Monday 21 April 2014

Monday 21 April: Turkish Memorial and Cape Helles memorial

Today is Fran's birthday, so we have been singing happy birthday to her all day, and she has kindly offered to shout drinks for us tonight before dinner. (That's as long as people make it back from the Boomerang Bar where a number of them have just headed off for "a few quick beers". We passed the bar on the way back into town and the owner is out painting a kiwi onto the wall to go with the kangaroo.)  

This morning we set off to Cape Helles at the south of the peninsula, the site of the British landings on 25 April (part of the campaign that we Kiwis and Aussies often don't know much about.) We didn't get far before the bus nearly jammed under the overhang of a low stone arch in the road, so the driver backed up (he is an excellent driver, even if he looks barely old enough to have got his licence) and took us the top way, through the cobbled streets of the village.

We ended up at the site of an old Turkish battery, camouflaged from the Dardanelles to look like low hills. This was where the Turkish hero Corporal Seyit performed an astonishing feat of strength by loading a 240kg shell by himself when everyone else had been wounded, and firing it to sink one of the British ships. For this he became a hugely popular figure ("like a Turkish Hercules," Baris says) and features in statues and sculptures all over Gallipoli.

Red Coats photographing each other at the Seyit Memorial
The battery, of course overlooks the Dardanelles, which today were as still as Wellington harbour on a good day, with little fishing boats peacefully chugging past. Baris described the naval battle of 18 March to us - won by the Turkish forces, which is why the 18 March is still such a special day for them. It was sobering to look out over the beautiful sparkling waters and realise that they are really a sea graveyard for hundreds of sailors who lost their lives there. 

From there we drove through the valley where the Turkish WW1 hospitals were sited, out of firing range, and on to Achi Baba, the hill which the Allied forces were trying to take and never did. From the lookout, we could see the village of Alcitepe, formerly the Greek village of Krithia, around which the three battles of Krithia were fought for the gain of a few hundred metres of land and the loss of more hundreds of lives. Looking south, we could see where the British and French landings took place; looking north, it's possible to see Anzac Cove and Lone Pine, so it was a hugely strategic position. Out to sea are the Greek islands. It's yet another spectacular view.  

While we were looking at the view, other people were obviously keeping an eye on us, as a Turkish soldier suddenly materialised out of the scrub and stood at the bottom of the steps for a while. We didn't think he was there to hear Baris's commentary, and wondered later if there was extra security in place because of the rehearsal that we came across at the Turkish Memorial. 

Just as we tend to focus our visits to Gallipoli on Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, so the Turkish people have memorial sites of special significance to them. Chunuk Bair is one, so is the battery we visited, and the most important is the Turkish Memorial. We arrived just in time to see the end of the dress rehearsal for the ceremony to be held there on 24 April. 

There were lots of visiting school children and we had photos taken with some of them.

School trip to the Turkish Memorial
Baris says that the Turkish Memorial is his favourite memorial, the one he always likes to take visitors to. I‘d seen photos of the large memorial structure, and also of the frieze in the central courtyard, although I didn't realise they were in the same place. But there is so much more to it than that. I didn't know that it serves as a memorial for the 59,408 known Turkish dead (not counting those who were never identified) who are named on rows of glass panels, each panel displaying 22 names on each side. The panels are arranged by province and a larger glass panel lists each area alphabetically, so people can come and see how many died from their own region.

Corporal Seyit and his famous exploit again

Ataturk's famous words again

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior 
So many names of the Turkish dead.
Lunch was at a restaurant nearby, on the edge of the water. The Turkish pide were delicious but they arrived in batches, so some of us were hungrier for longer than others!

After lunch, we drove to our last stop for the day, the Cape Helles Memorial and V Beach, where the River Clyde beached herself and thousands of men – British, mostly Irish – were mown down on the beach or in the water by a handful of Turkish soldiers up on the hill above.  

Cape Helles memorial
This memorial stands at the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was built in 1924 and takes the form of a 30m tall obelisk that can be seen by ships passing through the Dardanelles. On it are inscribed more than 20,000 names, for men who have no known graves, including those who were buried at sea.  The only NZers are those who served with British or Australian units.

This is a memorial, not a cemetery and the plaques around the walls reveal the many different backgrounds of the men who came here: not just the Aussies and Kiwis, the British and French, but also men from the Indian Army, Punjabis, Gurkha Rifles, Sikhs; men from the Royal Navy, the Royal Engineers, the Medical corps, the Veterinary corps, the Cyclist company, the hospital ships – the lists go on and on.

V Beach
V Beach was the site of one of the (disastrous) British landings. (The beaches where they landed were given alphabetical names:  S, V, W, X and Y.) It was a total slaughter. There are 696 men buried here, nearly all of them unidentified, and many of them killed on the first day of fighting.

Overlooking V beach is a large diorama in a case showing the layout of the battle fought on this small stretch of beach on 25 April. A handful of Turkish snipers, stationed up on the hill where we were standing, had a perfect view of the rocky outcrops that the River Clyde ran up against. 2000 men were packed inside the ship, hearing the rattle of gunfire against her sides and knowing that they would be an immediate target as soon as they stepped out into the open. An almost imperceptible shelf of sand provided the only shelter for the Allied (mostly Irish) troops; if they could reach that, they were safe for the next few hours, but many of them were mown down as soon as they left the ship.

We walked down to the V Beach Cemetery, full of lavender and irises. This must be one of the few cemeteries that is close to a village, and in fact there was a restaurant on the beach, but it felt like it would be a very odd place to stop for a coffee or a meal, right in front of the place where so many men had died.

The Doughty-Wylie gravesite
We had a hot walk back up through the village to the road where the bus was waiting. On a small hill up there is the grave of a British officer called Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, who died on 26 April. 

This is the only individual grave of a Commonwealth soldier at Gallipoli and it has an intriguing tale attached to it. One day in November, a small boat landed on V Beach. A woman dressed in black got out of it, walked up to his grave, left some flowers there and then got back into the boat and sailed away. Nobody knows for certain who it was, but all the Gallipoli Volunteers were intrigued by the story - so here's a bit more info on the unsolved mystery of the only woman to land at Gallipoli during the war. 

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