Friday, 18 April 2014

Friday 18 April: Anzac Cove and North Beach

Today started with breakfast at our hotel - too much choice! - and an impressive view over the Bosphorus from the rooftop restaurant.

Five or six hours drive to our hotel in Eceabat; a long drive on long straight roads through the outskirts of Istanbul, past big new apartment block complexes plonked down in the middle of nowhere - no parks, no greenery - through smaller cities, smaller towns, ploughed fields and hills and wide views across to the sea. 

Baris pointed out Saroz Bay and gave us our first introduction to the Gallipoli campaign, explaining that the commander of the Ottoman forces, Liman von Sanders, had 6 divisions  to begin with – 70,000 soldiers -  and had to work out where to put them to repel a likely invasion. Von Sanders knew there were 90km of coastline where the Allied forces could land, and thought that Saroz Bay was a likely possibility, so he kept 2 divisions waiting here on the large, flat plain by the bay. In the end the Allies didn’t land here and he moved his troops south.  

Baris, our wonderful guide in action

Then we were alongside the Dardanelles, heading to the small ferry port of Eceabat (called Maidos at the time of WW1.) It is a strange experience to see places that I have read about for so long. 

The view from our hotel room: the ferry going across the Dardanelles, and below, looking right, a re-creation of the Turkish and Anzac trenches.  
The staff at the Grand Eceabat Hotel made us very welcome; it is a complicated business getting us all checked in, but we are here until after Anzac Day so won't have to go through that again for a while. We had a late lunch - conversations at meals are getting louder, as we get to know each other better - and then hopped back in the bus for the drive across to Anzac Cove. Again it is strange and hardly believable to see what a very short distance.that is. In about 15 minutes, we covered the distance that the Anzac troops were never able to in the 8 or 9 months of the campaign.

We drove through storm showers all  morning and a thunderstorm in the early afternoon, but the black clouds rolled away and we found ourselves at Ari Burnu under blue skies and with hardly anyone else there. A few cars and buses drove past but we had both cemeteries and the beach entirely to ourselves, which was a wonderful bonus for our first experience of Gallipoli. 

Walking on Anzac Cove
And it was windy! I've read about the hot sun and the freezing cold conditions that the troops endured, but I didn't expect wind.. It made it feel very much like a New Zealand beach.

We were issued with our uniforms this afternoon, so we are now officially the Red Coats and we made quite a colourful sight.

Ari Burnu Cemetery
The Ari Burnu Cemetery (named after Ari Burnu Point, further north) is right next to Anzac Cove. It was in use soon after the first landings in 1915. Today it has 252 graves, including the known graves of 34 New Zealanders. This is where the Anzac Day Dawn service used to be held, before more people started coming and it just wasn’t big enough. The last Dawn Service was held here in 1999, with 8,500 people attending. After that it was moved to the Anzac Commemorative Site. We could see the stands being erected there in preparation for next week.

It is  very beautiful. The sea is only metres away, and the graves lie in rows that are  studded with flowers: clumps of rosemary, bunches of daisies, geraniums, irises, daffodils.

As you wander round, you come across graves that seem especially poignant, or remind you of what faraway places these men came from, such as three Muslim men from the Indian Mule Corps whose headstones face Mecca.

At the south end of the cemetery is the Kabatepe Ari Burnu Beach Memorial, a big stone monument which contains the famous words of Ataturk. These words are also inscribed on the Ataturk Memorial in Wellington, on a stretch of the south coast with beaches and steep cliffs that look similar to this coastline.

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
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons front far away 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.

Beach Cemetery
Beach Cemetery is south of Ari Burnu, on a point that the Anzacs called Hell Spit. Like the Ari Burnu Cemetery, it was used from as soon as the Anzacs started landing at Gallipoli in April until they left in December 1915. Today it has 391 graves, including the known graves of 21 New Zealanders. It was good to be given time to ourselves to wander around the graves, look up at the ridges and try to imagine what it was like for the soldiers who came ashore here, many of whom would never leave again. 

On 24 April, coaches will set down their passengers here, about one kilometre (15 minute walk) from the Anzac Commemorative Site where the Dawn Service will be held. 

This cemetery was within range of a Turkish gun that the troops called Beachy Bill and it was a dangerous place to have to carry out burials. Many of the original crosses and headstones were riddled with bullets or destroyed by shell fire. After the Anzac left, the crosses were taken away to be used for firewood by the Turks and the cemetery became derelict and abandoned.

Buried here is Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 3rd Field Ambulance, often called “the man with the donkey”. He has become famous for the way he disregarded danger and put himself at risk, rescuing wounded soldiers with the help of his mobile-ambulance donkey, but you can see from his gravestone  that he only lasted a few weeks after the first landings. There was nowhere at Gallipoli that was ever completely safe, not even for the stretcher bearers (and donkey men.)  

Grave of John Simpson Kirkpatrick

In the evening, we had our welcome dinner at the restaurant on the top floor of the Grand Eceabat Hotel. The leaders all introduced themselves and talked a bit about what we'll be doing over the next few days. The Health and Safety talk included a warning to look out for ticks. We don't have ticks in New Zealand! I'm not even sure what to look out for!

1 comment:

  1. Is that "The Man with the Donkey" from your book? Ataturk's words are so moving - and amazing to get to read them both in Wellington and Gallipoli!