We left Istanbul this morning and headed out into the countryside towards the city of Canikkale. En route we will climb into the mountains and stop at Gallipoli, just a stone’s throw from the ancient site of Troy.
Appropriately, wild red poppies dot the landscape.
We stopped for a delightful lunch at an oceanside restaurant where we selected our fish from a case of the catch of the day at the pretty seaside town of Gelibolu. Gelibolu was the birthplace of Piri Reis, a famous cartographer whose 1513 map of the world included America (“the Piri Reis Map”).
“Anzac,the Landing, April 25, 1915,” by Charles Dixon:
From the muddy WWI trenches of the drab Flanders fields, Gallipoli had provided a splash of colour. The battle took classically educated Allied officers to a romantic country, familiar to them from the pages of Homer. The Allied troops believed they were fighting for democracy, but many of the Turk soldiers were locals, defending their own homes, families and their Muslim faith.
Both sides dug in for months, eventually someone had to make a move. Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish commander, describes the night of August 10, 1915:
“The British forces of 20,000 settled into their trenches where they had spent days digging in and waiting for the moment to attack…. Dawn was about to break when I called the commander of the 8th Division and other forces. I told them that I have total faith in us and that we will defeat the enemy. However, don’t hurry, firstly I will go forward and when I raise my whip to give the action sign, you will all attack together. I walked through to the enemy silently 20-30 metres. There was absolutely no sound where there were thousands of soldiers lips praying quietly in the hot night. I paused, lifted my whip over my head and rotating it before bringing it down rapidly. Bedlam broke loose at 4:30 a.m…. Shrapnels and bullets drop like rain rained from the sky and a piece of shrapnel suddenly hit me over my heart…. The pocket watch which was over my heart had been shattered…. As a result of this attack, the English withdrew completely, leaving thousands of dead behind and fully understanding the Canakkkale straits could not be passable.”
Meanwhile, the battle raged on. It was disastrous for the Allies – in the first month, over 45,000 Allied soldiers were lost. After nine months, 250,000 casualties were amassed and the remaining Allied troops were evacuated.
Gallipopli was the most important battle in Turkish history as it founded the nation. The annual celebration, similar to an Independence Day, is taking place this weekend. There are Turkish flags and images of Ataturk hung all over Turkey. The Turkish flag 🇹🇷, adopts the traditional symbol around the eastern Mediterranean, the crescent moon and the star. The flag symbolizes the scene at Golipolli that fateful night: the red blood of Turkish soldiers that flowed on the ground reflecting the crescent moon and the stars.
As a result of the success of the Mustafa Kemal, he became known as Ataturk and was installed as the first and most beloved leader of the modern Republic of Turkey. The course of Turkish history might have been very different, were it not for that one gold pocket watch.
A touching example of his leadership met us at a memorial for ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) soldiers who were his enemies during the war:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now living in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace. There is no experience between the johnnies and the mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away 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.”
— Ataturk, 1934
Statue of a Turkish soldier rescuing a wounded Allied soldier:
We joined an Austrialian group at Ari Burnhu, an Allied cemetery:
Lone Pine Cemetery, where the names of all known ANZAC soldiers lost are recorded with the inscription, “their names liveth for evermore.”
A Turkish monument site with the remaining trenches largely filled in by sand over time.
Things did not go quite as well for Winston Churchill, whose idea it had been to seize control of the Ottoman Empire and gain control of the strategic waterways linking the Black Sea in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. A young politician, Churchill liked to think of himself as a military strategist.
“I have it in me to be a successful soldier.
I can visualize great movements and combinations.”
Although at least some of the blame was on the shoulders of the military leaders, following the defeat, Churchill was demoted to a minor portfolio in the government. Displaying the gritty determination that would one day give him the moniker “the English Bulldog”, he resigned and headed to the front lines in France as an infantry officer. After several brushes with death, he returned to politics in 1917.
Major Winston Churchill, wearing a French steel shrapnel helmet, stands with General Emile Fayolle and other officers including Captain Edward Spears (third from left) at the headquarters of XXXIII Corps, French Army, while visiting the French front line on 15 December 1915:
By 1940, the world was again embroiled in war and Churchill became prime minister of England.
“All my past life had been a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
The Roaring Lion, an iconic portrait by the great Canadian portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh, taken at the Canadian Parliament, December 1941:
Although Churchill would redeem himself during WWII, at Gallipoli, he would have done well to consult history for inspiration. After all, he was only kilometres away from the site of one of the most ingenious military strategies ever conceived. The Greeks had the city of Troy under seige for months with no success at penetrating the city. Not giving up, the leader Epeius commanded his soldiers to build a wooden horse, which they did within three days. The plan called for one man to remain outside the horse; he would act as though the Greeks had abandoned him, leaving the horse as a gift for the Trojans. The Trojuns wheeled the gift into the city, and we all know what happened next. In the morning, we are heading to Troy.