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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.