Wednesday, 4 June 2014

anzac day at gallipoli - 2014

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Entering the Cove

I don't remember my first Anzac day, or when I first heard the word Gallipoli. Growing up in New Zealand means that it is a part of my social consciousness. As a child I attended dawn services with Brownies, and as an adult with friends and family. Maybe I learnt more about the Gallipoli campaign at school and had forgotten, but it took coming to Turkey for me to really learn and understand what happened there and how it shaped our country, and how it affected Turkey as well.

Anzac Day at Gallipoli was always on my list of things to do while living in Europe. It meant something more to me than just ticking a box, in that I felt a desire to go somewhere that on the other side of the world that New Zealand had such a connection to that had been sustained for nearly 100 years.

New Zealand memorial

Headstones in the one of the cemetaries

2014 is the 99th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli. It is interesting that the landing is the part that is most talked about, and yet it is what followed that really shaped our national history. Try and explain Gallipoli to someone, and it goes something like "The day that Australians and New Zealanders landed at the beach in Gallipoli at dawn and lots of people died  fighting the Turkish people." In reality, Gallopoli is a campaign that started well before that, and after the day of beach landings, saw 8 months of warfare in horrific conditions and with severe loss of life, before a withdrawal from an essentially, unfortunately, failed campaign.

Overlooking the peninsula
At Chunuk Bair
New Zealand had a population of only 1 million in 1915, and 2779 New Zealanders never returned from Gallipoli. While compared to overall losses in World War One it is not the highest, it was one of the first times New Zealand represented itself on an international stage, and formed the foundation of the remembrance of all those New Zealanders who have fought for our country.

Turkey found themselves shunted into WWI when they were given ships by Germany to replace those confiscated by the Allies at the outbreak of the war, and the Germans closed the Dardanelles. The Gallipoli campaign, the idea of Winston Churchill, occurred because the Allies wanted to break through the Dardanelles straight, to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) in order to secure a direct line to Russia for supplies and attacking the Central Powers from another angle. The land campaign was the second option after a failed naval operation in March 1915, which left three battleships sunk, another damaged and the British and French fleet with 700 casualties.

At Chunuk Bair
Australian and New Zealand army troops were in Egypt at the time, training to be sent to the Western Front. The troops were instead combined to make the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and so was the birth of ANZAC. The goal of the troops was to cut across the peninsula and secure it so that naval ships could advance through the Dardanells to Constantinople unopposed from the shores.

At one of the numerous memorials across the peninsula

While British troops landed further south at Helles, and never made a strong advance, the ANZAC troops landed at what is now Anzac Cove. Before dawn on 25 April, 1915, Australian troops crept onto the shores, with the Turks starting to respond at about 4.30am. Under fire, the troops started to fight their way up the steep hills using their bayonets and grabbing bushes to get up the rugged terrain, digging in not far from the shore and no where near their objectives. The New Zealanders began to land at 10.45am.

Standing on the beach with Anzac Cove in the background

The Turkish soldiers attempted to stop the advance of the troops, but withdrew back over some of the ridges. Famously, the Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment ran out of ammunition at this time, and were told by the Lieutenant-Colonel, Mustafa Kemal, who later went on the become the father of Turkish Indepedence, "I do not expect you to attack, I order you to die! In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our place!". There is no longer a 57th Regiment in the Turkish Army as a sign of respect, as every man was either killed or wounded that day.

This was just the beginning of the extreme casaulties that resulted from this campaign. That night there was doubt on the ANZAC side as to whether the offensive should continue, but the troops were told to "dig yourselves right in and stick it out... dig, dig, dig until you are safe." And so they did. For 8 long months through horrid conditions and battles until their evacuation in December, deemed to be the most successful part of the whole campaign.

Tunnels dug by Anzacs

Trenches between Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair

Tunnels dug by Anzacs

Me standing in what used to be a trench
The first ANZAC Day was on the 25th April 1916, when it was declared a half day holiday in New Zealand, troops marches through London and services were held across Australia and New Zealand.

So 99 years after the Gallipoli landing, and 98 years after the first commerative day I found myself at Anzac Cove.

Fake ticket they were using to test for next year - and cards!

Getting into the Anzac Park area is a bit of a mission. Our bus pulled up to a checkpoint and was turned away, before about 5 other buses pulled up and got let through at which point we went back and were also let through. We were marshalled to an area by the beach to wait until our bus number was called (in order of arriving, annoying!) when we would be able to walk the half hour down to Anzac Cove, or take a shuttle if we needed to.

Hanging our in the first holding area

Secured a table!

Claire, Jamie and I

The area had an atmosphere of a festival or school camp. We relaxed under the trees and on the beach before we walked down the road to the next area to do the same. At about 4pm we were finally allowed into the ceremony area. Things were a bit of a mess as our group got split up through security and rushing to try and get a spot on the grass. Getting an area on the grass is vital if you want to catch even a few hours of sleep, as you can lie down. If you miss out you have to be up in the stands, which makes for no sleep or a very uncomfortable one! Unfortunately we were just slightly too late to get a spot all together in the confusion and our group was split over about 3 sections, with a handful of people getting stuck with the stands. Nevertheless, I managed to be with a decent group of friends and chucked out a ground sheet and unrolled my sleeping back to secure my spot!

Looking back along the road as we walked to Anzac Cove

Waiting to be let in to the ceremony area

With 12 hours to go until the dawn ceremony I wondered around, ate food, managed to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen since I left New Zealand and then settled in for the night. They had huge screens either side of the area we were lying in and bands, documentaries and speakers went all night. In some ways this was great because it was something to do if you weren't sleeping, and was very informative, but it also made sleep a bit tough at times. Thank goodness for the free beanie they put in the bag of goodies they gave us when we came in. Excellent eye mask!

Jamie, Phil and I in our spot

Suzie and I as the sun went down

Sunset over Anzac Cove

My spot for the night

I think I managed somewhere between 3 and 4 hours sleep, judging by the schedule of the night in our information book. I was awake in time to see a speech at 4am by a young man from Rotorua Boys High, who had won a speech competition to be there. His speech was amazing, the best of the day. Regrettably half the people missed it as they were still sleeping! The rest of the day everyone who saw it raved about it and everyone who missed it lamented the fact. You can watch it here.

Also around this time they played some clips from the dawn ceremonies at home. They unfortunately only showed Auckland, and then a bunch of Australian places, but there had obviously been time to edit the video well and it made me really homesick and brought on some tears.

Big screen near us

Everyone watching TV and sleeping

Everyone lying down asleep

For the ceremony myself and a few others went down and stood along the ledge at the back of the front part of the ceremony area. Just before the ceremony started they played epitaphs on the screen, and you could have heard a pin drop everyone was so silent. Seeing messages to the fallen  from their families makes it so much more real. As that ended a shooting star shot across the sky and the ceremony began.

During the ceremony the sky slowly got lighter behind us and a crescent moon could be seen next to what Australian and New Zealanders dubbed "The Sphinx" due to it's resemblance to the Sphinx they had so recently seen in Egypt. The crescent moon and a single star are on the Turkish flag, a fitting coincidence.

Darkness as the ceremony started

People from our group watching

Light starting to come in

Sphinx and crescent moon

At the end of the ceremony

The ceremony was really good. It was both strange and right in that it was just like at home. Afterwards we mingled around getting our groups together to make the trek to the separate Australian and New Zealand remembrance ceremonies. We walked back along a bit where we had come the day before and then started a sharp ascent up to Lone Pine. The track is dirt and it must have been so difficult for the soldiers to make their way up through the scrub, dirt and dust under fire. About 20 minutes later we reached the site of Lone Pine where the Australian Ceremony was to be held.

Starting the walk to Chunuk Bair

Turn off from the beach

Various battles had occured over the months between the Anzac Cove landings, with no side really making great advances. The August Offensive would be the last attempt by the Allies to satisfy the objectives of the Gallipoli Campaign. The attempt to take the highest hills on this part of peninsula would have given the Allies the advantage and could have changed the course of the campaign, however it was not to be.

Lone Pine was a battle led by the Australians to create a diversion for attacks further up the hills, including the assault on Chunuk Bair by the New Zealanders. While the battle was a tactical success in terms of capturing the ground and Turkish trenches that had been their goal, nearly half of the Australian troops who had started the battle became casualties. The dead littered the bottom of the trenches and nearby areas dug out by the Turks. Turkish troops originally sent to Lone Pine when the battle commenced also went to Chunuk Bair instead and seriously compromised the attack.

Site of Lone Pine Battle

Memorial at Lone Pine

After passing Lone Pine we continued walking up the hills towards Chunuk Bair, the site of the New Zealand ceremony. I can't quite remember how much further it was but definitely a bit of a walk! At least another 45 minutes. On the way there are various battlefields and cemeteries. Many of the headstones are symbolic as the soldiers are not actually buried there, but could be anywhere on the peninsula. The conditions were such that soldiers were even buried in the walls of the trenches. We didn't stop in any of the cemeteries since we would be back the next day to see the area without all the crowds. My only regret now is that I didn't walk down to the Nek, which is a bit off the main road and we didn't actually go down to the day after.

The Battle of the Nek is the one portrayed in the "Gallipoli" film which stars Mel Gibson, albeit not in a historically accurate manner. In my opinion the battle sums up the tragedy and heartbreak, but also courageousness of the entire campaign.

Names on the wall at Lone Pine

On August 7, the day after the battle for Lone Pine, the battle was supposed to happen at the same time as the New Zealanders attempt for Chunuk Bair as another diversion. It started with navy bombings and the regiments were then to advance across the small space, only 80 metres, four waves of 150 men each. They were supposed to be backed up by soldiers coming down from the hills behind the Turks, but before the battle even commenced they knew this wouldn't happen as the troops attacking Chunuk Bair were unable to reach the summit, and would not do so until the following day. The attack proceeded anyway, in an attempt to help those troops reach their objective.

Headstones at the cemetary

The second failure came when the naval attacks stopped at 4.23am, rather than 4.30am, due to neglecting to sychronise watches. This meant the Australians didn't know whether to go or whether further bombardments were to occur before 4.30am. In the meantime the Turks returned to their trenches and were able to prepare for the battle, which they now knew would occur. The first wave, from the 8th Light Horse Regiment led by their commander, went over the top of the trenches, and were immediately gunned down in a hail of machine gun fire. Apparently some must have reached the trenches opposite as signal flags were seen flying, but they were almost immediately torn down as the soldiers were killed. In what seems unbelievable, the men had no bullets in their guns, as they were expected to use their bayonets.

And here is where the ultimate tragedy unfolded. Instead of halting the onslaught, two minutes later the second wave went, also to be gunned down. The commander of the 10th Light Horse Regiment, who were to go in the third wave, apparently attempted to have it cancelled claiming "the whole thing was nothing but bloody murder", but was unsuccessful. So a third wave went over the bags. Many of these men immediately dived for cover, having complied with their orders to attack but knowing it was futile. After this the attack was finally to be aborted but in the confusion around 75 men from the 4th wave still went. Of the 600 men involved in the attack, there were 372 casualties, 154 in the 8th Light Horse Regiment were killed and 80 in the 10th.

Being unable to capture the area meant the bodies of the dead could not be recovered and when the Commonwealth burial parties arrived in 1919 they found the small patch of the ground, the size of a couple of tennis courts, still covered by the bones of the Australian dead.

Standing in the Anzac Trench, the Turkish trench was just the other side of the road.

Standing in an old Anzac trench

The Nek occurred as a diversion for the ultimate goal of reaching the Chunuk Bair summit. The already understrength New Zealand troops had to overpower 4 out posts before they could even made an attempt on the summit and in doing so they were successful, but delayed. The chance for a quick victory was lost but they were ordered to proceed anyway. After heavy casualties the New Zealanders, backed up by British and Welsh battalions, managed to reach the peak at 3am on August 8. Unfortunately the peak offered little in the way of cover due to the rocky ground and the positions of the Turks on nearby hills, who could also get extremely close to the summit before they were seen. The Turks began counter-attacking at 5am and the battle continued all day until the trenches were full of dead New Zealanders who were not being reinforced fast enough.

New Zealand trenches at Chunuk Bair

Trenches on Chunuk Bair

Looking back down towards the ocean

The first New Zealander to receive a Victoria Cross in WWI, Cyril Basset, received it in this battle for repairing phone lines under fire. On the evening of August 8 the Wellington troops were relieved, having suffered 711 casualties out of the 760 men who reached the summit, some of whom took 3 days to be evacuated to the beaches only 1 kilometre away. The summit was lost on August 10, when Mustafa Kemal himself led an overwhelming counter-attack that resulted in huge casualties. This marked the end of the attempts on the summit. New front lines had been formed where small fighting occurred until the evacuation, but no further major advances were planned.

Turkish soldier carrying an Australian back to the trench - really happened

Walking up to Chunuk Bair

Stopped to take a picture of this post for my brother - his name is Courtney

When we reached the summit of Chunuk Bair we entered the area for the New Zealand Ceremony. I felt energised after walking but as soon as we stopped the lack of sleep started to hit me. We had a chance to talk with the young man who gave the speech that morning, but was just reading a poem at this ceremony. Unfortunately there were a few nodding heads during the ceremony, myself included a couple of times when I involuntarily nearly went to sleep where I sat and caught myself when my head dropped! The Governor General was there and gave a formal speech, but the best part was when the ceremony was supposed to end, and he got up to speak again. He said it wasn't on the program but he just wanted to say how special it was that we had all travelled so far to get there, and that as we walked up the hill we were tracing in the footsteps  and walking past the graves of our men who fought so hard for our country. They were young people like us who wanted to see the world and they sacrificed their lives so that we could be here today. It was extremely poignant, and I'm not sure there were many dry eyes afterwards.

The New Zealand ceremony

Waiting for the ceremony to start

Standing next to the memorial after the ceremony

This marked the end of our Anzac Day, and the rain started just as we waited for the bus to pick us up. It was a day of very mixed emotions. There was almost an excitement at being there, but awareness of the significance of the place as a whole and what it means for New Zealanders and Australians. A sense of brotherhood with Australia in our shared experiences, and sadness that we were at a place where this had to occur at all.

Lone bagpiper still playing after the ceremony ended

When we got poured on!

Gallipoli is a symbol to three nations. New Zealand, Australia and Turkey, which I think is often forgotten. Our guide called it "a noble battle". In between fighting the soldiers exchanged chocolate and cigarettes and even played football. It is easy to forget these were just young men, mostly much younger than me. The headstones showed the average age around 19-22, with some as young as 17. Some probably had the same desire as me to see the world, and this was their ticket. It is difficult to think of the lives they could have gone on to lead instead.

Each side was fighting for a purpose, but not because they hated each other. The battle fostered a sense of nationalism in each country.

For Turkey, Mustafa Kemal established himself central commander in the defence of the Gallipoli Peninsula and went on to lead the Turkish War of Independence. He became the Republic of Turkey's first President and was honoured with the name Ataturk - Father of the Turks.

In addition, New Zealanders and Australia came to feel they were distinct nations in their own right, despite fighting on the other side of the world, or maybe because it was the other side of the world, realising that we were important on an international stage. It set the foundation of the ideals and characteristics of our countries - endurance, courageousness, ingenuity and "mateship". We became conscious of our achievements, separate to those of the British and some in spite of their numerous blunders.

Grave of the paramedic who saved soldiers by carrying them on a donkey

If you have made it to the end of this post...well done! I am finding it hard to describe what it meant to go to Anzac Day at Gallipoli and how it felt, but I wanted to share about it and what I have learnt as well. I'm not sure there is enough education about the campaign as a whole at home, and what it meant for us. Being in a place on the other side of the world where so many of my countrymen had come to, and either died or were probably deeply affected for the rest of their lives was very moving, and overwhelming. Most importantly the attitude of the Turks, in their accepting us all in this space where they lost so many of their own there really shows how the war was not fought from hatred, but instead from hope and ideals for something better on each side. I'll never forget this experience and would really recommend anyone who has the chance to go.

Standing just at the top of the beach on Anzac Cove

I'll leave it with the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, written as a tribute to Anzac troops in 1934:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now in this country of ours.
You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.


1 comment:

  1. awesome coverage of your experience. So glad we come together each year to remember many lives sacrificed during this war. Lest we forget.