Tuesday 25 March 2014

Early visitors to Gallipoli

Today we are used to hearing about the thousands of people who attend the annual Anzac Day services at Gallipoli, or visit at other times of the year, but it wasn't always like that. 

After World War One ended, many families from England undertook battlefield pilgrimages across the Channel, to see the place in France where their son, husband or brother was buried. 

Taken in the 1920s, possibly at a  British cemetery near Poperinghe, with nearly 10,000 graves; http://greatwarphotos.com/2012/11/06/remembrance-a-woman-among-the-sea-of-wooden-crosses/)

It was much harder to travel to Turkey. A few people made that journey, but not many.  

"People are travelling half the circumference of the earth to stand beside the graves of their relatives who fell on the Flanders fields. Old men and women from all part of Great Britain are braving three days of ceaseless travel, sometimes under conditions of severe discomfort, for the same purpose. Many thousands in the far-off Dominions can never hope to gain this privilege even as far as the Flanders fields are concerned. None but the most favoured few either in Great Britain or in the Dominions can hope to visit for themselves the Gallipoli battlefields."
From Gallipoli today by T J Pemberton (1926)

Cemetery, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey
Cemetery, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey, about 1918. Ref: PAColl-7082-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22683865
Even into the 1950s and 1960s, the Gallipoli battlefields and cemeteries remained virtually deserted:

"…the Turkish gardeners work well; no wall around the French and British cemeteries is allowed to crumble, no weed is anywhere allowed to grow, and now in the nineteen-fifties the gardens are more beautiful than ever. Yet hardly anyone ever visits them. Except for occasional organized tours not more than half a dozen visitors arrive from one year’s end to the other.  Often for months at a time nothing of any consequence happens, lizards scuttle about the tombstones in the sunshine and time goes by in an endless dream."
From Gallipoli by Alan Moorehead (first published 1956)

In 1965, a trip to mark the 50th anniversary of the Anzac landings was organised for 300 World War One Veterans. They were met at the shore by four Australian hitchhikers, two boys and two girls, who had made their own way across Europe to be there. 

Anzac Day Tours 2015

In contrast, next year (2015) marks the 100th anniversary of the first landings at Anzac Cove, and so many people want to be there for Anzac Day that a ballot system has been introduced. The number of people who can attend will be limited to 10,500, and this will be include 8,000 from Australia and 2,000 from New Zealand.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

My family in World War One

One of the things we had to say on the Gallipoli Volunteer Program application form was whether any member of our families had fought at Gallipoli.
Both my grandfathers fought in World War One. My mother’s father came from the north west of England and he fought on the Western Front. I’ve seen the postcards he wrote from there and sent back to his wife and little daughter (my aunt.)
My father’s father was at Gallipoli, and my great-great-aunt, Louisa Bird (Aunt Louie) was in the first group of 50 NZ nurses to sail overseas in WW1. All of them survived. 
If you know that someone from your family fought in World War One (or in any other war that New Zealand has been involved in), a good place to start is on the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph database. You can put in their name – or as much of it as you know, and the war or conflict if you know it, and then work though the results. 
Sometimes you will only get brief details but there might be extra material included as well. For example, if you put in the name of Cyril Bassett, it will take you to the only New Zealander to win a VC at Gallipoli, with links to other info about him.