Gallipoli Part 1 - Battlefields
Trip Start Apr 05, 2012
29Trip End May 05, 2012
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Where I stayed
We arrived what seems like weeks ago. It must have been Monday night. Wandered the rather quiet waterfront before a fairly early night. We were somewhat surprised, we'd really expected the place to be buzzing with Aussies.
Our hotel - The Grand Eceabat Hotel was obviously one of the centres of the universe - well at least to those of us here in the Gallipoli Peninsula. The manager was a busy bee from early morn till .... probably the next early morn. He is quite an organiser but Pete is ready to provide some free consulting on logistics etc. If only he could catch Ramazan for a minute or two! Maybe he'll feel strongly enough to email him. Pete has just said, very pertinently - it is a little like the movie - the Best Excellent Marigold Hotel (or whatever it is called). So much effort but profits flittered away through lack of organisation.
The first morning was for us a bit of a rest time. It was a Monday morning but a Turkish celebration called Children's Day. We think a little like Independence Day, but who knows. We were told a good vantage point would be to watch from the 5th floor (roof top) restaurant. I was down in the room doing some laundry when I heard the drums so abandoned my post and rushed downstairs and found myself irresistibly drawn down the street to the hub of the action. It was fascinating. Hardly a foreigner amongst the crowd and I suspect any foreigner that was watching was probably watching from the 5th floor. I was just to the left of the main seating area for dignitaries - too close really as I had found a good spot just by the speakers. And I might add the speakers worked very well!! I think they wanted the sound to carry to at least the 5th floor!!
It was certainly all about the children although of course the VIP seating contained no one under the age of about 70. And the crowd was great - all the family was out, including Nans and Pops! I just loved watching the people. The excited children, teachers fussing around like mother hens, Mum's tidying up the hair and tweaking the costumes, and Dad with the video camera capturing every moment! Just like back at home - but in Turkish. There was a long wait but I was quite comfortable watching from my little secret spot in the shade beside the speaker.
Eventually at 10 a.m. proceedings commenced. Some of the speakers barely needed the microphone, and the sound through my speaker was distorted in pain! they started with the very little ones and progressed up through the ages. Suffice to say it was very entertaining. Costumes were great and effort was varied. The best part was watching the crowd!
After a bit of an explore we went to the roof top restaurant for lunch - standard fare as we became more experienced. Adequate and nutritional, I would imagine. Soup, followed by a meal of rice and some casserole type accompaniment. An individual bowl of fresh salad (95% lettuce) was by each place setting, and a bowl of the sweet Turkish deserts. We also had bottles of water and tea and coffee on tap.
That first day we had an afternoon trip to the Gallipoli battlefields. What we very quickly came to realise was that there were a bunch of us booked to do pretty well the same things over the next couple of days and we formed an informal "group". Anastasia and Jock from Germany. Jock ex Townsville and a pilot of small planes in Papua New Guinea - now not working, but with Anastasia an American from Wisonsin serving as a GP with the American Army based in Germany. She told us that she pays off her student loan on 7 May 2020 - and her retirement date in 2025. She works mostly 12 or 13 hour days for 5 days at a time. We spent the night at Anzac Cove with them but there was little talking that night! Stuart and Angela from Bath (lovely couple - Stuart had a wacky sense of humour and he and Pete had a good rapport over maps - too long a story but a thread that continued through the whole time together. I really enjoyed chatting with Angela - a manager of a care facility for the aged just outside Bath. Then there were heaps of others and a disproportionate number from Brisbane!
The Gallipoli tour was very interesting and hats off to the guide who did an excellent trip and made it so informative and entertaining etc, that we barely noticed the temporary construction of the stands and porta loos for the Anzac Day events.
The bus headed off to Kuba Tepe - a small port/jetty area on the Aegean Sea side of the peninsula. It was our first experience with Assan, our guide for the next couple of trips. He was amusing, factual, diplomatic, and thought provoking! He gave us 4 versions of the same story - from the various perspectives of the players. He was particularly interesting regarding the various stories of why the landing was made at Anzac Cove. He had 4 versions of why - but maintains that it was no mistake and he had a document that he says will be released on the 100th anniversary that was an order to the Australian commanders and details the landing site and plan of attack etc. I've photographed it and will be interesting to examine it in detail. He also sang a famous Turkish song - Cannakale March, and then we heard a version of Waltzing Matilda we haven't heard before - all about the Anzac Landing etc. We got onto a car/bus ferry - although no bus was taken on board, and we did a couple hours cruising up the coast past Anzac Cove and as far North as Suva Bay. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the lay of the land. We also had a running commentary from Australian historians who gave really detailed and interesting stories. This is a recent addition to the whole Battlefields experience and we felt very privileged.
Once we got back to Kaba Tepe we got back on board our bus and our guide proceeded to take us through the battlefield sites. We went to Lone Pine which will be the site of the Australian commemoration on Anzac Day, and many other smaller ones - like Quinn's Post, The Nek, Johnstone's Jolly, then up to the main Turkish memorial, then to Chunuk Bair - the New Zealand cemetery - and the highest point and main objective of the war. The New Zealanders held it for just 2 days I think! There is one memorial we stopped at where a soldier is carrying another - obviously wounded or dead. Again he gave us various versions. What I believe to be the true version is that it depicts the case where there was a lull in shooting after a very heated battle, and a Turkish soldier raised a white flag, climbed out of his trench, picked up a dead or wounded Australian Officer, carried him to the Australian lines and gently lowered him down, and then returned to his trench. There were many examples of this behaviour in what they call the gentlemen's war! Another version is that the statue depicts a New Zealand soldier carrying a drunk Australian. Ha,ha!!
It was incredibly emotional reading the epitaphs on the gravestones - too many to read as we only had a few minutes at most sites but enough to get the story. Of course the other very sad thing was the ages of the soldiers - so young! One was just 15 years old. From the boat the hillsides didn't look too challenging but once on the hills you could get a much better picture of how they were set an impossible task. Steep exposed hill sides either with no scrub, or such thick scrub it would have been so difficult to move through. On some of the sites the Turkish and Anzac trenches were just the width of a single lane road apart. In between fighting they chucked cans of food across to the other side! The trenches were so close together that apparently if an incendiary device was hurled from one trench to another, there was time for it to be chucked back three or four times before it actually exploded.
There are about 26 Australian cemeteries (some of which are shared with New Zealand & Britain), and many others - New Zealand, Turkish, French and British.
One site - The Nek is particularly awful. Apparently about 326 Australians died here fighting on a piece of land the size of a tennis court. And this fight was just a diversion to keep the Turks engaged while the British tried a landing a little further north at Suva Bay.
Some of the statistics are hard to comprehend. They reckon there are 6,000 bullets for every square metre of ground the Australians occupied. That area is basically 3 mms by1 km. Pete of course did the maths!
I am sure you've got the picture by now! It was certainly a very harrowing afternoon and evening. When we got back to the hotel the atmosphere changed immediately - we had all signed up for an "extra" - a Turkish evening at the hotel we were staying in. Just as well we did as the noise was incredible - we would not have felt comfortable down in our room with the party sounds above us!
It wasn't quite what we expected. Yes - there was a Turkish dancer - one of the manager's family members was brought through - she changed costumes during the evening and I'm not sure if we were meant to think she was a different person each time. The young people were the ones having the most fun - and by "young ones" I'm meaning the school kids who were touring in groups - so your 16/17 year olds. Even the slightly older "young ones" - i.e. those independent travellers doing their year or two abroad didn't feel inclined to join in! Pete said that at one stage whilst I was out on the deck chatting a whole lot of people did join in for a bit of a dance. As I said the music was very loud so quite a few of us wandered out onto the deck so we could chat. It was a good evening - and for those of us who had been on the battlefield tour, it was probably a good circuit breaker. It would have been easy to gone to bed brooding over the madness of landing on the Gallipoli peninsular.
One thing I have to say is that the manager, his staff, and his extended family all put in a huge amount of effort during the entire time we were there. They seemed to be busy day and night. You certainly had to give them 10/10 for effort and enthusiasm. Not only was it a busy time because of the ANZAC commemorative events, but it coincided with the Turkish public holidays celebrating their independence.