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GALLIPOLI TODAY
By Ross Bastiaan OAM RFD, Melbourne

 

The story of Gallipoli and the Anzac legend are key events in the histories of both Australia and New Zealand.  The Gallipoli Peninsula on the European side of Turkey has evolved in recent years into a mecca for both Australians and New Zealanders who visit trying to understand the origins of the legend and investigate a small part of a foreign country so closely tied to ours.

History
Gallipoli Today
The Anzac Beaches
Cemeteries
Mountain Road Route
Gallipoli Plaques Project


 

 



History

Since that fateful landing at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915, many books and publications have appeared. These have dissecting all aspects of the Gallipoli campaign that ran from the landing to January 9, 1916.  The Gallipoli campaign involved three major battlefields - Cape Helles, Anzac and Suvla Bay.  At these sites fighting raged for over 7 months engulfing over 1 million soldiers on both sides.  The battlefields themselves were relatively small and today the footsteps of the past can be traced with ease, particularly at Anzac. 

The tragedy of the campaign was the futility and the terrible suffering of both sides.  The Turks, valiantly defending their homeland, withstood the might of the British Empire and French forces.  Casualties were horrendous on both sides.  From the half a million Turks engaged, 300,000 became casualties of which at least 86,000 were killed.  For the Allies, 410,000 British including the Anzacs and Indians fought whilst over were 79,000 French troops fought at or around Cape Helles.  The British and its dominion forces suffered 43,000 killed, of which 7,500 were Australians and 2,500 New Zealanders.  The French in their sector lost 8,000 dead.





 

Gallipoli Today

The Gallipoli battlefields can be viewed by approaching the Peninsula either by land or from the sea.  The central point ion the region is the city of Canakkale on the Asian side of the Dardenelles, which is crossed by ferry to the east shore. Here the tourist either heads south to Cape Helles, east to Anzac or north-east to Suvla.  Roads are good and the signage clearly identifies the places to visit. Alternatively directly from Istanbul the best and fastest route is along the excellent road passing through Tekirdag on the European side of the Sea of Marmara and taking 4 easy hours driving.

Australians all head towards Anzac.  By contrast, the remnants of the battlefields at Cape Helles are difficult to follow as the local population has understandably turned the old battlefield back into use for their original agricultural heritage. The battlefields at Suvla are so remote, rocky and isolated; few venture into this desolate region.  Anzac, however, is part of the 33,000 hectares Gallipoli Historical National Park. This park is composed of protected land on which habitation is prohibited and extensive public works has been done to facilitate tourism. Fortunately for us, this inclusion in the National Park has ensured that the Anzac region will be preserved for all time.  Although devastated by terrible bush fires a few years ago, the memorials and cemeteries have been preserved in a manner that allows the visitor to view the area comprehensively and in relative comfort.

Anzac is approached on a road running from the east coast of the Peninsula 12 km from the Dardenelles.  In 1985 the Turkish Government opened the Kaba Tepe museum and information centre.  This museum, basic in design, provides the visitor with a focal point from which information on the battlefield can be obtained and where a small museum with relics can be visited.  From the museum, two main road routes over the battlefield are available.  The first route hugging the shoreline approaches Anzac Cove and the areas of the landing.  The other road that branches to the right beyond the museum takes the visitor along what was the second ridge and main defence line of Anzac ending at the highest point on the peninsula, Hill 971.








 

The Anzac Beaches

Anzac Cove is the heart of the Anzac battlefield and today’s beach is only 600 m long and 10 m wide.  In 1915 it was over double the width but the effects of time have eroded it badly.  Although this beach is so historically important, much of the movement of troops and stores occurred just 1-km north at what was known at North Beach.  In the sides of the first row of ridges towering above the beach, the headquarters of the Anzac forces were established and were no more than 1 km behind the front line.  The entire perimeter of Anzac is less than 3.5 km and the total area 3 sq miles.  At the northern point of Anzac Cove is a Turkish stone monolith in which, carved in bas relief, are the words of Ataturk delivered in 1934 to the first major delegation of visitors from Australia, New Zealand and Britain:

           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 far away countries

            Wipe away your tears,

            Your sons are now lying in our bosom and in peace.

            After having lost their lives on this land

            They have become our sons as well.

 
This memorial was unveiled on Anzac Day 70 years after the landing, with similar unveilings in Canberra, Albany and Wellington.

 










Cemeteries

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission based in England maintains the beautifully tended cemeteries on the Gallipoli Peninsula in perpetuity.  There are a total of 31 cemeteries on the Peninsula of which 16 are at Anzac.  Unlike many of the cemeteries in other parts of the world, CWGC placed flat headstones rather than crosses in deference to the Muslim beliefs of the land.  On each headstone appears either a Christian cross or a Star of David, the name of the soldier and his enlistment number, the unit in which he served and the date of death as recorded.  On the Australian headstones each family was entitled to place a small personal tribute whereas as New Zealanders were not extended this right.  The British, Indian and other soldiers who fell in the region are intermingled with the Anzac troops.  The sadness and tragedy of the campaign is best reflected when quietly walking down the rows of gravestones.  The Turkish dead were never buried in formal cemeteries.  They tended to be placed in mass graves and these sites are not recorded. The many thousands that fell have resulted in the remains of these Turks becoming evident with the passage of time. The Turkish authorities decided in the 1990s to erect a cemetery opposite Quinn’s Post.

Although to the visitor will see thousands of headstones, the proportion of those Allied soldiers’ bodies never recovered far outnumber those listed.  Over 11,000 Allied troops were never found and as a consequence have no known grave. Their names are commemorated on the walls of the Lone Pine cemetery and at the massive Memorial to the Missing at Cape Helles.


To the immediate north of Anzac is Suvla Bay. In the flat salt pan and low foothills here the British thrust to untangle the dead lock at Anzac in August 1915 completely founded. The rugged beauty of the region is well worth visiting as there has been almost no development here since 1915. The roads are dirt and rough.  The four British cemeteries are lonely and isolated but contain the remains of five thousand dead more than half of whom are unknown.

 








Mountain Road Route

The visitor driving on the second route to Anzac passes Kaba Tepe museum and turns right towards Lone Pine that appears 4 km in the distance.  At Lone Pine is the Australian National Memorial to the 3268 Australian and 456 New Zealanders who have no known grave.  This 14 meter high memorial erected in 1926 towers above the landscape.  It is simple in design and at the foot of this memorial are the names of the missing.  Before the memorial is the large Lone Pine cemetery where after the war the bodies of many men who were identified and buried in lonely, isolated cemeteries were concentrated by the War Graves Commission.  The Lone Pine memorial stands directly on top of the Turkish front line, which was carried, in the most commemorated Australian battle of the campaign.  On August 6, 1915 New South Welshmen charged across a small area of no man’s land to drop into the log covered Turkish trenches that honeycombed this site.  In 5 days of vicious fighting, 2,200 Australian died and at least double that number of Turks.  Both sides were exhausted and from then until the evacuation in December, in this region, either side made no further gains.

 
From Lone Pine, the road winds it way along the crest of the ridge towards Baby 700, which is a rise on the horizon, 3 km distant.  The road is almost perfectly aligned to the front line of the day.  You pass small cemeteries with famous names such as Courtney’s and Steele’s Post and Quinn’s Post.  Here the opposing forces were perched on a narrow ridge.  They were separated at parts by no more than 20 m and were in constant battle.  Large reserve troops were housed in trench systems below the crest ready to repulse any advance.  To stand in 1915 on the area where the road is today invited certain death.  Before the visitor reaches Baby 700, a branch to the left brings you to The Nek.  Perhaps the saddest site at Gallipoli; this area was immortalised in the film “Gallipoli” by Peter Weir.  Both sides fought across this extremely narrow isthmus of land.  On either side, the land fell sharply into deep valleys.  Control of The Nek was vital but despite loss of many lives, neither side took control.  The Australian Light Horse emerged from their trenches on August 6, 1915 to be slaughtered in an area no greater than three tennis courts.  Over 300 young Australians perished under the machine guns of the Turks and their bodies lay there until 1919 the bones bleached white in the hot Mediterranean sun.

Returning to the main road, the visitor climbs steadily beyond the cemetery at Baby 700, which was initially captured by the Australians and then lost permanently to the Turks.  This position dominated the Australian front line and looks straight down Shrapnel Valley.  Shrapnel Valley, which ran from the beach to the foot of The Nek and immediately below Quinn's Post, was the lifeline of Anzac.  Down this valley it all men and materials passed. Although under Turkish observation, carefully placed sandbag embankments protected the men as they moved. 


Just over 1 km from Baby 700 is the New Zealand National Memorial at Chunuk Bair (one of four memorials to New Zealand).  This memorial, beautifully sited and elegant in design, was the furthest point reached by the New Zealanders in their fateful attack on this area during August 1915.  They valiantly held this hill for 2 days until they were totally overwhelmed by a massive Turkish counterattack.  The remnants of the New Zealand and British forces in this region were hurled down the steep cliffs and thousands were killed.  Adjacent to the New Zealand memorial is a new gigantic statue placed by the Turkish authorities showing Mustafa Kemal Bey.  This famous Turkish officer was a key reason for the failure of the Anzac campaign.  He rallied his troops in the crucial period of the landing and subsequently led his forces in the 240-day campaign at Anzac.  Kemal later became the President of Turkey and to this day he is revered throughout the land.  This memorial, like all other bronze statues, have been erected in very recent years and are part of a very active program to represent the Turkish interests for visitors to the region.  Prior to 1990, there was little to mark the Turkish experience in the campaign.


Approximately 1.5 km along the main road from Chunuk Bair is Hill 971, the highest point on the battlefield. The Anzacs never reached it and its views are magnificent looking out north to Suvla Bay and south to Anzac.

 








Gallipoli Plaques Project

The Gallipoli plaques project is the first in a large series of bronze plaques that I have placed around the world to commemorate Australia’s achievements in war.

The concept of the plaques started in 1987 when I visited Gallipoli to caption a series of photographs I had located in London during my post graduate studies in periodontics. The photographs were subsequently published in the book "Images of Gallipoli" by Oxford University Press in 1988.


In the week that I worked at Gallipoli in 1987 with the photographs many young Australian and New Zealand tourists approached me for information about the region and the old battlefield.  It was evident to me that there was a major lack of information for English speaking visitors. I therefore approached the Turkish Government in 1988 for permission to place 10 bronze information plaques around significant sections of the battlefield.  The Turkish Government gave permission and after a good deal of negotiation with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, locations were selected for each plaque.  I wrote the text for each plaque imagining that you, the visitor, stood before the plaque looking at the surrounding hills.  The text is simple, not referring to generals, battalions or individuals.  Because of my annoyance during the 1987 visit to Gallipoli of not finding information in English, I wrote a text in English, Turkish, German and French on each plaque.


The funding for this project was entirely from private sources.  The Australian Government refused any funding in 1988 and therefore I approached major Australian companies such as BHP, AMP, Wormald and John Allison Monkhouse to name a few.  These companies generously donated and with this funding I was able to cast and negotiate a price for the cementation of the plaques. The plaques were unveiled appropriately in 1990 on the 75th anniversary of the landing by the veterans of the campaign and Prime Minister Hawke.  I was asked to be guide to the 53 Anzacs that returned for the last time to these fatal shores.  It was a memorial occasion and one that naturally can never occur again.

 
This single pilgrimage triggered, within the Australian people, a new awareness of the sacrifices that our people have made for the nation during war. This message of sacrifice was subsequently reinforced throughout the rest of the decade when media coverage focused on many Government sponsored pilgrimages of veterans to old First and Second World War battlefields. The Australia Remembers ceremonies focused and held the attention of Australia's young. For them, a generation spared the horrors of war, a stronger understanding of the national identity emerged. From the humble beginnings of the RSL Anzac Day ceremony at Gallipoli in the early 1980's, now many thousands of tourists join others in the dawn light at Anzac Cove to share the strength of the past.


Although I felt after Gallipoli that I had done my bit, the plaques' story was far from over.  Events and people interceded over the intervening years to induce me to continue the plaques elsewhere. Gallipoli provided the impetus for me to sculpt, word and place a further 100 plaques in 16 countries around the world. All Australia's main battlefields have now been covered with Vietnam and the Anglo-Boar War to be completed in 2000. The plaques record in a very permanent manner all our major conflicts from Gallipoli through to The Gulf War.  Although I have a busy professional life as a periodontist, this concept of commemoration has occupied much of my spare time. The time in negotiating privately with foreign Governments for sites and politically correct texts has been the hardest part of the project. If it had been easy, the job would have been done long ago. The generosity of many companies and private individuals in Australia in providing me with over $300,000 for these plaques gives testament to the fact that there are many that share my belief in recognising past achievements and acknowledging the impact they have on our country’s history. My wife, Deborah, has always supported my endeavours and assisted greatly in proofreading the thousands of words of text cast. 

I have always chosen to work independent of government but have received their support to varying degrees over the years.  The many people who have seen them and the feedback that comes through to me over the years reflect the success of the plaques. Many inquires about the plaques occur each year and to assist people a web page at www.plaques.satlink.com.au was established to provide all the text and many photographs of the plaques. Below is a list of the plaques that have been erected around the world with their locations and dates of placement.


In the end, my reward is that you will one day see these plaques, read them and reflect. If in your reflection you become more aware of the achievements of our predecessors and their sacrifices, then my work has been well worthwhile.

 



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