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Gallipoli

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It ranks alongside the Battle of the Somme as one of the bloodiest campaigns of the First World War and has taken on a legendary significance to Australians and New Zealanders, who proportionately lost more men than any other nations, and very soon after their federation. The strategy had been for Allied forces to try and seize the Dardanelles, the narrow waterway leading into the Sea of Marmara from the Aegean with Istanbul lying just beyond. With that, not only would it open up a supply route to the Russians via the Black Sea and permit the establishment of a second Eastern front against Germany, but it would also take Ottoman Turkey out of the war in one fell swoop. As has been aforementioned, a naval task force failed in this endeavour on 18th March 1915 and so a land campaign was decided upon. Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25th April 1915, a day which has subsequently become one of the biggest dates on the antipodean calendar, and now a universal commemoration known as Anzac Day due to the significant antipodean contingent. The Anzacs were the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The plan had been for the Anzac troops to land on the Western shore of the peninsula at a spot dubbed Brighton Beach, a broad crescent of sand gently sloping inland, whilst the British landed on its southern tip. I mused that it should surely have been named Bondi Beach but it belied who was really in command! The Anzacs were actually landed a mile farther North up the coast than originally intended and it remains a point of contention whether this was a mistake on the part of the Royal Navy or whether it was reviewed at the last moment in response to resistance encountered. As it transpired there were only 30 Turks with 7 guns at Brighton Beach, a force which could have been quickly overcome. The subsequent move North up to what then famously became Anzac Cove meant that although these Turkish guns were now out of range, the troops now faced a difficult landing on a tiny beach backed by steep cliffs. Here the Turks had no guns but brought forward 160 men who ran out of ammo after 45 minutes and ran away. Photos I saw of Anzac Cove showed rudimentary pontoons rigged out into the water and every scrap of flat land was packed with men and supplies piled high. Many boys drowned before even reaching the beach, weighed down as they were with their kit. The small gullys which lay to either side became known as Hells Pit and Shrapnel Alley, all together 5000 men were lost during the campaign just in these small spots. At the cemetery I encountered at Anzac Cove, the first grave I chanced upon was of the famed Irish-Australian John Simpson Fitzpatrick, who became known to all the troops as the "Donkey Man". He brought over 300 injured men down from the front line by mule until finally being killed himself. Of note were also the graves of 3 Indian drivers of the 20th Mule Corps, their headstones written in Koranic script and facing East. On to the museum and there was the obvious collection of uniforms, weapons and battle artifacts. Next was the Lone Pine Australian memorial perched on a summit. There had been close quarter trench warfare here with the 2 sides being just 8 metres apart. There was only just enough room for the road to now run through the No Mans Land either side of the still evident trenchlines, some had been preserved. Successive waves of men here waited their turn to replace their fallen mates, knowing they only had minutes to live. 6200 men died here in a 2 day spell, including a J.Hay of the 8th Ozzie Light Horse Regiment. On to the Turkish memorial and there were no surnames on the tombstones this time since Turks didnt have any in this era. They were identified by their forename, a patronymic and their city of origin. In a reworking of the cemetery 2 bodies were discovered, an Englishman and a Turk, and both officers. They were found as if in an embrace and were reburied still with their ID tags and weapons. One could only surmise that they had been blown up by a shell during hand to hand combat. There was also a statue commemorating an incident during a lull in the fighting whereby the cries of an injured British officer were heard in No Mans Land. A Turk came out of cover under a white flag and carried him to the Allied trenches before skulking back. The usual overwrought wash. True to form the ubiquitous Ataturk statue and Turkish flag were situated on the highest peak Chunak Bair, what had been a principal Allied objective with views of the Dardanelles and Aegean to either side. Again there was very close trench warfare here, an honour which this time fell to the New Zealanders and thus the Kiwi memorial was situated here too. In testimony to the carnage the vast majority actually had unmarked graves and they included a Maori contingent of a dozen or so men. Included in the Kiwis were no fewer than 3 Hays, one a captain.

After 8 and a half months the Allies were forced to concede stalemate and made a secret withdrawal over 3 days with minimal casualties incurred. 130,000 men had been killed on all sides. The Empire lost around 44,000 men, surprisingly the bulk of whom were Brits, the Ozzies lost 8200, the Kiwis around 2600. The Turks lost double that however at around 87,000 men in the Gallipoli defence and over 250,000 total in the war. As an example, there is a famous incident whereby Ataturk anticipated the initial assault and ordered the now venerated 57th Regiment into action with the order - "I am not ordering you to attack, I am ordering you to die. In the time it takes for us to die more men will come to replace us". The 1800 men were totally wiped out to the last man. And an incredible 14,000 bodies were never recovered.

The boat took us back across the Dardanelles with more merchant ships to dodge. Fighting back the exhaustion, I caught the film Gallipoli back at the hostel over a well deserved beer, but went to bed well and trully sobered.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Turkey

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