In remembrance

Monday 20 May 2013

Poppies, sunset and warship on the horizon

As we drove down the road approaching the Gallipoli Peninsula we noticed a large number of naval vessels in the bay to the west. This area of North Western Turkey lies very close to Greece so we thought little of it. We carried on our way and parked up in a peaceful spot just north of Kabatepe and close to the ANZAC landing beaches we wanted to visit. In the bay a Turkish naval patrol ship zig-zagged up and down and we watched curiously as it saw off a little fishing boat in the evening.

In bed some time later we were awoken by a very loud dull thud followed by an almighty boom, the van shook and everything inside rattled. Dave jumped up quickly and peered through the curtains but could see nothing as the whole thing repeated again and again. After half an hour it stopped and peace resumed. At about 2.30am it started again for another half hour. Dave’s thoughts were that it was naval warships some way in the distance firing live artillery possibly towards a firing range.  As we lay there in the dead of night listening to the sounds of artillery all around us it really brought home the bitter battles fought in this area in 1915. Checking the internet later we found out it was the first day of the largest annual exercise of the Turkish Navy.


The Allied objectives in the Gallipoli campaign were, to capture Istanbul, forcing Turkey out of the war and securing an ice-free supply route to Russia. This would open another front against Germany and Austria-Hungary. There were 4 phases to the attack in 1915 and after 9 months of bitter fighting the Commonwealth nations had lost more than 36,000 soldiers. 

The peninsula has 31 war cemeteries. 9000 soldiers  remains were identified, 13000 were unidentified and the remains of 14000 were never found. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with an overall annual budget of £43 million, has provided fitting resting places for these brave men and ensured that families, friends and visitors can pay their respects as well as learn about the history of the area and the battles. It is quite sobering walking around the cemeteries and reading the inscriptions. When we visited there was an abundance of beautiful wild red poppies by many of the gravestones, on the foreshores and in the fields. Many of the British lie in the beautifully located but unromantically named Hill 10.

The Turkish Army. led by a gifted young officer called Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), also lost many soldiers, estimated at 87,000, and a large memorial to their dead stands high on Bomba Sirti (Bomb Hill). In this area, which the ANZAC troops called Quinns Point, the two sides fought bitterly at very close quarters – so close instead of exchanging fire at times they exchanged drinks, cigarettes and gifts.

Turkish War Memorial at Gallipoli

John McCrae’s famous WW1 poem -
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields....

Inscription on a young British soldiers grave

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