Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
235Trip End Mar 04, 2006
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By a little after midday we pull in the town of Eceabat on the Peninsula to take in lunch at the local RSL. My chicken was placed in the oven sometime near the outbreak of the first World War. It was devoid of any liquid, similar to the Turkey eating scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. But I wasn't here for the food.
We are next to the Dardanelles - the skinny stretch of water that separates the European and Asian sides of Turkey, splitting the Gallipoli and Mainland Turkish coasts and running through the Bosphoros and into Istanbul, then beyond into the Black Sea and as far as Russia. This was THE most valuable and strategic waterway during WWI.
The bus pulled into the Kabatepe Information Centre, where we met our guide TJ. Although Turkish, he appeared Aboriginal in looks and voice. A dark tan and living part of the year in Australia with an Australian wife has given him a mixture of Turkish and Australian accent. Throw in the occasional 'mate' and you would swear he was from home. He earned his name one day due to his sporting of a curly mullet which resembled Tom Jones. Hence TJ.
The Information Centre includes a few photos from the war and some 'memorabilia' but given it was 90 years ago, it isn't a hugely extensive museum. For me photos tend to bring home the reality of where you are. I am still yet to truly 'feel' where I am however, even though we are looking down the hills towards the coast and in the distance lies Anzac Cove.
At first we visited Beach Cemetary at Hell Spit, where many of those who lost their lives early in the initial landing lay. John Simpson (of Simpson and His Donkey fame) rests here, as does a Captain who died on the 25th of April 1915. Probably first off one of the first boats.
A short ride around the coast, the bus pulls out and we overlook a skinny stretch of beach 600 metres long, with a steep rise up to a cutting where a perfectly asphalted road lies. The cutting of the road visually hides the steepness of the slopes that used to lay here. Clearly this is the controversial road that the media discussed earlier this year.
TJ points to the beach below and says it is Anzac Cove. It doesn't feel right. It is just some sandy, stoney, skinny beach. How could 15,000 land here in one day? TJ explains to us that around 30 metres seaward of beach has since eroded. The row boats landed here. The soldiers jumped out into deep water under fire, many drowning before they had a chance to reach shore. Then the ran up the beach, under fire. Then they hit the scrub, under fire. Then the cliffs, scrambling upwards, under fire. Only 160 Turks were initially stationed here but they had the upper hand in the upper positions. Those landing were easy pickings. The Anzacs did push forward one kilometre inland before more Turkish troops arrived.
Memorials used to be held here at Anzac Cove, but the beach is small and the road is wide. The annual pilgrimage means that it simply isn't big enough to cope any more. The land at Anzac Cove is nothing like it was 90 years ago because of erosion and construction. Just around the small cape is North Beach, where mostly Kiwis came ashore. Between North Beach and Anzac Cove is the new memorial, where Anzac Day services are now held at a new memorial, where there is a larger flat area to cope with those that flock in their numbers on the one day of the year. Somehow 20,000 squeezed in here this year on Anzac Day. It is not actually Anzac Cove, but it lies between where Australian and New Zealand troops first arrived. It isn't a bad compromise.
It is a great pity that the road is here. I am sure that it is not actually a necessity.
TJ is informative and enthusiastic. He is obviously well researched. His tours are 'neutral' and he often includes opinions that go against what the history books are defining as the truth, whereas his opinions tend to make more sense. He told us that there was actually great respect between the Anzacs and Turks. They appeared to hold no grudges, as shown by the exchange of food, supplies and assistance during rare truces. They were just following orders.
The Nek was the site depicted in the film 'Gallipoli' where Australian soldiers were made to charge 150 at a time to certain death, solely as a diversionary tactic. Four waves of 150 were sent running at the Turkish trenches less than 50 metres away. They hardly reached 5 metres. Finally they decided it was a pointless exercise. Ridiculous yet true.
Baby 700 Cemetary. Canterbury Cemetary. The Ridge. Shrapnel Valley. Chunuk Bair. We visited them all.
For some reason Lone Pine and its cemetery struck a cord. A sole Lone Pine tree is still there. The memorial is significantly larger than others. Inside are the official registers for guests, which remains under lock and key and thus not open to all. TJ has a key. We were a fortunate group.
I felt saddened by coming to this place as I know the stories. Maybe it was the lack of visual memorabilia, but it is hard to get a feel for what it was like during the arrivals and subsequent fighting. The land is hilly and lush, the ocean aqua blue - perhaps it is almost too beautiful here now to imagine what it was like then. If anything it feels a little numbing coming here, especially to Anzac Cove. You can't help but think - what if you were in their shoes?
I still have on my wrist the prayer bracelet given to me by the Monks at the monastery in Zhongdian, China. I carry it for luck. I figure it has got to help getting me around the world in one piece. I have also now pocketed a stone from Anzac Cove for luck. I figure I am lucky not to have been around 90 years ago and in the shoes of those who came here, so I figure carrying it won't do me any harm at all.
We left the Gelibolu Peninsula just before dusk, riding on the ferry across the Dardanelles to the town of Canakkale where we stop for the night. As a group we head out to dinner. There are a number of good people to share conversation with and an Efes Beer or two. Included are Casey the Fez Bus tour leader from Byron Bay, Nick and Claire the NZ old school friends (one from London, one travelling the world), Nick the aforementioned Australian from Dubai, and Riki and Jane the NZ couple from London. You drift away from World War I, and into conversations about the here and now.