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Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Gallipoli, By Ruth Murdoch (Edited by Alan Gow)

The name “Gallipoli” to a typical Kiwi, cannot help but invoke strong thoughts and emotions, especially around Anzac Day, 25 April. Television, newspapers and the radio bring us the stories of that time over a hundred years ago when New Zealand’s finest fought and died in their thousands in unknown foreign lands when we went to war as part of the British Empire.

New Zealand was just a young country with barely 1.1 million inhabitants. Over 10% of the entire population (120,000) enlisted to fight and of these, 18,000 were to die and another 40,000 be seriously injured. You can only imagine the talent, skills, energy, and potential that our country lost forever during those few years.

Gallipoli holds a special place in the hearts of New Zealanders because although far more were killed in the battlefields of France, this was the first major action of the war for us. It was in the trenches of Gallipoli that the ANZAC alliance was born and New Zealand started to grow its own sense of nationhood.

Gallipoli has long held intrigue for me. I never had much time for war movies, or history, and learnt little growing up about what it really meant for those soldiers going off to war. That all changed in a short time in Gallipoli.

In November 2017 the New Zealand Government had issued an extreme travel warning for all Kiwis visiting Turkey, saying that only necessary travel is recommended. Having been to Europe twenty years earlier and not visited Turkey, this destination had now become ‘necessary’ for me, as my motto is to live life with no regrets. No amount of warning was going to stop me from seeing Turkey this time around. That’s not to say I wasn’t on high alert and feeling some trepidation. Nevertheless, we decided to go regardless. I made a deliberate point to not tell family or friends of our intentions to disregard the NZ Government travel warnings. We took heed of the specific areas of very high risk and avoided those. As one who usually follows rules, this felt naughty, and almost daring but we looked forward to the experiences and adventures ahead of us.

One lesson we have learned during our travels is that everyone has a different view and experience on everything. One person says that Albania is dangerous, then the next person you meet says that Albania is safe and amazing and Albanians are the friendliest people around. In Thessaloniki, we met Detlef, a German who has lived in Turkey for many years and he gave us great reassurance that the vast majority of Turkey was in fact perfectly safe, and was unmissable. He imparted detailed tips about where to go, and not to go, and the best way to enter Istanbul, which is by ferry thus avoiding the 16-lane one-way parking lot which is the main freeway in.

We eased into Turkey via Greece with a pleasingly welcoming border crossing and cautiously headed towards Gallipoli on the surprisingly good roads.

Arriving at the township of Gelibolu (the Turkish name for Gallipoli) we didn’t know what to expect, having not researched ahead of time. “Was this where we would find the old battlefields and memorials to our fallen soldiers? Would it be obvious where we should be looking?” Nope, we had it wrong on so many counts. This place was a typical seaside township, with narrow roads, and small shop owners trying to make a living selling their wares. We did, however, taste the wares, particularly the Turkish Delight which we later discovered was to be the best we were to ever experience in Turkey.

A little research on Google Maps showed us we had to travel further south, then cut across the peninsula and there we would find Anzac Cove (Anzak Koyu) and the Anzac experience we sought.

Having missed the turnoff to Anzac Cove late in the afternoon, we stumbled upon a small café, called Boomerang Café on the outskirts of the small seaside town of Eceabat. The sun was setting and it was time to look for a safe place to park for the night. We parked outside Boomerang Café, not knowing if we were to be moved on or greeted. Only one way to find out, so we jumped out of Betsy, our Motorhome, and headed into the Café.

It reminded me of the country pubs dotted around New Zealand years ago (and possibly still these days), with an open fireplace, music, the smell of food, and of course cigarette smoke. The patron, Mesut Ercel, welcomed us with open arms. It was like being welcomed home after a long time away, only these were friends we hadn’t yet met.

Looking around we heard English being spoken by a couple of guys and asked to join them. It turned out they were from Australia, based in Beirut with the Australian Consulate. A quick history lesson was to ensue with Chris and Kingsley sharing their knowledge of the wars in Gallipoli and Crete. Particular mention was made of Sir Charles Upham, who received the first of his two Victoria Crosses for his exploits in Crete, of whom Kingsley, being ex Australian Army was immensely proud.

The following morning, we headed off in search of Anzac Cove, just a short twenty-minute drive to the other side of the peninsula from the Boomerang Café. What we encountered was unexpected.

Arriving at Anzac Cove
Apart from the 24/7 Turkish Security detail the whole place was virtually deserted. I am sure that around Anzac Day the whole place would be heaving with visitors but here on a glorious late October morning at site after site we were usually the only ones there.

Alighting from Betsy at Anzac Cove we walked in reverent silence onto the grounds that were perfectly manicured and framed with the glistening ocean and blue skies. It felt like everyone else had left us alone with our thoughts while we visited this almost sacred place. An eerie, empty feeling came over me, and words were not enough to explain what I was feeling. Together Alan and I stood quietly and solemnly reading the plaques (pictured below) in front of us which projected us back into the time when our countrymen fought and bled on that very ground. They obeyed the orders to fight for king, country and our freedom, for what we have now, for something we don’t think about often enough. For this, I for one am truly grateful, and forever humble.

We were able to be alone with our feelings and thoughts and contemplate our good fortune to never have had to go to war, and wonder at the stupidity of man who continues to start new ones.

The sense of loss and the sheer waste of so many lives on both sides is very sobering.

Sometimes in life we have moments that are so deeply meaningful that they reach right to the core of our being. So much so that it’s almost impossible to put down in words how you feel. This was one of those moments. This was one of those places. I doubt there is anywhere else in the world that feels quite like this.
We are so grateful to have been able to experience this place, especially in such beautiful and private circumstances and highly recommend it to all Kiwi’s if the opportunity arises.

One of the most humbling experiences of Anzac Cove was the plaque recently installed with the words of Mustafa Ataturk from 1934. He wrote:

“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 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. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

We continued to our pilgrimage around the battlefields in this short but significant stretch of the Gallipoli Peninsula and walked around the many war cemeteries. I made a point of reading each headstone I could find of the New Zealand soldiers and paid my respects. We also read each plaque that outlined what had happened at that location. The place names that were distant memories now becoming alive – Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine, The Nek, Shrapnel Valley. Talk about an instant history lesson. This to me was the best way to learn about history, this wasn’t out of some book, or a movie to be watched on TV. This was real, this happened, and here we were in the actual place where these brave young men lost their lives over one hundred years ago. I couldn’t help but think how many families from NZ and Australia who lost relatives here, would never have the opportunity to visit this place. For them Gallipoli must seem so far away and hard to visualise. For those families I want to comfort you by saying that ‘your sons are now lying in a friendly country and are in peace’.  They have been respected and honoured wherever they are lying around Anzac Cove and the surrounding beautiful but rugged landscape.

Shrapnel Valley & Plugge’s Plateau Cemeteries, 56 New Zealanders lay here

Chunuk Bair Cemetery,
852 New Zealander Soldier 

Lone Pine where 316 unidentified soldiers lay

To the Turkish Government, I take my hat off to you for creating this incredible reserve where the bravery of so many Kiwis, Ozzy’s, Poms and Turks could be remembered.  To Mustafa Ataturk, the Turkish General in charge and the founder of modern Turkey, you have our utmost thanks for the respect and words of peace you gave to these young men.

Lest we forget.