Gallipoli and the ANZACS—A Visit to the Battlefields

The Battle of Gallipoli

The Battle of Gallipoli was a hastily planned campaign by Winston Churchill to start a third front in the first world war, gain control of the Dardanelles, capture Constantinople, and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. It failed due to poor leadership, navigational errors, and most seriously, Western underestimation of Turkish resolve and resilience.

The Gallipoli campaign lasted ten months, from April 1915 to February 1916, and produced brutal casualties on both sides. Almost a million men fought there, and over 100 000 of them died.

In some parts of the peninsula, nearly every ridge was the scene of a prolonged siege, with some ridges being taken and retaken again and again. There were more than 30 individual battlefields; today each one has its own monument and tiny cemetery. (The cemeteries are small because the Allies weren’t able to gather many of the bodies until after the armistice, so many of the dead were never found or identified. Also many troops were either buried at sea after perishing on hospital ships.)

Many Battlefields, Not Just One

To do it properly, visiting Gallipoli requires lots of stops. That’s because you’re not visiting one place. You’re visiting about two thirds of an entire peninsula.

We had the mobility of a camper but we didn’t expect Scout to be interested in all the battlefields. There are lots of them. Eventually we decided to stick with a few well-known Allied sites —Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and the Nek—as well as several Turkish ones and a small museum.

Seeing it all in person was profoundly moving. Hilltop after hilltop was capped with its own limestone monument, sticking out of the dusty brush like sun-bleached bones. Some are dedicated to Allies, others to Turks.

The day was sweltering, which made it difficult to make frequent stops with a child, though perhaps easier to imagine what WWI soldiers endured. Burning sun. Choking dust. Brutal trench warfare.

Anzac Cove and Beach Cemetery

Our first stop. Also known as Hell Spit. This is one of the spots where amphibious ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) troops landed in 1915, about 1.5 miles north of Gaba Tepe, the shallow beachhead they were aiming for. Instead soldiers plunged ashore in the darkness only to find themselves facing unassailable cliffs lined with Turkish machine gunners.

We parked the rig along the roadside in the broiling sun, alongside the entrance to Beach Cemetery, where casualties from the landing were buried. First we took a quick walk along the shore, past derelict bunkers, to Anzac Cove itself.

Imagine landing here, at night, under fire from above.

From the beach, we spent a few minutes marveling at the steep cliffs and magnitude of the error that resulted in the botched landing. But then Scout noticed the hundreds of sea urchin shells on the ground, and history was history. She collected a dozen or so prime specimens and carried them back in an empty potato chip bag as we headed back up the path to Beach Cemetery.

Our stop here was poignant. As with all war graves, the dead were so young, many in their late teens or early 20s. Most were Aussies and Kiwis. It’s a small cemetery, so Scout and I had time to read all the headstones and compare the epitaphs, most of which were written by mothers, since the boys were too young to have wives. Some were patriotic, but many were edgy and harsh. The mothers were pissed, and it shows on the headstones. We enjoyed discussing all the inscriptions from an editorial perspective.

Scout then started placing lavender sprigs on the headstones and didn’t want to leave until she’d done them all, but we had other stops to make, so Mark and I slowly made our way back to the rig, and the kid eventually caught up with us.

Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial

Not much bigger than a soccer field, more than 8000 soldiers (Australians and Turks combined) died here in a savage battle that lasted for a week and a half.

More lavender sprigs on the gravestones. 

Exploring the remains of WWI trenches behind Lone Pine

 Entrance to a tunnel that connected the trenches in 1915

A bat hanging in the entrance to one of the trenches. This made Scout’s day.

The Nek

The Nek was the battle portrayed in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli.

Several days before touring the battlefields, Mark, Scout and I watched the film together. Scout loved it, and seeing it helped her understand what happened to ANZAC troops at the Nek. (Spoiler: They were annihilated after being ordered to bayonet charge Turkish machine guns with unloaded rifles and no artillery cover.) During our visit, she was excited to discover grave markers from the 10th Light Horse, the regiment featured in the film.

After we’d been there about 15 minutes, a mini-bus pulled up and what looked like an Australian rugby team poured out. The swarmed into the tiny battlefield, headed straight for the edge of the cliff without even a pause at the memorial, and then did this:

Stupid idiots

Will Gallipoli Survive the Tourist Invasion?

Once in the 80’s Peter Weir gave an interview in which he described his first visit to Gallipoli, before making the film.

I saw no one in two days of climbing up and down slopes and wandering through the trenches, finding all sorts of scraps left by the armies: buttons and bits of old leather, belts, bones of donkeys, even an unbroken Eno’s Fruit Salts bottle.

Those days are long gone.

Since the early 1990’s, the number of annual visitors to Gallipoli has skyrocketed. All Turkish school-children are now required to visit the battlefields at least once, and the national Turkish curriculum now includes detailed study of the Battle of the Dardanelles (as it’s called here in Turkey). Gallipoli has become a national shrine with about 1.5 million Turks visiting the peninsula each year.

Kiwis and Aussies consider a pilgrimage to Gallipoli a right of passage, particularly around April 25th (ANZAC Day), with tens of thousands of them (some drunk, face-painted, and wearing flags as capes; others sober and serious) showing up for ANZAC Day ceremonies. And more pour in every year. Widening roads and building car parks to accommodate the hoards has irreparably damaged the battlefields, including ANZAC Cove, which is half its original size since much of the fill from a road widening project was dumped there.

We were lucky. At each site we had the place to ourselves for a little while, contemplative time for which we were all grateful.

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli falls in 2015, and record ANZAC Day crowds are expected. Hopefully the battlefields will survive this latest assault.

Monument to Sergeant Mehmet, a Turk who fought at the Nek

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Related links: Read about our wonderful freecamp in the hills of the Gallipoli peninsula

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wilma October 7, 2011 at 1:35 am

If those young men were truly Aussies, then we Americans aren’t the only ones that are “ugly.”  Thank you for this post and a trip back in history.  We found with our family that traveling and being there means so much more than just reading about it. When we traveled Europe in 1984, we visited the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.  While there, an American veteran stood for quite a while in front of Patton’s grave.  As he was ready to leave, he faced the grave and with tears in his eyes, gave his best salute.  Very powerful for our children to see.

Safe travels.

Wilma in West Virginia

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2 Renee October 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

Hi, Wilma.

I know the blokes were having fun, but they were rude. It’s tourons like this who are jeopardizing the battlefields by coming to Gallipoli in greater numbers every year. They want to “do Anzac,” meaning participate in the Anzac Day celebrations on April 25, but it’s more like a giant party, with tons of rubbish left behind. Every year the size of the crowd grows, but alas the size of the battlefields does not.

Thank you so much for sharing your memory of visiting the American cemetery in Luxembourg. How lucky you all were to witness the gentleman’s reaction to Patton’s grave. Very powerful indeed.

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3 Henry October 7, 2011 at 11:46 am

Hi Ramblers, 
Great post Renee. You obviously do your research before visiting areas. You are lucky to see this historic site without the crowds and the commemorative event grandstand  scaffolding at 4 of the major sites. I believe you can better appreciate the battlefields in quiet reflective solitude. It is a real pity the idiots who mooned at “the Nek” turned up. I cannot understand the ignorance and lack of respect of some people. 
I have been lucky enough to experience Anzac Day services in Turkey several times, but I have also visited this area without the crowds, and found it a much more moving experience. My wife and I also had some great experiences exploring Turkey on 2 self-drive holidays.  There are so many great sites to see around the country, and Turkish people are generally friendly and helpful. Sadly Turkish fuel prices are amongst the most expensive in Europe. 
“iyi yolculuklar” (good travels) is a Turkish expression for travellers, which I also wish to you.Regards, Henry   

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4 Renee October 8, 2011 at 7:46 am

Thank you, Henry!

Yes, I am so grateful we had some time alone at each spot since fighting crowds would obviously have been a different experience altogether. The disrespect shown by the rugby team was beyond aggravating. I just don’t understand how one could be in that area without feeling the pain for the soldiers (on both sides) who fought and died there.

How fortunate to have had so many chances to visit Gallipoli, as well as Turkey in general. You’ve got it right about the fuel prices. The cost of fuel has made us curtail our Turkey explorations quite drastically.

Thanks so much for taking the time to write and for sharing your experiences.

Cheers,
Renee

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5 Alan October 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Ataturk’s words said it all –
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living 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 here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away 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.

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6 Renee October 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

Thanks, Alan.

I almost added this beautiful quote to the post, but left it out as the beast was getting quite long. I’m glad you posted it here.

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7 Karen Phillips October 15, 2011 at 7:37 am

Lovely post, great photographs, fantastic summing up.

Really horrified by the Aussie Rugby players, sad and cross and upset by it.

Hope you are on your way back to Turkey, think you may have missed out on the rain by being in Greece, it was amazing rain!

Take care

Karen

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8 Renee October 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Thanks very much, Karen! Yes, those guys were horrible, truly. I’m curious what their little salute was about.

It pelted here too. We were freecamped on a dock in Nafplio, right by the water’s edge. The sky was black, and for nearly two days the wind whipped the waves into such a frenzy they splashed all the way up to the top of the camper windows. The three of us spent a delightful day snuggled up inside reading.

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9 Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 1:39 am

Very moving words and photographs, with the exception of the Aussie Rugby Team. There is nothing worse than being a disrespectful tourist on a battlefield.

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10 Renee October 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Thank you, Suzy!

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11 al March 9, 2013 at 10:21 pm

what a bunch of stupid assholes for going out there with only bayonets when the enemy had clearly been shooting with machine guns. must be some respect and honor stupidity that the English instilled in the young county to fight like they did in the civil war . . . in formation, certain prescribed ways. . . if Vietnam soldiers were there the whole world would be different.
they would have killed all the idiots with the Vietcong for being stupid and being so respectful like robots and not rebelling against idiot commanders.
Vietcong were of their time and would have killed all before their time.

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