sphinx at the top of the cliff.

The imposing sand cliffs ad Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

I really couldn’t comprehend how some of the boys scaled those cliffs on the first day they landed. Anzac Cove was officially named so by the Turkish government, as a sign of respect to all the Anzac soldiers who lost their lives here.

Anzac Cove memorial

Ari Burnu was one of many graveyards near North Beach. It was so overwhelming. We were the only group there, so had time to walk quietly alone, and contemplate. The bodies of 270 soldiers are laid here to rest. It took years to piece together who they believe are buried here.

Ari Burnu cemetery at Gallipoli

Some of the graves read ‘it is believed that … lies here’, since they are unable to name so many of the fallen soldiers. So many ages were 16, 17, 18… it was heartbreaking. Jewish graves had piles of pebbles, and Muslim graves were facing Mecca. Some final resting dates on the headstones were much later than others. These would have been soldiers held in POW camps, who were later brought here to be buried.

Lone Pine cemetery has over 1000 soldiers buried, many in unmarked graves. It was named this well after the war, as all the trees except one were cut down. The Australian army were sent here, ready to push forward in the August offence. There’s a story that two Australian brothers died here, and someone kept pine cones and sent them home to the boys’ mum. The seeds were used to grow pines that still grow somewhere in Australia today.

Lone Pine cemetery at Gallipoli

Rosemary grows all through the cemeteries. It is a symbol of remembrance. Gallipoli roses also surround many a headstone. They only grow in this part of the world. The headstones are understated, with details etched into their faces. The government chose not to commission crosses, as it is a Muslim country, and this is a Christian symbol. There are small crosses etched into the face of each stone.

Turkish roses growing around a headstone in Gallipoli

There is a Turkish memorial for their 57th regiment. They always carried their flag, and would usually have a flag carrier. If they died, someone else would carry it. Out of respect for their battles, the modern Turkish army doesn’t have a 57th regiment.

Walker’s Ridge was occupied by Kiwis and Aussies from the first day. I couldn’t get my head around how anyone could scale the cliffs from the beach and reach this point within a day. They were here until the day the Turks pushed them out in August.

From Walker’s Ridge, we could look along to Suvla Bay. This was where the British landed; a flat sweeping bay, feeding into flat land. Looking down, it was beginning to make more sense that the Anzacs were sent in as pawns. The British army never expected them to do so well, and hold their position for so long.

In August, the British wanted to take a stand. They sent the Australians to Lone Pine, and the Kiwis to Chunuk Bair. The Kiwis held this spot for two days, and then were pushed out by the Turkish army. At Chunuk Bair, there is a huge statue of Mustafa Kamel, and this is the main remembrance site for Turkish people. On the back of the hill, there is a New Zealand memorial. It was so haunting reading the names of those lost. So many familiar surnames. From Chunuk Bair, you can see both the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles. No wonder the British army felt this would be a good place to capture.

The New Zealand memorial at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli

In December of 1915, the British army finally decided to retreat. This was said to be one of the only good decisions made. They had minimal casualties, and got most men out to safety easily.

Visiting in October, we had the whole area to ourselves. It was incredibly moving, to see all the places we learnt about in school history. And to hear the stories of the horrors that go along with it. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Gallipoli, whether you’re from Australasia or not, it is an incredibly eye opening experience.

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