This was probably one of our more sombre visits on our tour of Turkey to the battlefields and memorials on the Gallipoli peninsular. I am pleased to say that the people on the tour showed a lot of respect whilst there although whilst we were at the ANZAC cemetery a school party of children approximately 8 years old arrived as we were about to leave. Several of the children were a bit boisterous to say the least and a teacher nipped it in the bud so fast that the children stood there shame faced. I think she would have left quite a mark on those kids by the way she was talking to them.
The first part of the peninsular we visited was the Anzac memorial with approximately 100 graves there. Many more are buried elsewhere on the Peninsular. This place looks like a lovely setting which leads right down to the beach. It is quite tiny in comparison to the other cemeteries but it is particularly beautiful and scenic and a lovely place to be buried although I can imagine the horror of the poor troops who were literally slaughtered as they landed from their landing crafts only to be met by constant enemy fire from above them.
The terrain is quite awful for a successful invasion due to the small landing stage only to be faced with very steep and inhospitable terrain covered in gorse and other bushes. They stood very little chance of mounting the hills overlooking the beach and as they landed where sitting targets for the Ottoman army above them.
There were grave mistakes by the allied forces who were not really aware of the type of terrain the troops were landing at. They waited til darkness before they started their invasion only to be massacred either in the landing crafts, in the shallow waters or as they reached the shore.
Proportionately the Australian and New Zealand troops suffered the most fatalities and in total it is estimated that 500,000 men lost their lives in the battle of the Gallipoli peninsular. The allies objective was to secure the Peninsular, the Dardanelles and Istanbul so that they could keep a supply route open to Russia.
Where ever I read throughout the different museums in Turkey there are stories estimating that nearly 500, 000 people died in the campaign but this figure creeps up to 800,000 deaths due to and including dysentery and malaria. The casualty figures are also very similar.
The conditions on the front line were atrocious with outbreaks of ticks, Diahorrea, malaria and dysentery. Rotting and bloated bodies were lying unburied for days and weeks and others being washed up on shore. I read on the plaques that during the searing heat of the summer such was the fly population so bad that it was near impossible to eat without a mouthful of flies accompanying the food.
In Total there are 31 cemeteries in the Gallipoli peninsular run by the Commonwealth and war graves commission. Such was the great loss that some of the cemeteries include Muslim Turks. Many buried in mass graves whilst others were buried individually.
We visited the ANZAC, Turkish memorial and also the British memorial. The extent of casualties and fatalities in this battle is quite sad to think that so many young men lost their lives. Some of the graves they were but mere kids, 18, 19, 22, 28, lying side by side and made me quite sad to think that they lost their lives in such horrible circumstances on foreign soil many miles from their loved ones.
Would I recommend a visit here? Yes I would because it is a constant reminder how terrible wars are and for the terrible waste of lives. It is quite a poignant reminder that makes me grateful that they died for us so that we are still free.
When I lived in London I had lots of friends from New Zealand and Australia. Each April at least a few of them would head off to Turkey for what I always thought was a big booze up under the guise of visiting the final resting place of long since departed ancestors. Having now visited the Gallipoli battlefields myself, I have to say I feel pretty awful for even thinking such a thing: yes, our Antipodean friends certainly do play hard but I must say that I feel privileged to have shared what is for many the experience of a lifetime with such a decent bunch of people. Of all the places I have visited on my varied and numerous travels, it is this trip that I will always look upon as the most memorable, moving and fascinating.
The Gallipoli peninsula is situated in the region of Thrace in North Eastern Turkey. There is a town called Gallipoli (Gelibolu in Turkish) but this is about forty kilometres north of the battlefields. The peninsula forms the northern side of the straits known as the Dardanelles that lie at the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara. Throughout the centuries many naval fleets have tried to take the Dardanelles and nearly all have failed to do so.
The late nineteenth century saw a decline in the fortunes of the Ottoman Empire and the English and French competed against Russia to take control of the Dardanelles because they provided a sea passage between the Aegean and the Black Seas.
World War One provided an opportunity for the British to try again; Churchill devised a plan to take the Straits which would then capture the Ottoman capital and therefore give access to eastern Europe by way of the Black Sea. In March 1915 British and French troops tried but failed to take the Straits. The following month a new offensive was launched: not until nine months had passed with over half a million casualties and no advantage having been won, would the Allied troops withdraw.
Nowadays the area is designated Gallipoli National Historic Park; not only is it a place of pilgrimage but it is also a very beautiful area in its own right. Even if you are not interested in things military it is worth a visit for the amazing landscapes that vary from tranquil little coves to high ridges that give views that stretch for miles.
The Australian and New Zealand battlefields and cemeteries are clustered in the northern part of the peninsular, the British and French towards the south. If you are thinking about an organised tour you should check in advance which places are covered by the tour company because - for time constrictions - not all the battlefields can be visited in one go. The area covered is some thirty five kilometres from north to south so walking is probably not an option. If you particularly want to see the British battlefields and there is no tour available you can easily negotiate with a taxi driver to take you around for a few hours.
The Australians and New Zealanders made the decision to have battlefield cemeteries while the British opted for larger cemeteries. Some of the battlefield cemeteries look small but that is just because only the known soldiers have headstones; however many more may be buried or commemorated at that site.
The main sites for unknown soldiers are Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine, Hill 60 (mainly Anzac soldiers) and at the Helles Memorial (mainly British). If you are unsure of where an ancestor of yours is buried the best thing to do is contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and they can check their records.
We took a tour with Trooper Tours and booked through our hostel in Canakkale on the southern side of the peninsular. Included in the price was a lunch at a restaurant at Eceabat, the town just across the water from Canakkale. Trooper Tours also offer day trips from Istanbul; you leave early from Istanbul, meet up with the others for lunch, see the battlefields then head back to Istanbul late afternoon. If you are considering an organised tour I would recommend you try to take the tour with Trooper when Ali is the guide for the afternoon. A retired naval officer and keen military historian, Ali was the perfect guide. He gave people time to see what they wanted and recognised that some people might be feel quite emotional. His spirit and his generosity shine like a star.
Ali's tour begins - as most seem to - at the Information Centre and Museum at Kabatepe at the edge of the Park. The museum is small but it contains a wealth of uniforms, weapons and touching personal effects belonging to soldiers involved in the Gallipoli campaign. Long before we set foot in the cemeteries many of us were in tears reading the letters young men had sent home - indeed, many had never reached home, the men had died before the letter could be sent.
There are two theories as to why the campaign went so terribly wrong for the Allies. One is that the information the officers were given was incorrect and this was why the small vessels ended up on a small beach faced by high cliffs. The other theory is that the instructions were correct but that the boats drifted off course. As a result one of the most poignant places among the battlefields is what has become known as Anzac Cove - the Australians managed to hold the Cove until June but were unable to make any progress. In August it was decided to try to move forward and up the ridges of Chunuk Bair and Sari Bair; this achieved nothing but more loss of life.
There is a huge monument at Anzac Cove on which the story of the battle is told and nearby is a monument which although it is dedicated to the Turkish troops has the inscription "To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets...You, the mothers, who sent your sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom...after losing their lives in this land they have become our sons as well".
The tour takes in the most famous and the biggest of the Gallipoli cemeteries as well as certain places on the peninsular that are attached to particular battles or events. Whenever Ali wanted to talk about something quite specific he would get the group to follow him and sit under a shady tree to listen to him tell the story; nowhere was this more poignant than at the cemetery known as Lone Pine - perhaps the most famous of the all the Gallipoli cemeteries. Named after a song that was popular at the time (although there was one solitary pine there) this cemetery is the resting place not only of many named soldiers but also the place where 4934 more Australians and New Zealanders are commemorated - it is not known where those men fell. Several of our party had come specially to visit graves at this cemetery, others to see the name of an ancestor merely inscribed on the memorial.
Not far away is an area named Johnston's Jolly - here there are some trenches that were pretty much intact and which have been made safe so that it is possible for visitors to see just how cramped the conditions were. The most amazing thing was that Ali told us that the trenches just a couple of metres away were actually enemy trenches. It was here that Ali revealed the contents of the carrier bag he had boarded the bus with; he asked those people who had come to see the graves or final resting place of ancestors to come forward first. To these people he said a few quiet words and presented them with an inscribed piece of perspex that contained a small medal to commemorate their visit and to cement his friendship. To everyone else he gave a small gift box; each one contained a couple of spent bullets or pieces of shrapnel. When he was a child Ali spent hours and hours digging for war relics on the site of the battlefields and now he was giving it to people who were the relatives of his ancestors' enemy.
It is important to stress that the Turkish soldiers are not forgotten either - especially not by the tour guide; it would be easy to take foreigners around the Commonwealth graves but the tour stops several times at memorials and cemeteries dedicated to the Turkish dead. The Commonwealth visitors treated these sites with as much respect as they did the ones dedicated to their ancestors. One statue that was particularly memorable was one of Kemal Mustafa - later to become known as Ataturk - the father of the Turks - and the man who created the modern state of Turkey. Another was one that is just a few years old and was modelled on one of the last living Turkish survivors of the Gallipoli campaign - the old man is depicted with his grand daughter, explaining to her what happened in the past and why it should never happen again.
It is only when you know a bit more about what happened at Gallipoli between the Turkish and Anzac soldiers that you can understand the special relationship they share today. The attempts by both sides to take the northern ridges of the Gallipoli peninsular resulted only in death and injury. Either side managed only ever to gain a few metres of land; usually it was lost again in a day. After a while both sides became disillusioned and it is no secret that eventually each side would only fire shots above the heads of their "enemies". Today the Turks and the Australians and New Zealanders have the utmost respect for one another; there are no lingering traces of enmity. It was certainly plain to see from the quick bonds Ali formed with all the visitors on his tour. As the coach pulled in to the ferry dock to return to Canakkale, Ali pointed to a small kiosk he said sold cold beer and invited us all to join him on the uppermost deck for a "beer party". Everyone clamoured to be the one to buy Ali's beer but he would not be swayed, he would buy his own. On board he joined us all in contemplative mood, sipped his cold Efes that he had "hidden" in a brown paper bag in case anyone should think he was anything but a dutiful Turkish Muslim. I shall never forget his kindness nor his sense of humour.
Trooper Tours www.troopertours.com
I have not given a price for the tour because ours was reduced because we went to Troy with the same company and also got a discount through our hostel. Prices vary between tour companies
Commonwealth War Graves Commision www.cwgc.org
Canakkale has accommodation to suit all budgets; several of the hostels have nightly showings of "Gallipoli" - the movie starring Mel Gibson that is based on a young soldiers experiences there - and "The Fatal Shore" - an acclaimed Australian documentary film.Canakkale is a large town with many other interesting sites and so would make a good base for a longer stay.
Eceabat is only slightly closer and has more budget accommodation than middle and top range hotels.
If visiting in summer be sure to take plenty of water with you as it gets very hot and there is a fair bit of walking.