My Gallipoli tour was organized by ‘Crowded House’, Eceabat. It was a day trip – 5 hours to be exact, at Euro 25 & included AC transport, lunch, entrances & the services of a qualified guide. We started at 12.30 after a delicious lunch of Turkish soup, spicy chicken wings, potatoes, vegetable & jelly. It had rained through the night & the day was cold & wet but that did not deter us at all. These are about the last rains before summer sets in with temperatures of above 45 C. Also, the rains are good for the crops. We were a small group of 3 Aussies, 2 New Zealanders & an Indian – Me – . The Aussies were kind of curious about my Gallipoli connection. Why was I here at all ?. ‘We are an ignorant lot’ said Michael, shaking his head good naturedly.
The Gallipoli campaign of WW1 was the brain child of Sir Winston Churchill, then 1st lord of the Admiralty. He planned to capture Constantinople / Istanbul via the Dardanelles in order to open a sea route to Russia. The British & the French were joined by the Anzacs (Australians & New Zealanders ) The Turks resisted fiercely & won a famous victory. Mustafa Kemal their commander, was to describe it as “ where the battle was defeated”
Gallipoli today is a peaceful wooded war site. About 40000 hectares covered with sea pine. It was not always so. The landscape then was more shrub & dune than tree. It is a Peace park today, incredibly beautiful & serene with the all pervasive presence of Ataturk & the millions killed or maimed.
Our tour began with Brighton beach where the Allies were supposed to land but did not, because of a fatal error of judgement. They landed at Anzac cove instead, a pretty beach head further up along the curve of the sea. There is a museum & the cemetery at Ari Burnu. More on that later. We walk past Johnstons Jolly, the Anzac trenches, Shrapnel valley, the Nek & Walkers ridge. The ‘Sphinx ‘ is a distinctive landmark of the area. Mute spectator to the many battles fought between April 25,1915 – January 9,1916.
WW1 has been described as the last gentleman’s war. The soldiers suffered from a shortage of drinking water, with little to bathe & clean. During the long stalemate they were to endure heat, mosquitoes, vomit, odour & the stench of the trenches. Bodies infested with lice & racked by disease several died of dysentery – the ‘Gallipoli gallop’ as they called it. The Bully beef supplied to the Anzacs smelled so foul at times that they tossed it as gifts across no mans land. The adversaries developing a strange camaraderie tossed it back with a message : ‘ Any thing else will do. Like biscuits & sweets’. Hence,’Johnstons Jolly’.
We visit the Australian graves at Lone Pine, the graves of the Turkish soldiers of the 57 Infantry regiment & Chunuk Bair which has the graves of soldiers from New Zealand. This is the tallest hill feature offering a breath taking view of both the Dardanelles & the Aegean. Its capture was a strategic aim of the campaign.
Our guide Bulent Yilmaz Korkmaz or Bill as he likes to be called narrates it all with a rare lack of emotion, bias or favor. He is the best there is in the trade. Has all the facts as if he were living witness to the horror that maimed & killed over half million nearly a century ago. He is a Turk but sounds Australian – almost.The result perhaps of showing so many Anzacs around each year. Unlike them however Bill understands the presence of a lone Indian in the group. He sidles up to me & whispers : “There are 3 Indian graves too. At Ari Burnu. Come let me show them ”. The graves are separate, placed just a little away from the others. The stones clearly marked. My countrymen. Here they lie in another land having fought anothers’ war. Finally at peace. Tranquil beside the waves. A flowering rose bush & a field of poppies at the head.
( 21 Kohat Indian Mountain Battery was present in the theatre of war through out. They were never used however because the British feared they would not fight their co religionists.)