My Gallipoli Visit, 1999 – Letter to Home

Istanbul (used to be Constantinople) Thursday, 22 April, 1999

Dear Judy and family,

Here I am 6.45 am, good clear, crisp Spring morning, with a good night’s sleep under my belt. Fairly good I say as I was forced immediate anal download about 2 this morning by a can of Fanta a few months, I discovered later, past its Best By date. Thought initially that the Turks might have had a local variation of the Coca Cola, Atlanta, Georgia recipe as it was far different in taste from any Fanta I ever had before. Anyway the up side is that I have had a good scouring out.

The Turks are extremely friendly and very outgoing, especially if they are in their family’s carpet business, selling postcards, or endeavouring to entice you into their cafe. They’re well disposed to Kiwis (more so to gullible ones like me) and without exception are very conscious of the fact that it is Anzac Day on Sunday. It’s almost as if they see us as comrades at arms! More like it is an opportunity to sell you something. However I probably do them an injustice as the history of Gallipoli tells us that apart from the necessary hostilities of war the Turks were well disposed to, and respectful of their Anzac opposites in the events of the ill-fated British inspired campaign to control the Dardanelles.

As to the ·current “war in Kosovo” and “political situation” as I’ve heard it described, I had a little experience of its effect yesterday when we were delayed by 30 minutes in getting out of Frankfurt for Istanbul. This was due to congested air space in this part of Europe with Nato adding to the congestion. Never the less the flight made up time and we were eventually only 10 minutes or so behind schedule on arrival in Istanbul. I suspect also that we went a little wider of the usual route and spent some time over Romania.

Coming into Istanbul one could only be impressed with the development taking place – medium density housing under construction everywhere and each development with its own inevitable Mosque and Minaret.

Just digressing for a moment – what a tragedy in Littleton, Colorado. I recall visiting that City in 1978 – that time Jude you strayed over to the wrong side of the tracks in downtown Denver for a hair cut. I am keeping up with World events per courtesy of CNN, which is the only English-speaking programme I can find on TV in Istanbul (I have found later that there are no English-speaking programmes in the areas I have been in outside of Istanbul). Not at all like Mongolia where there are many, but I suppose air waves piracy is not as simple to practice here.

Have just received my 7 .15 wake up call. I could have skipped it as I received a more effective one earlier at about 5 or so when my Muslim mates were called to prayers. I bet there is a high birth rate among the non-Muslims, just like Te Kuiti with the trains hooting very early in the morning at the level crossings at each end of the town. What does one do when you cannot get back to sleep?

My bed was very comfortable; that is when I sorted out that it didn’t really lack a top sheet with one being confined to the cover for warmth. The duvet was hidden in a cupboard – a slightly different set up from any I have experienced before.

I am now in Guzelyah near Çanakkale, which is a ferry ride across the Dardanelles from Eceabat, on the other side of the Gallipoli Peninsula from where the Anzac events took place. Arrived yesterday (Friday 23 April) after a 6 hour Coach journey down from Istanbul per courtesy of Hassle Free Tours, which I have now re-branded ‘Trouble Unlimited’. Evidently they had overlooked that yesterday was a National Holiday with a Carnival for children. Istanbul, normal population 12 million, was up to its eyeballs and getting from one place to another was just like Auckland at 8 am but worse because of the narrow streets. I was eventually picked up from my Hotel 1 and a half hours late and put on a coach full of very nice young NZ and Australian OEers. The itinerary said it was a 4 !/2 hour trip but as I have said it was actually 6 hours. I was given the impression that my Coach had gone on earlier, but this was not the case. It actually arrived here some 3 hours after me. I had been luckier than my tour companions who seem to be a good lot – mostly Aussies and a slightly older age group to the OEers.

Back to Istanbul. I spent Thursday on a tour which took in St Sophia Mosque, Blue Mosque, Obelisk of the Theodosius, Serpentine Column from Egypt, German Fountain of Wilhelm II (wasn’t he the one behind our battling the,Turks?) a Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, a flash carpet and jewellery bazaar, another mosque (Harry Childs would have been on this tour when he was here I am sure!), Suleymaniye Mosque (the stained glass windows were just out of this world) and the highlight for me Topkapi Palace which housed the Sultans since the 1400’s. Disappointingly I wasn’t allowed into the Hareem. Here they had their Treasury collection including the massive swords of a number of the Sultans, Mohamed’s footprint and hairs from his beard, one of the arms of St John the Baptist, guns, daggers – they were a blood thirsty lot – gold and silver ornaments, armour, clothing etc. The overwhelming thing to me though was the antiquity of it all – much of it from hundreds of years before the Maori migrated to New Zealand.

Turkey is said to be the Cradle of Civilisation and one can see the justification for this when you can see examples of the Neolithic age, the Bronze Age, and consider that Troy reaches back to 3000 BC.  This prompted me to recall from High School days “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron – “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Also King Midas, the first people in the world to mint coins, Alexander the Great, into AD with St Paul, and the building of the first Christian church, the Ottomans, the Mongolians had a go at Turkey in about 1100 AD, followed by characters like Mehmet the Conqueror and Suileman the Magnificent on to the founder of the present day republic 75 years ago Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who commanded the Turks at Gallipoli. Gee whiz what a place – makes one feel so humble.

There is also its strategic location to be considered. Istanbul straddling the Bosphorus Strait which leads from the Dardanelles, which in tum leads from the Aegean Sea, into the Black Sea and is one side in Europe with bridges that take you to the other in Asia. You can see how control of the Dardanelles would have given the Brits control of the Balkans in 1915 – but that was not to be.

I’m resuming this in Celcuk, Southern Turkey, near Ismir and 3 km’s down the road from the ancient Roman City of Ephesus which was founded in about 1lOOBC.

Back to Anzac Day and Gallipoli. On 24 April we took the 11am ferry from Çanakkale across to Eceabat and thence by our coach to Gallipoli, first up the Kabatepe Museum. Here on display they had many of the instruments of this bloody and hopeless campaign ordered by the British Admiralty and Winston Churchill under a compact with the Russians,
which if it had been successful in gaining control of the Dardanelles, would have allowed the Russians to invade Turkey. The irony of it is that if it hadn’t been for this compact Turkey would also have opposed the Germans.

On then to the real scenes of battle – Anzac Cove, so named very recently by the Turkish Government. This was the only sheltered area the Anzacs had from the Turks’ artillery beyond and higher in the vicinity of the Museum. This was probably where Grand Dad Sydney John Vine was with the HQ Company. If it hadn’t been for this quirk of geography it would all have been over for the Anzacs in much less than the 280 days they were on Gallipoli. If they had been landed on the correct beach – Brighton Beach – they would perhaps have succeeded in their mission but that was not to be. One has to see it to believe the odds against gaining a foothold on the Peninsula. On landing the troops were immediately faced with the most precipitous terrain you would ever see and a very narrow beach on which thousands of troops were disembarked in the early hours of 25 April 1915. In the end we gained something like 3.2 km, Chunnik Bair, held by the Wellington Regiment under Colonel Malone for 3 days until the 90 remaining of something like 5-600 were relieved by the Brits who were pushed out almost by the Turks. In the meantime Malone had been killed by a Royal Navy salvo that fell short of its target, the Turks endeavouring to regain Chunnik Bair.  Incidentally. this was the only time any of the Anzacs got to see their target, the Dardanelles. And so it goes on, act of heroism after act of heroism but with tremendous respect shown by each side for the other.

Lone Pine where the Australian Memorial stands was a classic example of the hopelessness of it all. Here the trenches were 3 7 metres apart.  In the final battle here thousands from each side died, many of them in opponent’s arms such was the closeness of the battle. Many were buried locked together in death in the mass grave on this site. The Turks in fact had been instructed not to use their firearms because of the possibility of hitting their own comrades. It was all hand to hand stuff.

Terribly inspirational and phrases such as “the Anzac Spirit”, “the birth of the nations” and the “forging of the national identity” mean so much more to have seen where these phenomena were created. Our Turkish guide, a former submarine Captain, was at great pain to convey the respect of the Turks for the Anzacs, and one would have to acknowledge the respect that grew among ours for their foe. The Turks had been under the command of Mustafa Kemil (later to become Ataturk – “Father of the Turks” – the first President of the Republic founded in 1923 and the founder of modem Turkey) – and were selected for the Gallipoli battles from the local population. They were fighting to protect their own land and families making them even more determined to repel the Anzacs and Brits who were battling away on the foot of the Peninsula at Cape Helles – the site now of the Turkish Memorial.

We arrived back at 10.30pm from this expedition to the Peninsula, showered and were back on the coach at midnight to join the congestion making it back across the water from Çanakkale for the services at Gallipoli. We arrived at the Dawn Service venue, Ari Bumu Cemetery, Anzac Cove, at around 2am to await the commencement of the Service at 5.30.

Coincidently I had met Heidi Morton’s best man on the coach earlier in the day so we settled down among the fallen of the Australian 51st Light Horse with a dose or two of rum to keep out the bitter cold. We breakfasted in the Coach after the Service, all feeling so humbled and emotional by the sacrifices of the earlier generation of Kiwis and Aussies and then set out for the Turks’ Service at Helles. Here there was a full turnout despite the fact that Turkey’s Remembrance Day was held as recently as 18 March. Very formal with much ceremony.

It was only at this point that we observed a higher military security presence related to recent events in Turkey involving the Kurds who are under much pressure to exit from Iran – very heavily armed troops everywhere and Gunboats standing off the shore.

Back to the Australian Service at Lone Pine at 11.35, which I chose to miss, going on to Chunnik Bair to get a good possy for ours at 1300. The Service was all I expected it to be, and more. One couldn’t help be impressed with the large numbers of young people present throughout and the respect they showed for members of the earlier generation who had established national values which these people seemed to be keen to hold to.

I couldn’t help thinking that an experience such as this would be extremely valuable for all young New Zealanders and to hear the lessons being so well articulated by a Turkish submarine captain whose farmer grandfather had been killed at Gallipoli made the messages even more meaningful.

We arrived back at our digs around 5.30 pm completely stuffed. I lay down at about 6 for a brief kip and about two pees later woke at 7 am.

I am now getting back to this at Izmir airport – Wednesday 28 April. Arrived here at 12.30 and have to wait until 2.00 for the Check In to open and departure at 3.55 for Munich/Brussels. The cab fare from the hotel in Selcuk to the airport – don’t poo yourself Jude! – was about $60 US. The driver told me they have a “poor problem” in Turkey. It was an hour’s drive. As a result I have 2500 Turkish Lira left in my pocket; less than 1 US dollar. An US dollar buys around 360,000 Turkish Lira so after having been speaking in millions for a week I now feel quite poor.

I will get back now to my trip down from Istanbul to Cannakkale. The countryside we passed through was planted mainly in various grain crops – wheat and com predominantly. It was interesting to note that unlike New Zealand there were very few, in fact I cannot recall seeing one, houses on their own. All were clustered in small villages with the inevitable
Mosque and Minaret I suppose this was reason of security and is a hangover from the difficult past.

Turkey must be the land of the tractor. It’s Spring of course and I must have seen thousands in the fields ploughing, discing etc. On some of the smaller allotments I saw women hoeing away without a male in sight. They were probably away doing the dishes!! More likely they were the tractor drivers.

As we were following the coastline it was amazing to see thousands, and I mean thousands, of seaside apartments either newly completed or in various stages of construction. Construction must stop for the winter and with many it was quite obvious that work had just resumed. All are of concrete construction – Winstones would have been on a winner here. Advertising hoardings selling holiday homes abounded.

The country between Canakkale and Izmir was quite different again. This was a 7 hour bus trip – again ‘Trouble Unlimited’, but no bother this time. This followed a visit to Troy and a look at a replica of the famous wooden horse. Troy dates from 3000BC and is 9 cities built on top of each other. At present you get to look at the remains of the 7th I think it is in the layers. Unfortunately a German by the name of Heinrich Weaner, or something like that, in the 1930’s after having discovered the site of the ancient city by applying passages from Homer’s Ilyad, dug a 30 odd metre deep trench (he was not an archaeologist) which collapsed the temple around which the city was located. However it was an amazing scene when one takes into account the age of the ruins and considers that there is evidence of means of sanitation engaging sewers with water being delivered by pipe from the surrounding area – all using gravity but as advanced as that we use in our modem cities. You also get quite awestruck with the age of things when the guide points out two artificial hills in
the distance which are the burial sites of the Greeks Achilles and Ajax.

Most of the land was in Olives and at one of the stops along the way there were about 20 stalls all looking alike and selling the same fruit and nuts. Apart from the WC and 2 Bufes selling apple tea and soft drinks this was all there was. I got stuck into the Figs and the driver offered me some of his green almonds to try. The nuts are beautiful. I bought some Macadamia from a blind man with the typical barrow type stall on the waterfront in Canakkale. He was able to handle the weights and balance OK but had a small boy with him handling the cash. Pistachios also seem to be very popular and the Aussie guy next to me on the bus shared his, together with his dried apricots – all were very nice.

On this part of the trip we were passing along the Aegean Sea with the Greek Island of Lesmos out to the West. The temperature was much warmer from that in Istanbul. Yesterday, Tuesday 27 April – David’s Birthday – I went out to Ephesus, an ancient Roman City, dating back to 11OOBC – younger than Troy. Here the diggings were more carefully undertaken and the full splendour of buildings constructed around the last century BC and the first AD can be enjoyed. The Germans have further massive excavations and reconstruction underway at present, so this will be more impressive in the future. Something that put this site into perspective for me was a group of Australians who were taking turns at reading relevant passages from the Bible as they progressed through the ruins. The people who lived here were some of those who in the Book of Acts were “appeased by the Town Clerk”.

Have just experienced a classic example of the kindness these Turks show to New Zealanders. I purchased some gear in Istanbul for which I am eligible for a tax refund To get the refund I had to get the purchase documentation cleared by Customs on the way out of Turkey. First a very nice young woman from the Tourist Office went out of her way to show me precisely where to go. Having left me with the Customs officials I was obliged to produce my passport. When they saw I was a Kiwi all three in the office asked if I had enjoyed my time in Turkey and one ordered tea for all of us while we got down to business. I cannot imagine this happening anywhere else in the World

Having come to end of my time in Turkey I shall despatch this at the next opportunity.

Love to all