An intriguing enigma was playing on my mind as we drove from Troy to the Gallipoli Peninsula:
Why are events of more than one hundred years ago in Gallipoli, awarded an almost mythical status in Australia?
If you are Turkish, Australian or from New Zealand you will have an understanding of the significance of Gallipoli and its importance in the national psyche of your own country. However, there are many people of other nationalities who probably haven’t heard of Gallipoli or if they have, do not understand its importance to other nations.
So why does this small but beautiful peninsula that sits on one side of the Dardanelles Strait, in Turkey, hold such an irrevocable place in the hearts of almost every Australian person?
On April 25 each year, thousands of people turn out at dawn all around Australia (and also in what is now known as Anzac Cove, on the Gallipoli Peninsula) to commemorate the day Australian troops landed in this pretty little cove.
As I have come to understand, the significance of the Gallipoli campaign for Australians (and I imagine for New Zealanders too) is strongly aligned to the birth of nationhood and the development of national identity.
When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federated nation for only 13 years. This was the first major military action fought by a combined Australian and New Zealand force and so it was of course, an extremely important milestone.
But it’s not just a “coming of age story” – it is also about the great courage, endurance, initiative and discipline shown by the ANZACs that continues to capture the imagination of a nation.
Of course it’s not just those that died at Anzac Cove that are remembered on 25 April, the services and ceremonies are about commemorating all soldiers that fought and lost their lives in every subsequent battle in World War l and every other war in which Australians were involved.
For the Turkish, the events at Gallipoli (known to them as “Çanakkale Savasi”) were a great triumph. Turks also remember these events in terms of the birth of nationhood. The victory has been given mythic status within Turkey’s national identity as well.
The struggle against the allied forces in the Dardanelles was the impetus for the Turkish War of Independence, under the charismatic command of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli. The Republic of Turkey came about under his leadership eight years later.
I had plenty of time to mull all this over because we drove “the scenic route” to Anzac Cove. We somehow missed the turn off for the ferry and ended up driving over (at vast expense!) the 1915 Çanakkale Bridge for the second time in as many days.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is absolutely beautiful with fields full of sunflowers, beautiful clumps of lavender scattered everywhere, lovely copses of trees and beautiful views of shimmering blue water.
We were quite surprised at how small Anzac Cove was – only 600 metres long, bounded by the headlands of Arıburnu to the north and Little Arıburnu, known as Hell Spit, to the south.
This is where the Australian and New Zealand troops landed and the beautiful beach became an enormous supply dump with two field hospitals – one at either end.
Looking out over the sandy beach and the clear blue water it was hard to imagine the mayhem that existed in this place during the year of 1915.
I expected to feel the ghosts of those who lost their lives there but it felt peaceful, almost idyllic. However, once we started to read the signs (in Turkish and English) the harsh reality of what occurred here – a badly conceived, ill-fated, and major strategic failure that almost derailed Winston Churchill’s career – settled like a blanket of sadness and anger.
Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops spent eight fruitless months making no ground and achieving nothing. Around 11,500 of them died and thousands more were injured during this futile campaign.
This grim reality sat with us as we drove home, this time via a ferry across the Dardanelles Strait and back to “Sunday” moored in Tuzla on the outskirts of Istanbul.
Back at Viaport Marina we had a couple more days with Jonathan’s brother Jack aboard before he went for a few days of sightseeing in Istanbul.
We went in to Istanbul together by taxi and once Jack was settled into his hotel we all went for a wander towards nearby Sultanahmet Square where many of the top sights are situated.
It was extremely hot and very crowded and we were thankful that we would have the opportunity to do more sightseeing later in the year when it was cooler and hopefully, not so crowded.
We saw the exteriors of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque), Hagia Sophia (once a Christian cathedral, then a mosque, then a museum and now, controversially, a mosque again) and the Basilica Cistern which was closed for renovation but which is now open again.
We had lunch at an old haunt of Jack’s the world famous Pudding Shop (the nickname for the Lale Restaurant in Sultanahmet).
Jack and his wife Carole had visited this renowned cafe back in the 1970s when it was a popular meeting place for young travellers hitting “the hippy trail” – the overland route between Europe and India, Nepal, and elsewhere in Asia.
So named due to the delicious desserts it had on offer, the Pudding Shop was the place to go to meet like minded people, buy and sell combi vans, swap information and recount travellers’ tales. There was also a notice board where people could leave messages. One of the most famous messages was a love letter from “Megan” to “Malcolm” in which she asked for his forgiveness and apologised for “the business down in Greece.”
Miraculously Jack also found the place where he stayed all those years ago – just a stone’s throw from Hagia Sophia. It looked like some kind of community centre now.
In the afternoon we went for a lovely stroll in the Gulhane Park which is just outside the walls of the Topkapi Palace and which was once part of the Palace gardens.
The heat was quite intense so we were grateful for the lovely shade provided by the avenues of tall trees.
We left Jack in the early evening and caught the train back to Tuzla. It was a long trip (25 stops!) but very easy and extremely cheap (less than $3 or €2!).
A short cab ride from the station and we were back in the Viaport shopping centre once again.