Until you see the sites, the actual locations of all those historic events nearly 100 years ago, you can’t really appreciate the horror of it all. And to see the graves of so many young Australian men, the youngest aged only 14, brings you to tears. It makes you appreciate what a great life we have had and how lucky we are to be able to visit this area as tourists, instead of serving the British government in war.
What those young Aussie men went through, for, “God, King and empire” was hell on Earth. Young men, dying in their thousands in pursuit of their ‘goal’, spending week after week in trenches in incredibly trying conditions, intense heat, intense cold, flooding, surrounded by enemies, gun-fire, decomposing bodies, flies, lice and maggots, meager rations, must have been terrible.
At times the Aussies were less than 10 metres from their enemies during the trench-warfare. Backed by the British, the French, the New Zealanders and others, the Aussies fought well, but they were vastly outnumbered and their fighting proved futile. The British commanders had underestimated their enemy, the Ottoman empire, so after 8 months of fighting, and with winter approaching, they evacuated.
We stayed in the Turkish town of Canakkale, on the Asian side of the Dardanelles. It’s a great little town of some 100,000 people and is well set up for tourists with heaps of restaurants, shops, bars and cafes. It serves as a great base from which to see Gallipoli. It is just a short ferry ride across to the Gallipoli Peninsula, where all the famous sites from the Gallipoli Campaign are located .
The locations are too spread out to cover by foot or bicycle. Hiring a car is an option, but we chose one of several tour operators. We chose Hassle Free Tours who had great reviews and we weren’t disappointed. Our Turkish guide (Ercan) was incredibly knowledgeable and prided himself on giving a truthful perspective from both sides.
We visited Brighton Beach, Anzac Cove, the Aussie, New Zealand and Turkish cemeteries, several memorials, the actual trenches and a tunnel dug by the Aussies, Lone Pine and The Nek. The Turkish Government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have done an amazing job maintaining the entire area.
On April 25th, 2015, the Anzac Day Ceremony is going to be massive. People who visit at that time will be part of a highly emotional event that will stay with them forever. They will barely be able to move for the crowds, so a lot of the experience will be lost. Visiting all the famous sites will be a nightmare. Even on a quiet day like ours there were a lot of coaches and visitors, with typically several buses at each site. I am glad we visited without the huge crowds.
For the statistically minded, here are the death tolls from the Gallipoli campaign….
Turkey (Ottoman Empire)….. 56, 643
Great Britain…. 34,072
New Zealand…. 2721
(Total allied losses = 56,707)
Some of the more touching moments of our visit included:
* seeing the site of the actual landings
* looking out over Suvla Bay
* the grave of Simpson (of Simpson and his donkey fame)
* Attaturk’s famous speech about the dead soldiers, now carved in stone
* the site of the charge, made famous in the movie ‘Gallipoli’ with Mel Gibson
* reading the inscriptions on the Aussie graves
* seeing the grave of a 17 year old lad, whose war lasted just 8 days
Having visited Gallipoli, I know that I will find the 2015 Anzac Day Ceremony much more emotional than usual. If you get the chance, you must pay a visit to Gallipoli to see it for yourself. You won’t regret it!