Sunday, April 26, 2015

Visiting Gallipoli...

I have been reflecting this week about the northern peninsula of Turkey called Gallipoli, located on the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles Strait, a shore where over 250,000 young men died in an ill fated campaign during World War I one hundred years ago. Two years ago my husband and I went on a trip to Turkey where we visited Gallipoli, a place where young men from Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, and India (about 15,000 Punjab Indians who were professional soldiers in the Allied effort that history scarcely remembers) fought. Nations and lives were altered forever on this quiet beach that knew so much bloody, brutal warfare. 

  • One of the very moving parts of our trip to Gallipoli was to be with some of the people on our tour from all over the world. There were people from India,  the U.S., Canada, Vietnam, the UK., Turkey, and Australia--some of the very countries that were in battle together at Gallipoli. This is Helen, who had three great uncles die during that eight month campaign. There were red poppies everywhere, and we were instructed by the Aussies that the red poppies are used even now to remember the lives of those who were lost at Gallipoli. The reason Helen is smiling is that she is so very joyous that as a group we found the names of her ancestors. On the tour there was not a great amount of time to wander and meander around to find the names. But with the 25 of us searching, we found the names she came to Gallipoli to see. This young man named Vagg was newly married. She said her great aunt never remarried. I will always remember all of us from many nationalities in our group combing through the names on that day, with red poppies in our hands. I was glad we were there in April to view all the red poppies along the roads and hillsides, reminiscent of Gallipoli.
This is a picture on the Anzac shoreline with our Aussie friends. John, who is a retired PE teacher and spends about 30+ hours a week bicycling/racing on the shores near Melbourne, sings old ballads as he rides. In typical Aussie fashion, he was witty to the core, and all of us on the tour loved him. But the day we got to Gallipoli, he was very solemn; you could tell he had been imagining this visit for many years. He promised/warned us on the bus microphone that he would sing for us on the Gallipoli beach. To our delight, he kept his word.. I will never forget his moving, haunting rendition of " And the Band played Waltzing Matilda' on the Gallipoli beach. The song is about a soldier who loses his leg at Gallipoli. It is a different song than the bush ballad called "Waltzing Matilda"

Gallipoli was a stalemate, a campaign that was doomed for ultimate failure by leaders who miscalculated military strategy, weather, and provisions--a heavy loss for all those involved. However, the heroism, selflessness, and courage of those who fought there is moving, as they battled side by side. Those young men and their officers experienced extreme heat, cold, hunger, and disease, amidst the cascading bullets. The landing and battles on the Dardanelles Peninsula helped create more of a unified, national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, and was the first time these two countries were commanded by their own leaders who were not British.

Although the Allis initially underestimated the Turkish soldiers, they quickly learned to respect their military skills as they fought in combat against them. The eight months of fighting in Gallipoli would later give the 34 year old Lt. Commander Mustafa Kemal Ataturk the courage, confidence, and foundation to later form the Republic of Turkey. For both sides, it was a defining moment for them-- individually and as they unified their nations.

Our Turkish tour guide who taught us about the Turkish side of the campaign too.

Since my husband's father landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy on D-Day and was blinded in the push to Paris and his grandfather fought in Belgium in WWI, his thoughts on Gallipoli in his journal were particularly poignant: "Driving the landscape here in Gallipoli is strangely reminiscent of Normandy. The beaches, hills, forests, and field are now silent. So many young men died in d difficult and hand to hand conflict."

This picture moves me so very deeply--especially when I have several sons who are the same ages as these same boys.

 "We started at Anzac Cove, the place of the ill fated landing of the Australian and New Zealand troops in 1915 where they went to the wrong area; there were cliffs and rugged terrain to contend with, instead of a broad and strategic beach. The beach marker drifted in the night about 4 km, leading to an ill fated and doomed offensive position by the Allies. Looking at the map, one recognizes the cost of this trivial mistake, which entirely changed the course of this battle. The landscape was harsh, and seeing the immediacy and complexity of that bloody fight was apparent. But all is quiet now at Anzac Beach and Lone Pine."

"I found myself thinking a lot about my dad this morning, and how difficult his life was returning from the war without his sight (his father married his college sweetheart after the war WW II, and then had seven daughters and one son, my husband. He never saw any of his children, but only remembered the 22 year old face of his future wife. He always joked that she was 22 to him, even when she was in her early 70's). I bought three beautiful wool Gallipoli scarves for my four sons, and will have to express again my gratitude that they have not been required to fight in a war. It is impossible for me to comprehend the loss of a son or daughter in their youth, not being able to fulfill their dreams--to have their parents' dreams dashed for them.

"The memorials and cemeteries in Gallipoli were compelling and powerful, from all of the countries. One stated the following, "He died a man, and closed his life's brief day, ere it had scarce began." Those are difficult words for any father to read. I remembered again my own father's displeasure when I returned home from shopping for my five year old birthday present--a chrome plated metal 1911 replica colt pistol, a cap gun. It brought back too many painful memories for him. I didn't understand his emotional response then, but I finally understood when I went to Normandy as I walked the acres of graves in a foreign land."

It was very touching to read what many families had written about their beloved sons, brothers, and husbands. Since I had a 17 year old boy at the time, this Australian boy's snuffed out life seemed very close to me.

Not far from the Gallipoli battle fields, these lush, vibrant canola fields seemed to stretch out forever. The bright sea of flowers, capped in yellow light, reminds me that those brave young men, whatever country they are from, will be remembered forever too.
My Favorite Poem about Gallipoli, written by a Turkish poet:

-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.

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