Crossing Uneven Ground

“If You’re Anywhere near Turkey …”

Statue of Turkish Hero

Statue of Turkish Hero. A Commonwealth soldier was badly wounded and a Turkish soldier risked his life to carry him back to his ANZAC comrades.

Turkish Airlines kept us in suspense for 30 hours before they delivered our lost bags to the hotel. We made one alteration to our plans because of that snafu. Instead of a slow public bus meandering 300 miles down the coast, we picked up a motor-coach tour to the Gallipoli Battleground that, when finished, would drop us in Canakkale, the springboard to Troy.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey

At Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli, Turkey. 1167 lie buried. 504 are unidentified.

The tour was packed with young Australians most of whom were on four to six month jaunts around the world which is pretty much their standard hiatus. “If you’re anywhere near Turkey, you’re expected to visit Gallipoli” an Aussie told Joanne. For them the peninsula of land that runs down the Sea of Mamara and through the Dardanelles is sacred ground and homage must be paid.

High Ground Overlooking ANZAC landing site.

The High Ground. The Turks were dug in and able to defend against the assault as the ANACs approached by sea.

In 1915 World War I was just getting started, Turkey was allied with the Germans and the British Commonwealth wanted a warm water passage through the Dardanelles up to Istanbul to get supplies to Russia. The British Joint Chiefs, including Winston Churchill, had one strategy for winning Istanbul and securing the passage….attack and the Turks will surrender. Ignoring intelligence to the contrary, the Commonwealth sent a force that included 78,000 Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) to take the high ground on the peninsula. Over 11,000 ANZACs died along with huge numbers of British, French and others on that side. The Turks lost 87,000.

30 yards separated the ANZACs from Turkish soldiers when the ANZACs charged.  They charged without loaded guns, bayonets fixed and suffered terrible losses.

Trench Warfare. 30 yards separated the ANZACs from Turkish soldiers when the ANZACs charged. They charged without loaded guns, bayonets fixed and suffered terrible losses. Here Joanne stands in an eroded trench.

“You will get a feeling from this place,” our Turkish guide told us. He emphasized the respect that grew between the warring men. They got to know each other because sometimes the opposing trenches were only 30 yards apart. He handed me a bullet that he found on the ground and told me that they still wash out of the soil every year along with other bits of ordinance and even bones. Gallipoli’s calm beauty now softens the evidence of violence that lies right under our feet.

Turkish Cemetery

Turkish Cemetery. The Turks kept the high ground. Many lie here.

The Turks won the battle but lost the war. It has been said that despite the toll, Gallipoli had no bearing on the outcome of the war but I can think of one good thing. Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal played a leading role in the Gallipoli battles and emerged from the conflict a hero. The boost to his career propelled him to becoming the first leader of the Turkish Republic. The changes he made to Turkey were monumental, not least of which was secularizing the government. This is the only Islamic country in the area with a separation of Mosque and state. Mustafa Kemal is now known as Ataturk; the father of the Turks.

Ataturk's Words on Memorial

Ataturk had a way with words and this statement is an example. Letters poured in from ANZAC mothers who lost sons at Gallipoli thanking him for the sentiment. I cried when I read it. It is brilliant. It says:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying 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 here 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. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
Ataturk – 1934

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