“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 our now living in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well”
You cannot stand at the Ari Burnu cemetery at Anzac cove and read these words carved into the Gallipoli memorial without getting a little emotional. I put my tears down to the sudden onset of hay fever. I was interestingly enough to suffer that fate several more times that afternoon.
Carolyn and I spent a day exploring the battlefields with our own guide Deniz, and at times it seemed we had it all to ourselves that late summers day. Deniz told the story of the fateful campaign from both sides of the trenches. In fact, as we drove across the peninsula from our hotel in Eceabat that morning, he was at pains to remind us - very politely - that the whole disastrous campaign was actually a (successful) Turkish battle to defend their country from foreign invaders who for some reason had travelled from the other side of the world to invade his country.
That would be us.
Thousands of Turks from all walks of life had rallied to the cause, labourers, teachers, doctors etc came to fight on the Peninsula and died in their tens of thousands defending their homeland. They call it the Battle of Canakkale and it would help shape the future of Europe.
However – history is always written by the ultimate winners and with WW1 we tend to see it in a different light. In Turkey we were never defending King and Country as we are always told. But enough has been written about the deceit of the British government that pushed the Ottomans towards Germany, and the incompetence of their Generals so I will leave that alone.
I suppose however that blood spilt in wartime is the same colour the world over.
Unlike thousands of Kiwis before us we hadn’t arrived at this spot on our big OE – headed east from London in our VW campervans and turned right at Istanbul. We had already spent a couple of weeks in the fascinating country that is turkey.
Our hotel in Cappadocia had two taps on the wall in the bedroom – one dispensed red wine – the other white. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
We had walked the streets of Istanbul in the early mornings and evenings, eaten like Kings (and Queens) in out of the way restaurants, watched from our breakfast table ships coming and going along the Bosphorus, and haggled like the rank amateurs we are in the Grand Bazaar. Over 3000 shops with around 250,000 visitors daily. Never again will I complain about the Riccarton Mall.
But now at Anzac cove as we started heading inland with Daniz the mood changed. After explaining the history of each location, eg The Nek, Lone Pine, the Sphinx dominating the beach at Anzac Cove etc he would leave us on our own for a while to wander amongst the graves and wonder at the lives that might have been.
It wasn’t until later that day we realised there was no birdsong that whole afternoon
At various points you can see the trenches were only yards apart – probably half the width of West Street. You could only imagine what the conditions would have been like living there for months at a time.
One of my favourite images is the statue of an old man and a young girl. Huseyin Kacmaz was the last Turkish survivor of Gallipoli and his granddaughter is depicted carrying flowers to put on a grave. It is said to symbolize the old Turkey passing on the memory and heritage of Gallipoli to the younger generation.
Our final act that day was to put two poppies in the ground at the memorial at Chunuk Bair. We had placed these poppies on my parents graves at the RSA cemetery in Ashburton the previous ANZAC day. We had brought them half way around the world with us, and it seemed fitting that they are now in the ground on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Even though they had both been in another war in Europe some 30 years after Gallipoli, the thoughts were still the same. As the sun set across the Aegean Sea the words on the Chunuk Bair memorial seemed even more appropriate, acknowledging that those who fought, and died here came “from the uttermost ends of the earth.”