Saturday 19 April 2014

Saturday 19 April: Shrapnel Valley

Turkish breakfasts at our hotel: fantastic variety - makes breakfast at home seem very mundane! 


We spent a bit of time this morning around the Anzac Commemoration Site (ACS), including taking photos at the iconic ANZAC sign. Embarrassing Technological Moment no 2: I put my phone back into its case upside down this morning after charging it, which explains why Jane said she couldn't see anything when she was trying to take photos for me on it (and why I don't have any photos of that scene!) Hoping there will not be too many more Embarrassing Technological Moments.

Next we walked over to  to Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, where we were supposed to go yesterday, according to our programme, but ran out of time - which was probably a good thing, because it would have been a shame to rush it. Once again we have been incredibly lucky to be able to walk around these sites with no one else there.

The cemeteries on the beach are very beautiful, but Shrapnel Gully Cemetery is amazing. It's not far off the road but very peaceful, full of bird song. As well as the flowers separating the graves, there are several Judas trees which have the most extraordinary purple blossoms, just in time for Anzac Day.

This is the largest battlefield cemetery (ie one that was used during the campaign, not created afterwards.) It contains 683 graves, including 56 New Zealanders. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV sent a deputation to make sure the cemeteries were being looked after. By then the wooden crosses had been taken for firewood and many of the cemeteries were covered in scrub. The Turkish War Office remade the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery with burial mounds and rock borders, but they didn’t match the original graves underneath. In 1919, when the Graves Registration Unit arrived, they had to use the original plan of the cemetery and long metal rods to find the actual positions of the graves.

Shrapnel Valley was an important route from the beach up to the front lines and the trenches; you can probably guess how it got its name. We walked up the path behind the cemetery which leads to Plugge's Point cemetery (the smallest cemetery on Gallipoli, with only 21 graves, including 8 New Zealanders) and a series of incredible views - out to sea and to the Greek islands of Imbros and Samothrace, down to the ACS, full of trucks and activity in preparation for next week's dawn service, and up inland to the Sphinx and the ridges where the front lines were.

(The very tiny) Plugge's Plateau Cemetery

Looking down at the ACS
As we walked, we went up and down dips that would have been trenches where the men lived. Today the scrub has grown back and there are lots of wild flowers, including the one that the soldiers called the Gallipoli rose,

But this is how it looked in 1915:

Digitised Image
Soldiers walking in Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, Turkey. Photographed by an unknown photographer in 1915

Chaplain Ernest Merrington has a diary entry about visiting Shrapnel Gully:
“The bullets often fell thickly around our little parties of workers on this site which has become forever sacred to Australians and New Zealanders … I was down there by myself at dawn, and found the fallen men laid side by side ready for internment. For hours I worked, laying the bodies in the graves, with no assistance except for a few men of a fatigue party making a track near by. I placed the identity discs and personal effects at the head of each grave. I counted 42 Australians and 10 Turks. The sun arose over the eastern hill revealing the awesome scene around me, of death, nobility, valour and sacrifice.”

And this is what the graves looked like in 1915:

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Soldiers graves, Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, Turkey. Photographed by an unknown photographer in 1915
One of the things we do at each cemetery is gather at a particular grave to remember that soldier, as a representative of all the men buried there. Each person in the group has been allocated or has researched their own soldier, often someone from close to their own home town, or even a relative. We read out a few words about them, describing their life and their service at Gallipoli. It is another very moving experience. "My" soldier, Gilbert Heald (who was born in Feilding but later moved to Wellington and lived in  Mein St in Newtown)  is buried at Shrapnel Valley, and I spoke about him there.

Marc also gave a very moving tribute to his grandmother's brother; he is the first member of his family to visit the grave, and had phoned up his brother just beforehand to say he was there. He had to stop halfway through so we could shelter under the trees as a sudden hailshower swept through. It was a good test of the new red jackets (and they passed the test.) It was also a reminder that whatever the weather, we can go back to our hotel for warm showers, clean clothes and hot food -  all luxuries that weren't available for the Gallipoli soldiers.

You can see how beautifully the graves are looked after and cared for. We have seen a number of gardeners out giving the cemeteries a final tidying up before Anzac Day.

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