So I’m returning to Turkey for today’s post and to a place that is important, not just to myself, but many Australians, New Zealanders, and Turkish … it’s called Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula. That one sentence will probably say it all to some readers but for those unfamiliar with Gallipoli, I shall explain further. To my New Zealand and Turkish friends, please excuse me if this post focuses a little on my homeland. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Australia, still considering itself a colony, followed the British into war. After spending months training (and getting up to mischief) in Egypt, the Australian and New Zealand troops, who came to be known as the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) got their first taste of battle. They were landed on a strip of rocky beach, surrounded by steep and seemingly impassable cliffs, at a place now known as Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915. There is much debate about whether the location of the landing was a mistake, incorrectly identified by those in charge, but no matter the truth – the landing was horrific. Over the many months that followed, the courageous Anzacs persisted in trying to break away from the beach front and breach the steep and rugged terrain around them. Disease and dysentery, gun fire and shelling, and the bitter cold of winter account for much death. The Turkish, ever valiant in their unwavering defense of their homeland, would repel the Anzacs time and again. The two sides eventually finding a level of respect for their opposition. Then in December 1915, the Anzacs withdrew from Gallipoli. Only to be sent to the Western Front in France.
Fast forward to today and Gallipoli has become a place much revered, a place of legend in our history. Every year, on the 25th April, Australians and New Zealanders travel to Turkey to commemorate the anniversary of the landing. Every year, the Turkish people extend warm welcome and firm friendship to us as we join with them in remembering those from all countries who perished or fought in that battle. This spirit of friendship between former foes, is thanks in no small part to a Turkish commander who was at that battle – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, later to become the father of modern Turkey. Just a short distance down the road from where the boats landed, there is a large monument on which is engraved the following tribute to the Anzacs from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk:
“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 from faraway 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”.
But Gallipoli has come to mean something more as well. In Australia, we have what is known as the Anzac legend or myth, some call it the spirit of Anzac. The basic premise is that after Gallipoli, something changed … something fundamental about how we saw ourselves. We began to see ourselves not as a colony but as our own country, our own people with their own path to forge. Some will say it was the birth of our national identity. We have identified character traits in those Anzacs soldiers that we aspire to achieve. Such traits were described by Australia’s official war historian C.E.W Bean:
But Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.
I was fortunate enough to make the trip to Gallipoli. Rather than go to attend the Anzac Day commemorations, I went at a quiet time of year. As our small group filed out of the mini bus and stood to face the beach, the steep cliffs at our backs, something strange happened. We all silently separated. Split up and quietly moved away from each other. It was like an unspoken yet common need for us to be alone to take it all in, the enormity of it. What strikes me most about Gallipoli is its peace and tranquility … All you can hear is the gentle lapping of the water on the rocky shore and the distant chirping of birds. So overwhelmingly serene given the horror that befell that beachhead over 100 years ago. It’s true, what they say … Time heals all wounds.
This post is part of my contribution to the A to Z Challenge for April 2016
Click here for a link to all my challenge posts!