Turkey: Visit to Anzac Cove gives an insight into Gallipoli
A hundred years after the event, tour guide Barcin is still seething. "They were our battleships! Turkey had already paid for them! But Britain kept them for herself, so we had to accept two from Germany…"
The five-hour drive from Istanbul along the Dardanelles to Gallipoli is the ideal time to do a bit of history homework, and to get a fresh Turkish perspective on what is otherwise a familiar story for this coach-load of Kiwis and Aussies. Barcin, tour director on our Insight Vacations exploration of Turkey, has made light work of bringing us up to speed on the seven complicated centuries of the Ottoman Empire; but Gallipoli still feels personal.
"It's family history," he says, running the numbers – the Turks sustained more than twice as many casualties as the Allies put together – and explaining how Gallipoli was as important for national confidence and identity in Turkey as it turned out to be for New Zealand and Australia. It's fascinating stuff, and all the more so for our being right on the spot where it all happened.
When we get to Anzac Cove, it begins to feel more like a religious pilgrimage. Standing on that impossibly narrow beach, it's hard to imagine the chaos and carnage of that first night, and the 240 days that followed. I fail entirely. It's such a beautiful place.
The sea is stunningly clear, tinged with blue, and laps gently onto the smooth pebbles. I can't envisage it thronged with clumsy, overladen rowing boats, splashing with men trying to wade ashore, the water pierced by flying shrapnel and discoloured by the blood of those whose war ended the moment it began.
But that's exactly how it was, and the Ari Burnu cemetery beside the beach, along with so many others on the peninsula, is proof. Throwing shadows onto the grass are neat lines of gravestones, each inscribed with the name of a soldier who died far from home.
The Australian memorials include sadly personal messages, like that for Private HJ Burton, aged 18, who managed to survive until just a month before the withdrawal: "Only a boy but died as a man for liberty and freedom – His Mum and Dad."
In stark contrast to the neatly trimmed lawn are the rough and pitted hills behind, the ground that was fought over so hard. Even though trees have now grown over the lower slopes, the bare, eroded cliffs still rise steep and challenging above them, split by narrow gullies between razor-sharp ridges. We drive up there, and stop at Lone Pine.
This is where four days of fierce hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches resulted in more than 2000 Australian casualties and more than 7000 Turks. New Zealand men died in this battle too, and their names are on the towering cenotaph at the top of a long lawn with its rows of gravestones. Above them stands a single leaning Aleppo pine tree, a replacement for the original around which the battle raged.
The blue Aegean is, and was, a beautiful backdrop for the terrible things that happened all along these ridges, and it sparkles on our left as we drive past Quinn's Post, one of the most dangerous places on the peninsula.
Here, from trenches just metres apart – a road's width: we can still see the tunnelling on each side – bombs were thrown, sometimes back and forth several times before they exploded. The fighting here was incessant: night and day for eight long, terrible months.
Further along the road, past the Turkish Memorial, we come at last to Chunuk Bair, where the New Zealand memorial stands, a massive squared stone obelisk. One side bears the dedication to the Expeditionary Force, with the resonant phrase "From the uttermost ends of the earth".
I remember those words as I stand in front of the Memorial to the Missing. Panel after panel is engraved with the names of 850 men who, like me, came halfway around the world, from towns and country, to this small part of Turkey. They answered the call, whether for nationalistic reasons or just for the adventure, and ended up dead, their blood soaking into foreign soil, their bodies lost.
One of the names I recognise from family history: Private Arthur Peat, aged 19, of Bush Rd, Mosgiel. He died in the battle of Sari Bair, two days before his 20th birthday, and his body was never found.
Back down at Anzac Cove, Ataturk's inscribed words give real comfort: "Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country… You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well."
Pamela Wade was hosted by Insight Vacations.
Emirates flies via Dubai to Istanbul www.emirates.co.nz.
Insight Vacations offers a number of holidays to Turkey year-round, with itineraries visiting Gallipoli including time to pay your respects at Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair. All holidays include luxury accommodation, sightseeing, meals, transfers, transport and the services of an experienced tour director. Visit: www.insightvacations.com telephone 0800 656 111 or ask your travel agent.