visiting gallipoli: one australian’s experience
Day 38: As an Australian, I grew up learning about the Anzac legend. How, at dawn on the morning of 25 April 1915, Australian soldiers landed at Anzac Cove and fought for months in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Gallipoli peninsula.
Gallipoli is part of the Australian story. Those short moments on the beach and those long months in the trenches, in conditions of the greatest adversity, have taken on even greater significance over time, saying something not entirely graspable about our character as a nation.
It was a strange experience seeing Anzac Cove for the first time: it was as if I’d been there before. The shape of the beach was unmistakeable; as soon as I saw it I knew that this was the place that the Anzacs had landed those many years ago.
We traced the ridgeline from the spot to which Australian troops made on the first night, past Lone Pine up towards the location beyond which they never progressed during the entire campaign. The two points are no more than a few hundred metres apart. It was a telling illustration of the futility of the task that had been appointed to them.
We visited simple cemeteries, each bearing the name of an Australian soldier, rarely having seen more than 25 years, ordered by British commanders into battle and to their deaths.
Every year, Australians celebrate Anzac Day and remember the lives we lost at Gallipoli. Visiting Gallipoli for ourselves it was impossible not to see that Gallipoli was a defining moment for the Turkish nation as well.
Defending their homeland, many thousands of Turks, less well equipped and armed than our own diggers, also died.
We learned that within a few years of the war’s end, Ataturk protected the Gallipoli peninsular and made a famous speech which is now recorded near Anzac Cove. It is hard not to be moved by these words:
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 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 bosum and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.
The graciousness that Ataturk displayed in those words is evident even today in the respectful way in which the battlefields were preserved and presented.
Seeing them for ourselves, it was difficult to conclude otherwise that Gallipoli was a fool’s errand and a front that never should have been opened.
Lest we forget.