We came to the Gallipoli Peninsula, in this land of beautiful minarets, to see the memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought and lost their lives here. It was particularly poignant for me as both my grandfathers and a brother of each fought here. Richard Wilson, my paternal grandfather’s 19 year old brother went missing in action early ANZAC Day, last seen with a bullet wound to his leg and captured by the Turks.
I found my great uncle’s memorial and I also learned a lot more.
The Dardanelles is a strategic piece of water between Europe and Asia and linking Istanbul and the Black Sea to the rest of the Mediterannean countries. A little over a kilometre in width at the narrows, it has been the battlefield on at least 16 different occasions, including the famous battle for Troy, 3000 years ago.
This stretch of water has castles and fortifications dotted along both sides and during the World War I conflict, was filled with mines.
Istanbul was considered important to the Allies to allow unfrozen access via the Black Sea to Russia’s waterways and to break the German/Ottoman relationship.
This battlefield was also to prove Atatürk’s leadership capabilities, and was in fact a right of passage for him to establish the Republic of Turkey and become its first President.
Surprisingly, to me, there was no single cemetery. Instead the Allied fallen and the Turkish martyrs are represented in small gravesides dotted throughout the peninsula, each with its own monument.
Atatürk is represented with statues in many different locations and his immortal words…
“Heroes who 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.”
…appear in Turkish and English at many of the memorials.
We saw and gained some understanding of just how bloody and rotten the conflict was. We heard an impartial view of the landings and battles. We saw where the opposing trenches were just 8-10 metres apart, a mere stones throw.
And we saw bus loads of Turks visiting the Turkish memorial parks and taking photos with great pride in front of each of Atatürk’s statues.
For Australia there was no bloodier battle. For Turkey it was also a tragedy of lost sons. Sons who had been at war for years, whose families had lost track of where they were.
The campaign was a failure for the Allies and costly (250,000 casualties on both sides). Perhaps the only winner was the Republic of Turkey, born 9 years later.