A lesson on ANZAC Day

The 2015 Gallipoli Ballot has been drawn and 10,000 lucky Australians and New Zealanders now have their tickets in hand to attend a once in a lifetime experience – to be on Turkey’s Gelibolu Yarımadası (Gallipoli Peninsula) for ANZAC Day, April 25. The event will mark the centenary of the ill-fated Allied landings at Gallipoli during the First World War (WW1).

This means Istanbul is about to experience a ground-swell of “Aussies” and “Kiwis” during the latter weeks of April. In previous years, we would predict the coming of ANZAC Day by the sudden presence of casual board shorts in cold conditions, thongs flip-flops, freckled skin and profanity pounding the pavements of Sultanahmet.

Tank tops, tattoos, flags and a barbie (BBQ) - Australians in full patriotic bloom!

Photo: Tank tops, tattoos, Aussie flags and a barbie (BBQ) full of sangas (sausages) – Australians in full patriotic bloom!

But this year, we’re expecting a more refined crowd. More dignitaries and less backpackers. More veterans and less beer guzzling world travellers under the age of 25 – due to the ballot’s attempt to manage crowd numbers.

Whilst those attending are more likely to blend in, media attention and heightened security measures will follow as dignitaries and celebrities alike gather for a front row seat at the commemorations.

Prince Charles and (swoonworthy) Prince Harry will be in town. So too will Russel Crowe, who returns to Turkey after doing a sterling job on entwining Australian and Turkish WW1 stories born of the Gallipoli Campaign in, The Water Diviner, known in Turkey as Son Umut (2014).

Prince Harry is hot

Photo: Will having a sign like this earn me a hand in marriage high-five from Prince Harry?

If you’re not an Australian or a New Zealander, then ANZAC Day may be a foreign concept to you. ANZAC Day is like your Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day – our day “down under” to patriotically honour the men and women who served, fought and died for our countries in the military missions throughout history.

So important is this day, that it’s a declared a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand. In most cities and towns, governments will host memorial services and marches to honour the significance of the day in defining our national identities.

ANZAC Day itself commemorates the crucial events on Turkish soil when the (then) young countries of Australia and New Zealand first engaged in battle on an international front. This occurred in the early hours of April 25, 1915, when a long-awaited ground invasion of Allied forces stormed the Western shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to conquer the Dardanelles – the strategic geographic gateway linking the Aegean and Marmara seas.

Gallipoli

Photo: Location of the Dardanelles and the landing area for ANZAC troops labelled with  “ANZAC Cove”.

Approximately 4,000 ANZAC troops of the 3rd Brigade were first ashore near Ari Burnu as the Allied “covering force” around 4am. By nightfall over 20,000 ANZAC, British and French soldiers were ashore in armed combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula* against the army of the Ottoman Empire, that included one Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

The British Empire, leading the ANZAC troops, believed defeating the Ottomans over the Dardanelles would provide passage to the capital of the Ottoman Empire – Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). First take the land-based forts and batteries lining the Dardanelles, then sail the Royal Navy down the strait to the capital. The strategy, envisioned through rose-coloured glasses, assumed a multi-pronged victory; Capture of the supply routes to Russia via the Bosphorus and Black Sea, and create a new frontier from the east to support existing battles on the Western Front in Europe.

The landings on April 25 were a follow-up to the unsuccessful Anglo-French naval charge to Constantinople at the head of the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. Victory by the Ottoman Army that day is now celebrated annually in Turkey as Çanakkale Victory Day or Martyr’s Day.

The Gallipoli landings and subsequent nine-month campaign evoked a series of well-documented heroic stories, but, the Gallipoli Campaign in truth was a military failure for the Allies. Many mishaps were brought on by poor planning or execution and an underestimation of the full strength of the Ottoman forces.

The major error pertinent to the ANZAC’s campaign involved their landing boats on the morning of April 25. The pinnaces towing the “covering force” ashore drifted further north than their intended targets at Gaba Tepe and the 4,000 ANZACS troops landed at the foot of soaring sandstone terrain adjacent to the areas now known as Ari Burnu, ANZAC Cove and North Beach. The landscape alone was not the issue, the majority of the covering force troops were greeted by snipers and heavy machine gun fire – many did not survive.

Gallipoli Peninsula

Photo: The terrain that greeted the ANZAC troops.

What followed was utter confusion, dispersed battalions and an abandonment of original plans to take Mal Tepe on the high ground by the end of day one (April 25). Over the following months, soldiers fought largely on foot over the cliffs, ridges and plateaus of the peninsula. Many hours were spent digging trenches to protect soldiers and enable supply routes through the treacherous terrain. The amount of tunnelling and digging that took place earned the ANZAC troops the nickname, “the diggers,” which is a name you’ll hear today to describe Australian armed forces.

Lady luck rarely struck the Allies on the peninsula for the remainder of the campaign.* By November 1915, with deteriorating weather conditions and an increase in Ottoman strength, the British Empire finally succumbed to the enormity of the target and ordered a mass evacuation involving over 140,000 troops, horses and artillery. The majority of troops were evacuated over four nights in December with the last of the British and French soldiers leaving the peninsula on January 9, 1916.  The evacuation to the Aegean Sea was met with little resistance and causalities were minimal – a rare military success in the whole campaign.

Leaving in its wake, an estimated 392,856 causalities of Allied and Ottomans soldiers (130,842 deaths and 262,014 wounded). Almost half of these were Ottoman casualties.  As for Australia, of the 50,000 men who made it to Gallipoli, over half of them were casualties of war (8,709 deaths and 19,441 wounded). New Zealanders, with a smaller contingent of around 14,000 men also suffered a high causality rate with 2,779 killed and 5,212 wounded (almost 8,000 casualties).

Also in the wake of the campaign were thousands of Gallipoli legacies. Stories of Australian and Turkish heroes and of “mateship” that formed across enemy trenches – just metres apart. Stories of bravery and tragedy etched in diaries and letters of those who were there. Photos preserved from the past that tell their own story. Legendary stories of ceasefire days (to bury the dead and collect the injured) where the “Johnnys and Mehmets” (ANZACs and Ottomans) exchanged cigarettes, chocolate and played football (or cricket – depending on which side of the story is told). These words and these legacies, along with the acknowledgement that the Gallipoli Campaign was a bloody battle that should have been avoided, is what binds Australia, New Zealand and Turkey today.

My Australian uncle recently asked me, “Why don’t the Turks dislike Australians? We invaded their lands and killed their people.”  The words of Gallipoli’s Colonel Mustafa Kemal who went onto become Atatürk – the father of modern day Turkey and first President of the Republic of Turkey – came to my mind.

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 now 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.

The ANZACS are Turkish sons too are words of great forgiveness. And, when respected leaders show great forgiveness, their people will follow and friendships are formed.

One of the benefits of living in Turkey as an Australian is hearing the Ottoman side of the war and forming a greater view of what the war meant for all our countries. What most Australians don’t realise is that all three countries began to form their modern-day identities – their national identities – in those eight months at Gallipoli in 1915. It wasn’t just a defining event for Aussies and Kiwis – it was also for the country we now openly visit and love (and call home) called, Türkiye (Turkey).

The thousands of Aussies and Kiwis due to land in Turkey this month will carry their own stories with them. Some may even hold the possessions or replicas of those who fought or served at Gallipoli. I will be joining them and my Turkish friends, some of them descendants of the campaign, are keen to meet them. I will be at Canakkale proudly baring the replica medals of my great granduncle, George Albert Fearn, who was part of the covering force with Western Australian 11th Battalion, B Company.

George came ashore in the second wave of landings – the wave that came under the heaviest fire once the Ottomans were alerted to the ANZAC arrivals. Many of the men he landed with did not make it to the beach, yet he survived the entire campaign, and for this I am extremely proud to represent him and my family near Gallipoli among my friends – the modern day Johnnys and Mehmets – who will be with me as the sun rises behind the peninsula signifying 100 years since our ANZAC “fathers” first touched Turkish soil.

Lest we forget.

* For more information about the whole campaign, including the role of the British, French and other Allies visit the excellent websites: www.gallipoli.gov.au; www.abc.net.auwww.awm.gov.auhttp://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au; and www.anzacwebsites.com.

Come back tomorrow to read, 16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary– a post for Aussies and Kiwis coming to Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary.

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