Wednesday, May 8, 2013

We Will Remember Them

Of course, while a holiday in Turkey was nice, our main purposes in visiting the country were to attend the ANZAC day dawn service and to pay our respects at the numerous memorials and cemeteries around the Peninsula.
Map showing locations of cemeteries and memorials
on the Peninsula
In the eight month long Gallipoli Campaign of 1915, 44,092 Allies (8,709 Australians, 2,721 Kiwis, 21,255 Britons, 10,000 French, 1358 Indians/Ghurkas, and 49 Canadians) and 86,692 Turks lost their lives. Some of these men died in hospital ships or camps in places such as Limnos Island or Egypt, and some at sea, but by far the majority died on the soil of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Many died where they fell, some on their first day of action.

When possible, those who died were buried in individual graves but it was often too dangerous to collect the bodies from where they fell. For example, after the unsuccessful Turkish offensive of 19 May 1915, over 3,000 dead Turks and 160 ANZACs were left to rot in No Man's Land as it was simply too dangerous to cross the front-line and retrieve the bodies. Finally five days later it was agreed to hold an armistice to bury the dead. On occasions like this, when casualties were heavy, bodies were often buried in mass graves in old trenches or ditches. However, the men were committed to remembering their comrades, and where able they erected wooden crosses and kept records of deaths. In time, permanent cemeteries were established and a chaplain was appointed to maintain the sites and ensure details of those buried were better recorded. When the Campaign was called-off and the men were evacuated (over December 1915 and January 1916), the chaplain undertook an extensive survey of the burial grounds and recorded bearings for isolated graves so that the graves could be located if it was possible to return to the site at a future stage.

In 1919, a Graves Registration Unit arrived in Gallipoli. This unit undertook the difficult task of locating graves and identifying remains, as well as finding and burying all unburied remains. After the evacuation, vegetation had grown up over the Peninsula and a number of the wooden grave-markers had been burnt for firewood, making it difficult to relocate the graves. Eventually, the team completed their mission and passed control to the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.

Over the next few years, the Commission employed a Gallipoli veteran (Lt Cyril Hughes), an architect (Sir John Burnet) and team (made up of Russians, Greeks and Turks) to landscape the cemeteries and create headstones for all men believed to be buried in each area. The team developed a quarry from which they could obtain a ready source of local stone, and that stone was generally transported by sea to the memorial sites. Graves on the Peninsula are different to those on the Western Front due to extreme weather conditions (floods or earthquakes) in the area: headstones are small square pedestals with stone faces; the Cross of Sacrifice is built into a memorial wall, rather than free-standing; and each cemetery is bordered by a ha-ha to channel away potential flood waters.

There are 31 cemeteries across the Peninsula containing 22,000 graves. Of these, 9,000 are named while those unable to be definitively identified are marked as 'believed to be buried in this cemetery'. 'Missing' men and those who died at sea are commemorated on memorials at numerous sites around the Peninsula.

(Thanks to the article 'Mapping Gallipoli' for most of the above information.)

On April 23, we arrived on the Gallipoli Peninsula and set out to explore the memorials of the National Park.

At the southern entrance to the National Park, near Kabatepe

The Peninsula is rich with history. It hangs thick in the air and adds a solemnity to the beauty of the area. The remnants of war litter the ground from Bulair in the north to Cape Helles in the south. At the entrance to the National Park, gun emplacements perch precariously on the sand, or sit firmly entrenched in the hills. The present still carries physical reminders of the past.

Further north is Ari Burnu, the main cemetery for those who died at Anzac Cove. A place I will never forget.
Row after row of marble headstones. So clean and perfect. So white.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

Ari Burnu - 252 graves
Every headstone bears an inscription. I am compelled to read each one.
A tear rolls down my face. The ages, the messages, the dates in the battle. It's gut-wrenching but I have to keep reading. They catch at me in different ways: a father; a teenager; one who died on the first day of the Campaign; one who fell in the August Offensive. Something flicks inside and I'm on my knees, whispering a prayer, my heart breaking for the men who died on this soil. This very soil.

It is so peaceful, so perfect. The lush grass, a shady tree, the beautiful white sand, the clear blue water. It feels like nothing could hurt you in this place. I feel a kinship with those who died here; a sense of spiritual connection.
Some of the tombstones face the water and the sun shines warmly on their faces. I picture a row of men standing there, waiting patiently, peacefully, to be reunited with their loved ones.

And over it all stands the Sphinx. Keeping watch over everything as it has done for the past 98 years, and as it will do in the future.
The outcrop Allied soldiers nicknamed The Sphinx
We leave and visit the next cemeteries, and feel the same sadness tugging at our hearts. That sense of how wretched and wasteful war is. And how strange it is to stand in such a place of peace and beauty while you picture the carnage that happened here so long ago.

Beach Cemetery - 391 graves

7th Field Ambulance Cemetery - 640 graves
Embarkation Pier Cemetery - 944 graves
There's not much more you can say about that, really.

Further up the hill, we come across some trenches. More physical reminders etched on the landscape.

As we reached Chunuk Bair, we discovered whole networks of trenches. In the offensive of 6-8 August, NZ troops were ordered to take the summit of the Chunuk Bair range. At the same time, British troops would land further north at Suvla Bay and march south and up the hills to link up with the Kiwis. While this was happening, the Australians would launch an attack on Lone Pine and at The Nek. The offensive saw heavy casualties, and was the last major offensive of the Gallipoli Campaign. It was bizarre to stand on this ground, in the very trenches the men had fought in.

Looking north-west, down over the coast and to Suvla, we could see how difficult the terrain was, and how truly daunting it must have been to look up at this high mountain range from Anzac Cove or Suvla Bay. We could also see how easy it would have been to take the Gallipoli Peninsula if only the men had been able to link up and the offensive had succeeded. If only.

Looking north towards the salt lakes of Suvla Bay
Looking east over the Chunuk Bair graves towards the Narrows of the Dardanelles Strait

At Chunuk Bair, the memorial is inscribed with the names of 850 'missing' NZ soldiers, and the cemetery contains 632 graves. Only twelve of those buried are identified. There are other cemeteries near Chunuk Bair that contain thousands of others who died during the August Offensive. Such a brutal failure. Such a waste of life.

Chunuk Bair Cemetery - 632 graves

In numerous locations around the Peninsula there are gigantic slabs of stone that feature quotes from Ataturk, including his famous words from 1934, 

'Your heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country
Therefore rest in peace...
Your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace...
They have become our sons as well.'

It was a day filled with sorrow, with prayers for the fallen, and with a sense of frustration over the toll of war.  A day we'll always remember. A sacrifice we'll never forget.

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