Turkey has always equated to Gallipoli. So when Turkey was ventured as one of the favourite destinations by the rest of the family, it wasn’t hard to get my interest also.
The landing of the ANZACs (Australian & New Zealand Army Corps) on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 was the birth of a legend, the place of innumerable heroics, incredible sacrifice and shedding of needless blood. For most Australians it was our right of passage onto the international stage, our baptism of fire, the affirmation and clarification of those character traits that make us uniquely Australian.
But it also was the birth of the modern day Republic of Turkey. For here the genius of Lt. Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later to be called Ataturk, the Father of the Turks) was revealed to the Turkish people and the world.
As I stood on the very beaches and the narrow ridges, trying to envisage what transpired here, I found myself saying over and over again “If only….” . This blog could easily been entitled “If only”, but a major objective in visiting Gallipoli was to impart to my children an appreciation for what happened at Gallipoli and what near on 100 years of hindsight and reflection can show us. To take hold of those qualities that have moulded us as Australian and stand firm in the values that drove so many young Australian to make the ultimate sacrifice. “Lest They Forget”.
As I wandered around the memorial and headstones of Hells Spit Anzac Cove, I was a little surprised that I was not feeling more emotion. However the emotion wasn’t far beneath the surface as when an American visitor politely approached me and asked “Are you an Australian? It is very moving.” I found myself so choked up that all I could get out was an emotional “Yes”. There was no way I could have spoken what I really wanted to say, “You bet mate, these were our boys and I’m proud of them!”
We walked along the beach, looking up at the Sphinx, Walker’s Ridge and Plugge’s Plateau all features that I had seen in so many photos of Gallipoli as I grew up. Then we went up on to the ridges where the frontline had reached a stalemate and the scene of the major historic battles. At Lone Pine where a lone pine tree stands in the midst of the headstones, we were able to stand in some of the original Australian trenches. Knowing that on the other side of the road was where the Turkish trenches had been, and where some of the most intense bloody gruesome hand to hand combat took place. Then onto Quinn’s Post on the same ridge, looking back down the infamous Shrapnel and Monash Gullies. We went out onto the point of Walkers Ridge which gave us a good view over the Sphinx, Plugge’s Plateau and the beach we had just walked along. The terrain here was so steep and exposed. A little further as we ascended, we walked out onto The Nek, a narrow part of the ridge which was the site of suicidal frontal assaults by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade and portrayed in Peter Weir’s movie “Gallipoli”.
As I stood in the middle of this narrow strip of land, where 4 years after the event in 1919 an Australian mission were still able to recover 300 Australian bodies in the area of a tennis court, the question why and statement, if only keep coming to me.
At the top of this ridge we stood at Chunk Bair. The highest and furthest point reached by the Allies. Every Kiwi can stand proud of their boys who took and held this position for 2 days. From here you can see the Dardenelle Strait, their objective. Looking to the West over the flatter country where they were suppose to have landed and then to the east over flat country in from Sulva Bay, the questions of why and if only continue to flood in. Volumes have been written on the mistakes, the poor judgements and inadequacies in the Allied leadership and planning. Of how one poor decision compounded the next. Though the whole campaign failed, the average Aussie soldier did himself and us proud. There is no question in my mind of his bravery, endurance, commitment to each other and duty.
Gallipoli is not complete without giving due consideration to the brave Turkish soldiers who endured the same hardships and suffered twice as many loses that we did. They were fighting for their homeland, we would have done the same and 27 years later we were. When the enemy in this campaign had reached a ridge from which the waters around Port Moresby their objective could be seen, it was own turn to build on the heroics of the Kokoda trail and grasp victory from the claws of defeat.
At the memorial to the Turkish 57th Regiment that was almost completely wiped out at Gallipoli I saw a Turkish man like myself wiping tears from his eyes as he stood before the headstones and plaques of his countrymen. Really we were there for the same reason and feeling the same. It was a bloody waste of young lives, but that is history and every ruin we walked around in our journey around Turkey could tell a story of blood-shed several times over of one empire /nation overtaking another.
In all of this I cannot help but recall the words of Paul that he spoke in the Areopagus in Athens, a setting not unlike the theatre we saw in Ephesus where he also spoke. “And God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.” Acts 17:26, 27
Let us not forget the sacrifice, the bravery and the values that motived these young men to give their lives for their loved ones at home and for us afar off. Also let us not forget that many young Turkish men did the same. In all of this the rise and fall of all dominions of man is that we would seek Him and His kingdom when “swords would be beaten into plough-shares and spears into pruning hooks.” Isaiah 2:4.
Lest We Forget. Lest they forget.