Gallipoli Peninsula - Turkey
26.05.2012 - 27.05.2012 23 °C
As dusk descended on the Dardanelles, Brian and I arrived in the small port town of Eceabat to explore the Gallipoli peninsula. With requisite G&T in hand we began our first evening by sitting on our hotel balcony watching the last light of the day fade, gazing across the Dardanelles and up the Sea of Marmara towards Istanbul. Not a bad introduction to the area.
Yesterday we took 2 tours. The first to the southern part of the Gallipoli peninsula, where English and French troops were particularly active, and the second to the significant Anzac sites. Having a Turkish guide made the trip all the more interesting as we were given perspectives and insights into the Gallipoli story that we had not gleaned before.
For the Turkish people the Gallipoli peninsula marks the rise of Attaturk and modern Turkey. Consequently, it is revered by Turks and attracts many, many local tourists (especially on weekends when we happened to be there). Evidently, a few years ago the Turkish government decreed the area so important that all Turkish school children are required to visit the area as part of their education. The government provides transport to assist schools to travel to the area. The parts of the peninsula that were the sites of significant Turkish victories or Turkish memorials were very crowded. However, the blend of local and foreign tourists (mostly Aussies and Kiwis) seemed to heighten the sense of shared tragedy, with many Turks literally reaching out to shake hands or acknowledge us with a nod or a slow smile.
The area around the Anzac battlefields is now a national park. It is far greener and more forested than it was in 1915. Consequently, landmarks such as Anzac Cove have a tranquillity and beauty about them that masks the severity of the conditions faced by WWI troops. However, where the steep, sharp, sandstone ridges were evident I couldn’t help but be struck the enormity of the task that faced those who landed in the wrong place on April 25. The contrast to broad, flat Brighton Beach (the intended landing spot) was considerable.
For me the most significant moments of the tour were standing in the sea at Anzac Cove looking up at the ridges and also viewing the Turkish and Anzac trenches. The labyrinth of narrow, winding trenches was made all the more heartbreaking by seeing how close the Turks and Anzac troops were to each other. Many a time there was only 7-10 metres separating the front lines of the opposing forces. At that distance they would have heard each other speak, cough and groan before going ‘over the top’ to engage in combat – incredible. This close proximity to each other was heightened by the ultimate futility of the Anzac campaign (Australian perspective). The Anzac troops advanced about 1km from April to August, the Brits and French about 3km. Much of the action was in small areas such as Lone Pine (the size of a soccer pitch) and The Nek (about the size of 2 tennis courts). And yet within the 5 months, for these small advances and eventual withdrawal, in a very small geographic area, half a million men lost their lives (Allies and Turks combined). All my year 12 Wilfred Owen poetry about the futility of war came flooding back to me.
Brian and I couldn’t help but think of our fathers while we were at Gallipoli. We felt the history of the area may have been even more significant to them. We were also struck by the fact that the majority of the graves we saw were of men in their 20s. These were the young fathers of a generation who died. While the Anzac story is men’s history, the knock on effect for women and society more broadly was considerable.
Our day of touring began with the most amazing sunrise over the Dardanelles. An orange-red sky that seemed to capture the significance of the day ahead for us.