May 17,2012

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.

The Sphinx
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.)