Tuesday 10th June
This is our last day together. To allow time for our own reflection today, Shaggy educated us about all things Gallipoli campaign on the bus yesterday. Here is what I learned:
- There were two attacks by Anzacs in 1915, March 18 was a naval attack and April 25 a land based attack.
- Both battles were riddled with fundamental errors, namely that the intelligence information that the Anzacs had about the landscape was 50 years old.
- The naval plan was to charge 18 battleships up the Dardenelles and capture Istanbul. Winston Churchill, who was the admiral at this time, estimated this would take no longer than four hours. In reality it took nine months.
- The Turks knew the Anzacs were coming and lined each side of the straight with water mines, and the narrowest part of the straight with batteries (huge canons). The Anzacs were aware of this. Their plan was to pull into a bay and shoot their own canons at the batteries.
- What they didn’t know was that the night before they pulled in, the Turks conducted a secret night mission and lay water mines in the bay where the Anzacs proposed to pull in. These mines destroyed the first two ships and the third was shot by gunfire, forcing the remaining 15 to turn back.
- One big flaw of the land-based attack was that the Anzacs severely underestimated the power of the wind. Here there are only 15 days each year where the wind does not rage. Because of this the Anzacs landed 1km away from their intended landing spot. Their new location was of course at the bottom of a hill rendering them defenceless against the Turks at the top. One of the colonels even shouted down to them that to proceed would be suicide. And it was, with over 2000 people dying within the the first few hours of battle.
- Another mistake was that Anzacs laden with weapons and supplies (approx 40kg) were told it was shallow enough to jump from the boat and get to land, however the water was three metres deep and they lost all of their gear, entering battle with next to no equipment.
- In each square metre of the battle ground, there were 6,000 bullet shells found.
- In total, only 6km of land was gained within nine months of battle. 120,000 lives were lost. An approximate breakdown is: 22,000 Brits,17,000 Aussies, 7,500 French, 7,000 Kiwis, 1,700 Indians, 36 Canadians and 55,000 Turks.
- An Australian soldier detailed in a letter how, lying wounded on the battle field, a Turk carried him back to the Anzac trenches. On the way back the Turk was shot and later died. There have been similar examples of comradeship from the Anzac side also.
- The Allianz forces threw canned food across the trenches to the Turks who responded with cigarettes. During cease fires they played football and rugby.
- When the Anzacs eventually evacuated the trenches, they left all of their supplies including food with notes of goodwill. However they did take with them some local flora and fauna: rosemary, poppies and pine trees seeds.
- It has been said that neither side defeated the other, but that, together, they defeated the idea of fighting. This was the most valuable thing I took away from today. Yes, the initial battle was fierce and bloody but nearer the end both sides were shooting at the sky when told to fire by their commanders.
- Because of these factors there has been no bad blood since between Australia, New Zealand and the Turks. The same cannot be said for the Brits who allegedly did things like shoot farm animals on their way out of the country.
- A kiwi soldier shot Atatürk who served in this battle. Thank Allah his pocket watch in his breast pocket saved him and he did not sustain a significant injury.
- Turkey was mutual in WW2.
- In 1934, 19 years after the battle Atatürk wrote to the Anzac mums. The whole letter deserves to be recorded here because I can’t choose a quote from it: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now living 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 in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”
Our first visit is to Anzac Cove, where the Allianz forces landed on April 25, 1915. This is where the iconic Anzac wall is. We are given no specific time to be back at the bus but just told to return at our leisure. The only way to describe the setting is peaceful. Sitting on the steps down to the beach the only sounds are the lapping of tiny waves and the chirping of birds. This could be a prime swimming spot in the summer but no one does; picnics and merry-making is in fact prohibited. There is a lone poppy next to me. I close my eyes and cast my mind back to imaginary scenes 99 years ago. The barren land, muddied waters, scattered debris and constant shouting over ceaseless gunfire is a far cry from the lush and pristine landscape surrounding me today.
Moving south, our next stop is Lone Pine, named for a solitary Turkish Pine that stood there before battle commenced. This is the spot where primarily Australian soldiers fought and died. There is a big memorial engraved with thousands of names next to a small cemetery. I was expecting to see fields of white crosses as seen in France but here there are small headstones decorated with flowers and a small inscription that included the soldiers’ name, position, origin, date of death and a short quote. My favourite one reads: “Only a boy but died a man for liberty and freedom. His mum and dad”.
I find a Cumming recorded on the memorial. I’m sure there’s no way he was my direct relation, but I take a picture anyway.
Next up we visit the Turkish cemetery and memorial site. Here the marble headstones are not florally decorated and the grass is unkempt, I’m not sure why. This is the busiest site with thousands of Turks coming through every day. Even though I can’t read what is written on the headstones I feel a compulsion to trail the rows anyway. It’s a hard experience to put into words, the feeling of standing next to someone whose great grandfather could have been shooting at my great grandfather in this very spot. I see an elderly woman wearing a long black coat, hair wrapped in a navy scarf standing in front of a grave, her hands in front of her, palms towards the sky saying a prayer.
On the way out I search the eyes of those I pass for I don’t know what. Solace? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Peace? For once in my life I want to know what people think of me. Friend or foe? I resist the unexplainable urge to shake one of their hands.
The next stop is Chunuk Bair. This is where the kiwi soldiers went on a death mission. On one side of the hill is a beautiful view of the coastline and on the other, a memorial and the cemetery.
It’s empty and I kick off my jandals, perhaps something intrinsic about needing to connect with the earth at this site that all New Zealanders would consider tapu. After reading every word on each of the 10 headstones (apparently there’s more down the hill but I couldn’t see any public access) I perch myself on a wall looking straight out over bush. The two pine trees framing my view are fitting; a comforting reminder of home. Wherever I am the smell of pine trees will always remind me of my dad who works in the forestry industry and when I was a kid, he would come in the door smelling like Christmas every day.
I would be lying if I said a few tears didn’t fall whilst my imagination took me to places only it can. Would I even be here right now if the events of 1915 had played out differently?
I cherish the 15 minutes I have to myself before we are back on the bus back to Istanbul. The microphone is passed round and we each go over our highlights. Activity wise, paragliding was my hit but I am also so grateful to Shaggy for imparting a fraction of his extensive knowledge about everything to do with this beautiful country. My mind has truly been opened. The end has come very suddenly and I am really sad to be leaving the group. I have found a little bit of common ground with every person on the trip – even if it is only sharing jandals of the same brand – and have been truly inspired by these young people, especially young women, travelling solo around the world. They have helped justify my purpose in being here and I give myself a wee pat on the back that I didn’t chicken out at the last minute and halve my student loan instead of making this trip.
We check into the Golden Horn and go for dinner in the same restaurant as our first night. Everyone is a few shades darker this time round and a lot chattier. After a delicious chicken kebab (how fitting) I’m determined to try this shisha business out. I’m a bit gumby and can’t quite get some decent smoke happening. After Il Ho gives us girls a lesson I learn to suck for longer and swallow more often (doesn’t pay to imagine the nature of our table talk) then I get some good dragon breath going on. It’s definitely not what I imagined though. You can’t really taste anything much at all and you can’t feel yourself inhaling anything. Definitely more of a novelty than anything else.
We are obliged to go out tonight seeing as it’s our last night. Well five of us are. Apparently Taksim Square is the place to be so after some enlightening drinking games (there’s some things you would rather not know about new friends – I’m looking at you Il Ho) we squeeze into a cab, no questions asked and no seatbelts required. We leave at about midnight and club hop to Turkish house music (yes, that’s a thing) till about 5am at which point a taxi is hailed, and while some of us are continuing a club romance in the back seat I stick my head out the window to enjoy the fast Istanbul air (Mum you can skip to tomorrow’s entry now). I’m not told off as I would be in Melbourne so I see how far I can push it. I end up sitting on the window ledge with only my legs in the cab, supported pretty much only by a sturdy health insurance policy – YOLO right?!
Massive ups to Lu who partied just as hard as the rest of us and only got an hours sleep before her 6am shuttle to the airport. You’re the best.