10 July 2012

Digging around the Dardanelles - part One: Gallipoli

If you're an Australian in Turkey it is probable that you will visit Gallipoli. If your grandfather arrived there on 25 April 1915, spent the entire campaign on the peninsula, and led his company at the battle of Lone Pine, it's expected. If, as well as all that, you're an amateur historian with an interest in things military and you like long bus rides, it just goes without saying.

The intrepid tourist at Anzac Cove
The Dardanelles are the only connection to and from the Black Sea, and 1915 was only the latest of many stoushes over control of this important supply route. There have been quite a lot of battles over it, and the castles and monuments are there to prove it. As is one of the most famous legends of all times.

Getting to Gallipoli

Sometimes taking pictures from a moving bus works. I won't show you the ones that didn't.
leaving Istanbul
landscape - somewhere in Turkey
village - Somewhere in Turkey
First view of Eceabat

Memorial and cemetery at Anzac Cove

You have to be there

After a not particularly inspiring lunch at the not particularly inspiring Grand Hotel at Eceabat, we embussed again for Anzac Cove. Our guide was a total history tragic who'd done plenty of homework and had a folder full of historic photographs to compare with what we could see today.

Hasan, our guide. 
At Chunuk Bair in front of the Turkish Infantry
Monument (and our bus)
He began by debunking the myth that the Australian forces had been landed at the wrong spot, and explained its origin thus: NCOs told their troops they would be landing somewhere on a nice, flat beach with some easy ground and not too much resistance. When they found themselves landing in front of a steep slope, with bullets whizzing round their heads, many decided there had been a terrible mistake and that's what they wrote in their diaries, which were then accepted as absolutely true and accurate accounts.

Hasan suggested this mis-information was intended to encourage raw and inexperienced soldiers, but  we can think of a much more likely explanation, can't we, kiddies?

"Brighton Beach" at Gaba Tepe
There is now a nice visitors' centre and so on behind this beach. Once upon a time it was really heavily defended, because it was the obvious place to land - easy access and flat area. Australian officers thought it would be a good idea to keep the Turkish army thinking that's exactly where they would come ashore - so of course the description of the landing site they gave when their troopies asked questions fitted this bit of coast, not the bit where they really intended landing. That was further north - hereabouts.

Sphinx and Plugge's Plateau from North Beach
I find it touching that people still prefer to think their superiors were mistaken, rather than face the fact that they have deliberately been misled, but as any sensible commander knows, you can't risk revealing any more of your plans than absolutely and immediately necessary.


These days the peninsula bristles with monuments and headstones rather than weaponry. The Turks have some particularly impressive ones, like this one depicting a Turkish soldier assisting a wounded Englishman.

Turkish monument at Ari Burnu
The lady in colourful robes is, in fact, a very Australian  Event
Organiser from Sydney

Lone Pine monument and cemetery

Turkish monument with narrative of the battlefield at Chunuk Bair.
It consists of five of these monoliths arranged in a semicircle,
representing a hand turned upwards towards God.


The thing that really struck me was how small the area is. I have read about it, looked at the maps, and even written a small amount, but it's not until you get down on the ground that it strikes home just how futile and frustrating the whole exercise was. In their official history of the 12th Battalion my grandfather and Col Newton both expressed exasperation at being forced to withdraw from the peninsula with the job not done, but I suspect they were pretty glad to go. The whole operation was crammed into a few square kilometres and you seem to come across another cemetery or monument every few hundred metres.
view from Lone Pine

Schrapnel  Gully from Turkish machine gun position
 The row of pine trees in the distance marks the position of the Australian trenches at Lone Pine; Turkish trenches were to the left, close behind where the memorial is now (you can just make it out as a dot to the left of the pine trees). This gully was the only supply route from the depot at North Beach and despite plenty of protective sandbag walls Turkish snipers did make life rather difficult for the Australians.
The brown rectangle in the foreground is an ancient Turkish water tank, left over from the war.

These two photographs are of the view from The Nek towards the English position at Suvla Bay, near the big salt lake visible in the distance.
reconstructed entrances to Turkish and Australian
tunnels at The Nek

There is little more than the width of this road between the two tunnel entrances above; there probably weren't any tourists standing between them in 1915, though.

Trenches at The Nek - as they are today

Back at Eceabat I discovered some interesting things opposite a nice doner restaurant just around the corner from my hotel.

Monument to the Turkish people.
It incorporates copies of at least two of the
monuments at Gallipoli
Relief map of the Gallipoli peninsula; this is the Anzac Cove bit
Diorama of Turkish trenches
I spent the night at the Grand Hotel, Eceabat. That's it at the end of the street. 

“Grand” might have been a bit of a misnomer, but the view from the roof was splendid. And that's Anatolia across the water.

By the way, the Australian Government has a really good website for Battlefield Tourists:

Oh yes - I mentioned legends.

There are several of these panels ranged around the display area above. They sound a bit jingoistic, but after all the Gallipoli campaign was even more important to the Turks than to us distant Australians.  And they did win.

 So we'd better go and have a look at Troy, hadn't we?

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