A(nother) Gallipoli Pilgrim

Trip Start Jul 13, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Turkey  , Canakkale,
Monday, October 19, 2009

I decided to join an organised tour to get the most of out Gallipoli and I wasn't disappointed.The night before the tour I stayed up in my hostel room with an Australian girl who was also doing the next day and we watched the movie - Gallipoli - with very young Mel Gibson to get us in the mood for the morning...

Our guide was a local and had been doing tours in the area for almost 20yrs. There are over 31 ANZAC memorial sites/cemeteries on the peninsula - and although we didn't have time to visit them all, we did visit alot of sites and the first place we stopped was the official museum. The museum was separated into a couple of sections, the first contained black and white pictures of the conflict at different times and from both sides, there was explanation to the different patterns/flags that the soldiers wore on there collars/shoulders to identify them with certain brigades/regions.

The second room displayed the uniforms of the Turkish, Australian, NZ, English and French soldiers and even included Ataturks uniform and had a collection of relics from the sites, belt buckles, watches, bullets, shells. The most impressive thing I found was two hand written letters translated into both English and Turkish, the first was from an Australian soldier to his mother/family - telling them of the logistics of the situation, the bravery of his colleagues and the morale of his comrades. The letter of the Turkish soldier to his mother could not of been any more different, he talked of the song of the bluebirds, the sounds of the wind in the reeds and how much she (his mother) would love to visit the area. He also talked of saying prayers with his comrades and listening to the sound of his fellow soldier sing was enough for him to imagine he was somewhere else... Having both examples of the letters - gave a good impression of the motives and values of each type of soldier - both had romantic notions of that time of fighting for their god and both believed in the greatness of each empire (British and Ottoman.)
The tour dispelled alot the beliefs firmly held in Australian folklore... and I guess there is a lot that we're not taught (or perhaps we chose to over look for the sake of good story!)

First of all the British had decided that the were going to attack (invade) Turkey - assuming rather arrogantly that they could sail through the Dardanelles and across the Marmara Sea into Istanbul and take Istanbul in a day!! Thus allowing them to link up with Russia (who was an ally) through the Black Sea - attack the Germans via the Balkans and by further crushing the Ottoman empire, making it easier them to divide up the middle east (which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time) between themselves and France. The English and French launched a campaign to sail up the Dardanelles on March 18th 1915 - completely oblivious to the fact that the Turkish (who up until recently had remained neutral) were ready for an attack and had heavily mined the straight and had armory on both side of the straight ready in defense. 5 of the 18 allied war ships that entered the straights sunk and admitting failure the remaining 11 retreated to prevent further loss. It was assumed that releasing ground troops onto the peninsula and capturing one side of the straight would allow them to retry later... In the five weeks that passed between the March 18 and April 25, the Turks were able to resupply their ammunition and strengthen their defenses on the peninsula and they were ready for a ground attack...

The myth about the ANZACs being sent to the wrong beach can't really be justified - it is true that they landed on the wrong beach, but since it was 4:30am & they were trying to Orient via moonlight; there were rows of coves along the beach - it's highly possibly they couldn't tell which one was the 'right' one; another possibility is that the first boat drifted and the rest followed assuming it was going in the right direction... regardless of how/why they ended on the wrong beach, it's extremely unlikely that landing on the 'right' beach would have changed the outcome, the entire peninsula (which was hilly) was mined & heavily manned with Turkish soldiers who had already dug in their trenches... In some senses it's a sheer miracle that the ANZAC forces got as far as they did but on the other hand, it makes the brutality and the loss even more significantly wasteful.

It wasn't until Nov and the fact that the troops were starting to die of exposure (1600 from frostbite!) that it was considered that they should retreat and with a change in command a thoroughly organised plan was put into place to remove all allied soldiers from the peninsula over the course of three (non-consecutive) nights and this was done successfully without the loss of any lives... rather ironic that the only successful thing about the campaign was the retreat.
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