13 September 2023
For this traveler, two important sites are on my itinerary. One is forever linked with Winston Churchill and the other to Brad Pitt. Both are sites of great historic significance.
Anzac Bay and Gallipoli witnessed fierce battles between the Turks and Allied soldiers in World War One. While Churchill would become “The Roaring Lion” holding Britain together against the Germans in WWII, he was not the hero in WWI.
As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill oversaw Britain’s naval efforts. Experiencing success elsewhere, Churchill sent Allied ships and troops (mostly French and British) into the Dardanelles to relieve Turkish pressure on the Russians. This region of the Middle East was critical as the Dardanelles gave access between the Aegean, the Black Sea, and Russia.
While no army or siege defeated the massive fortifications of Constantinople since the Ottomans in 1453, Churchill hoped, if successful, his navy could seize Constantinople. When the ships failed, troops marched in. His decisions proved disastrous.
Assault on Gallipoli
In April 1915, The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which included troops from Australia and New Zealand, began their amphibious assault at Gallipoli. The campaign failed spectacularly. After 8 months of fighting and a quarter million casualties, the British campaign ended and its invasion force withdrawn. It was a great victory for the Ottoman Empire. One of its commanders, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, would become the founder and ultimately the first president of modern Turkey.
For Churchill, the campaign was a failure. However, the Forces of Australia and New Zealand have never forgotten their fallen comrades. The campaign is considered the beginning of Australian and New Zealand beginning of national consciousness.
Above the cliffs of the Dardanelles, all along the western coasts of Gallipoli Peninsula, the Ottomans dug in. German artillery and aircraft assisted. Confusion, over confidence by commanders, broken terrain, thick vegetation, and general lack of reconnaissance combined to spell disaster for approaching troops. Naval gunfire was of little help.
ANZAC suffered over 2000 casualties the first day. While securing some high ground, there ensued a futile and gruesome stalemate. Thereafter, little additional ground was gained but many more casualties were suffered before troops retreated 8 months later.
The anniversary of troop landings, 25 April, is known as Anzac Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp). It is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in the two countries. For New Zealand, the importance of the Battle of Gallipoli cannot be underestimated. The heroism of their soldiers made their sacrifices iconic in New Zealand memory and led to a psychological independence for the nation.
Here in Gallipoli, the Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial commemorates the Ottoman and Anzac soldiers who died on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Anzak Koyu Plajt continues to be a popular destination for Australians and New Zealanders to attend dawn services. Cemeteries are visited. Of over 1100 soldiers buried at Lone Pine, a large number of markers (499) note “believed to be buried in this cemetery.” A long stone wall commemorates another 5000 soldiers whose graves are unknown.
And Turks also honor these sites and memorials. One memorable statue is of a Grandfather, a last surviving soldier of these battles, who took his young granddaughter to the gravesites of his comrades. Sad are the cemeteries of the lost, but sadder still is that most names are not reflected on markers. Turks had no system for identifying the dead. Most markers just say “son of.” Thus, most parents have no way to find the grave of their lost sons.
However, it is a good thing that we never forget. Nor are these soldiers forgotten.