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The Big O.E An epic adventure across the world, backpacker style :)


TURKEY | Friday, 20 June 2008 | Views [2313]

James: Beautiful and sobering would be the words that I would use to sum up our visit to the WWI Gallipoli battle grounds.

Despite having experienced 27 ANZAC days, I didn't know the full meaning and the significance of what what happened on the Gallipoli penninsula in 1915. Just the numbers are scary enough. Over a million Allied and Turkish troops involved. Half of them killed or injured. 300 kilometres of trenches dug by the ANZACs in 7 months. Average area of land held by ANZAC forces: about one square kilometre!

It all started because the British and French needed to secure an ice free port to hook up with their Russian ally in the East. There were plenty of these in the Black Sea, but with the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) teamed up with Germany, they couldn't get through the Dardanelles and Bosphoros from the Mediterranen to use them. When a naval assalt failed, it was decided that the only way to get through was to capture Istanbul and make the Ottomans surrender. The plan was to land on the Gallipoli penninsula in the early morning and capture its highest and most strategic point, Chunuk Bair, in time for breakfast. Then cut off the penninsula and secure the penninsula by lunch. From there the allies would race north in time to capture Istanbul before dinner. Hmmmm... optimistic.

Catherine: After walking our packs through a very quiet Istanbul at 6am, and a long bus ride to Eceabat, we arrived at a hostel called Crowded House, which serves Vegemite at breakfast. Guess where the tourists come from in this part of the world!

After six hours on a bus, I wasn't really keen to go straight on to another bus for a six hour tour of Gelibolu (better known as Gallipoli). It was only the promise of a packed lunch that lured me on. So we jumped straight on another bus, with an annoying tour guide, an assortment of antipodeans and the crappiest packed lunches I have ever seen! I am not good without food even after four hours. Which is why we ALWAYS carry food with us. Except when a packed lunch is included. Doh! Add in a super early morning in an awful cheap hostel with no fans, bus snacks for breakfast and six hours trapped on a bus in 40 degree heat - you can imagine what a picture of goodwill and serenity I was by 1pm when confronted with hot, squashed white bread with a sliver of spam and an everything-artificial-including-the-sugar drink for 'lunch'. James must have thought I was slightly grumpy as he forced me to eat the spam...

James: We started at Brighton Beach, a broad, gently sloping stretch of coast line, where the ANZACs were supposed to land in the wee hours of the 25th of April. For one reason or another, the landing took place just to the north in a tiny cove that appeared to be the steepest and most difficult piece of coast line to secure for miles. After ANZAC cove we stopped in at some of the neatly tended cemeteries dotted along the coast line. Today it is a beautiful setting. Flowers bloom along the placid shore of the Aegean Sea. The lush green slopes rise steeply away from the sea towards the spine of the pennisula.

We headed up onto the ridge and walked through no man's land between the old Turkish and ANZAC front lines. In places the opposing trenches were only 8 metres apart! In the summer heat dehydration and dysentry were rife. Even in under these conditions and at such close quarters apparently there were still some light hearted moments. The Ozzies built a pitch and played cricket just back from the front line and the ANZAC and Turkish troops would lob food across the front lines to each other. The ANZACs apparently loved the opportunity to tuck into something other than salty bully beef and rock hard biscuits. Although the Turks deemed the ANZAC food inedible and threw it back!

Catherine: Thank goodness there was a guy selling nuts and raisins. Actual unprocessed food! I began feeling human again and marvelled at this amazing place we'd come to. It was tricky to imagine such a gorgeous coastline as a muddy, diseased killing field. Ugh. And you can totally see why so many people got killed. The Turks could just pick off all the invading Anzacs as they struggled to get up the hill. Not a very clever military campaign. 

It was a surreal feeling to see the monuments for Australia and New Zealand - after months on the road, the only NZ type things we've seen are a few notices in Asia saying NZ sponsored this temple or this school, and the (fantastic) war memorial in London. And here we were in Eastern Europe with an enormous statue commemorating our soldiers. And the coolest thing was all the different nationalities visiting the site. There were Turkish families visiting the NZ monument, Koreans at the Australian one, and Kiwis at the Turkish one.

I felt so lucky that we were able to visit this place. And I'm so happy that Kiwis and Turks who visit today are remembering a war rather than fighting in one. Peace.

James: From Chunuk Bair the view over the green pennisula to the Dardanelles and the Aegean was amazing. No doubt the view was totally different when after months of fighting New Zealand troops finally succeeded in capturing this key strategic position from the Turks. This sucess, the greatest in the campaign, was short lived though. Two nights later, British troops who had relieved the Kiwi forces at Chunuk Bair were over run by determined Turkish counter attack. From a military point of view basically the entire campaign was a disaster.

In fact the most successful aspect of the Gallipoli campaign was the withdrawal. Using dummy soldiers, time delayed rifle fire and the cover of darkness, tens of thousands of ANZAC, French, Canadian, Indian and British troops were evacuated from multiple sites without the loss of a single life.

Lest we forget. 

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