Tuesday 22 April 2014

Tuesday 22 April: Courtney and Steele's Post, Quinn's Post, the 57th Regiment Memorial, Walker's Ridge and The Nek

At last - there were two other Kiwis at breakfast at our hotel this morning, and we are noticing more and more people around all the time - we don't get the cemeteries to ourselves any more.

This morning we went down to the Anzac Commemorative Site (ACS), which is even busier now with massive preparations underway. Everywhere there are tents and rows of seating going up, portaloos being put in position, sound and light systems being tested. I had no idea before this week of the degree of organisation involved. We had a look round and talked through some of our duties, then went back to the Kum Hotel for another briefing with the people from VANZ (Veterans' Affairs NZ) and the Australian Dept of Veterans' Affairs. 

The weather will play a big part in the proceedings, and various weather forecasts are promising everything from showers to thunderstorms to afternoon temperatures in the high 20s. Numbers at the dawn service have decreased in recent years from 7,500 a few years ago to 5,200 in 2013, but there is a feeling that more people may arrive this year and nobody quite knows how many to expect. 

After lunch at the Kum Hotel, we spent a hot but rewarding afternoon walking round the battle sites and cemeteries on Second Ridge, starting at Courtney and Steele's Post and Quinn's Post and making our way past the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial to finish at Walker's Ridge and The Nek. All of these were precarious and dangerous positions, and the scenes of fierce fighting; the terrain seems impossibly steep for anyone to have scrambled up.

Courtney’s and Steele’s Post cemetery is named after Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Courtney and Major Thomas Steel, both of the 14th Battalion. Quinn’s Post cemetery is named after Captain Hugh Quinn of the 15th Battalion AIF. There are 473 men buried here. The Turks called it Bombasirt (Bomb Ridge) because the Turkish and Anzac  trenches were so close together and the noise of rifle fire and bomb blasts was earsplitting and relentless. 

Cemetery, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey
Cemetery (Quinn's Post?), Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey, circa 1918. Alexander Turnbull Library Ref  PAColl-7082-1
Chaplain Frederick Wray’s diary tells you what a dreadful time they had of it here:
April 28 – At 12.30 reached 14th lines on Quinn’s Corner… at 2.30am buried 29, including two NZ officers.
April 30 – Went up to Quinn’s Corner and buried 5 men.
May 1 – Buried 1 man at Gully cemetery and 9 at Quinn’s Corner.
May 2 – Buried 7 at Gully cemetery and 3 at Quinn’s Corner
May 3 – An awful day… The 16th were enfiladed by machine guns and did not hold their trenches… the 16th lost 400 out of 600, the 13th 200… Saw a sniper get 7 out of 8 at Quinn’s Corner and he got Lt Binnie… I buried 8, including Lts Binnie and Freeman at Quinn’s Corner.
[Chaplain Frederick William Wray, PR00247, AWM]

The views (yet again) were spectacular, especially from Walker's Ridge Cemetery which sits on a sloping hillside, bathed in sunshine, made colourful by irisies and fragrant by rosemary, and overlooking a panorama stretching all the way up to Suvla Bay (with a military helicopter flying past, and the Australian national anthem playing on a loudspeaker somewhere in the background.) It seems strange and scarcely believable that men died here so terribly, within view of such beauty.

The Nek was a track or “neck” of land between Russell’s Top and Baby 700. It may have been named by someone who had fought in the Boer War in South Africa and knew the Afrikaans word “nek”, meaning a mountain pass. There are 316 men buried here, including those who died on 7 August 1915 in the Australian Light Horse attack on the Nek, shown in the 1981 Australian film Gallipoli. Four successive waves of soldiers launched the attack, seeing those in front of them getting mown down and knowing that they were probably going to die too. Of the 550 soldiers, 234 were killed and 138 wounded, many within metres of their own trenches.

The cemetery was made after the end of the war so it sits in what would have been no man’s land. Charles Bean, the Australian historian, said they came back in 1919 to find the bones of those who had died still out in the open, over 300 of them in an area the size of 3 tennis courts.

photo: see caption below
An aerial photograph of The Nek Cemetery, Anzac, taken on 25 June 1923 [AWM H18635]
Walker's Ridge Cemetery began as two rows of plots dug either side of an Anzac trench, and there is still an open space in the middle. There are 92 men buried here including 40 New Zealanders. One of the Australians, Private Roy Robertson, was only 16 years old when he was killed in November. You can read about other boy soldiers on the Australian Roll of Honour here.

Another Australian soldier has the inscription “Goodbye Cobber, God bless you” on his grave. They were the last words he spoke to the soldier beside him as they both prepared to charge.  Another grave is that of Private Hohepa Herewini from Rotorua who served with the New Zealand Maori Contingent.

photo: see caption below
A Maori of the Maori Contingent, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in the trenches of the Apex [AWM G01268]

Our tributes to individual  soldiers continue at each cemetery, and they are often emotional experiences, both for the presenter and for the rest of us. It is a very supportive atmosphere; everyone listens respectfully, and afterwards there are calls of "thanks" and "well done", and sometimes hugs and tears.

Today we also had the privilege of hearing Baris talk about a Turkish soldier: Huseyin Avni Bey, 1871-1 Agustos 1915. Born in Macedonia, the 1st commander of the 57th Regiment, this was the man to whom Ataturk gave his famous order ("I don't order you to fight, I order you to die") on 25 April. His tent site became his grave when his tent was hit by a shell. We were honoured to be the first group of Gallipoli Volunteers to visit here, and to see the Turkish memorial site nearby, where the names of 2800 soldiers were recorded on tiers of steps down the hillside. 

These girls were 17 years old, from Ankara and visiting the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial. It had been suggested to us that we bring small NZ and Australian souvenirs to give away to people we met or who helped us along the way. These girls seemed pleased to be given some of my NZ presents. They told me that my Turkish was very good!

Tonight we had free time for dinner and most of us caught the ferry over to Canakkale (with a bit of yelling to the late comers, and a few last minute sprints - apparently they won't hold the ferry, even if you have bought a ticket and are nearly there.) The lemon squeezer salesman on the ferry did a great demo of his product and was flooded by orders from us (a steal at only 1 lire each, although I was so busy taking photos that I'm still not quite sure how it works) We ate sea bass at a cafe on the waterfront and enjoyed watching everyone walking past, although we didn't enjoy quite so much the attentions of the cafe's cats and kittens, as they curled around our legs hoping for leftovers. 

My lovely roomie Leonie

On the ferry back to Eceabat, we talked to several Aussie tourists who have just arrived and will be at the dawn service. It made us realise how much we have learnt over the last few days, because we were able to answer a lot of their questions and we had a much clearer idea of what was in store for them.

Tomorrow we have our last battlefield visits, and possibly an Aegean cruise, weather permitting, so we can see the coastline as the approaching Anzac soldiers would have seen it on the 25th April 1915. From Thursday 24th, it will be all on and there won;t be time for any more blogging until Anzac Day is well and truly over. If you are watching any overage of the Gallipoli services - the dawn service or the later ones at Lone Pine or Chunuk Bair - don,t forget to look out for the Red Coats!

1 comment:

  1. All the best for the ceremonies (will try to watch it on TV here).