Writer Historian Producer

Visiting Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.

Now into my sixties, I’ve had an interesting and varied life, have four sons (and five grandchildren), have travelled, met interesting people and now feel complete. But there were two things still on the bucket list: watch Wales and England play rugby at Millennium Stadium (the old Cardiff Arms Park) and travel to Anzac Cove, Gallipoli.
In early May 2013, I was invited, along with five other military historians, to visit the Gallipoli battlefield in preparation for leading tours to the area in 2015, the centenary of Anzac. My journey began in Istanbul and after a five hour bus trip, arrived at the Kum Hotel near Eceabat, the closest accommodation to the battlefields. The party was eager and enthusiastic as none, apart from the tour leader Mat McLachlan, having ever been to Gallipoli before.

Cemetery at Ari Burnu with
North Beach in the background

A number of things quickly surprised and intrigued me about Gallipoli. First, the very small area where the Anzac were contained, an area about 10 square kilometres. Second, the thick scrub, impenetrable since the  goats were removed with the designation of the area as a National Park, something that not only precluded exploring, but blurred all attempts to understand the ground. Third, the destruction of the Anzac Cove and North Beach areas with roads and tourist infrastructure, and finally, the masses of Turkish tourists, some two million a year who now flock to Gallipoli. These people, often poor rural women in traditional clothing, are offered free coach tours by the government to hear not the story of a military campaign, but a religious story of how Allah cast off the infidel Christian invaders, a worrying move away from the secular approach of the past to one supported and funded by a pro-Muslim government.

Australian trenches at the Nek
Gallipoli sunset

The first day our party visited the Anzac operational areas starting at Anzac Cove. (In 1985 this name was formally legislated by the Turkish parliament). We walked on the very narrow beach, barely room these days to spread a beach towel and wandered south to Hell Spit and around to Brighton Beach. Nothing remains to show what went on for eight months in 1915, except the faint outline under water of the original piers. After collecting a few pebbles on our walk, we went on to Beach Cemetery before heading up the hill to the front line trenches along the second ridge.

When the Australians landed, they quickly swarmed inland, taking the high ground and racing for their objectives on the second and third ridge lines. The great prize was Chunuk Bair, but this was only to be taken, and very briefly, by the New Zealanders, many months later. In the meantime, the assault stalled on the second ridge, the Australians dug in as did the Turks and there they remained until the final evacuation in December 1915.
As the coach climbed the ridge, you first pass the cemetery at Lone Pine with its large square white memorial. Behind the memorial, the Australian trenches are still visible, though now shallow and lost in the thick, prickly scrub. Another short distance and you come to the cemetery at Steele’s and Courtney’s Post and a few hundred metres further, the iconic yet deadly Quinn’s Post. Along this ridge, the land drops away sharply into Monash Valley and further up the slope, the Turkish positions on the Chessboard. It was here that Turkish machine guns made life extremely dangerous along the Australian frontline.
A very short distance further on is the Nek, that narrow ridge line, as Charles Bean said, the area of three tennis courts, where the Light Horse charged to destruction during the August campaign with 234 men killed and a further 138 wounded in 45 minutes in this tiny place.  Just outside the area of the cemetery, the original trench line made famous in Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, still remains; those haunting images of men pinning a final letter to the trench wall and scaling the ladders to certain death.

While here, we also visited the area of operations for the attempted Anzac assault on Hill 971, including the assault on Hill 60. Here we found the rounded shrapnel from Turkish bombs plus bullet heads, both Turkish and Australian and other odd bits left over from the battle. As with other places, the faint trench lines can be made out in scrubby and forested areas, now shallow and filled with composted leaves and broken branches.
On subsequent days, we also visited the Helles area, the beaches 20 kilometres south where the British landed and suffered the same fate and containment as the Australians. At V Beach where the ship River Clyde was run ashore and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers of the British 29th Division stormed from her sally ports into a deadly hail of fire which killed an estimated 450 men in a few hours. Nearby is W Beach, a narrow spit of sand where the Lancashire Fusiliers came ashore and along the cliffs, the clear lines of the Turkish trenches and gun pits from where their guns took a terrible toll on the landing force.
Though it is not well known, Australians from the 2nd Brigade and the NZ Infantry brigade (about 5000 men), were thrown into action on the western side of the Helles front in the Second Battle of Krithia. In just an hour, we suffered 1000 casualties so today, many Australians lie far from their mates at Anzac Cove in small CWGC cemeteries in this area.
This was a sad and reflective trip, very different to the Western Front in so many ways and often confronting given a very different religious environment and context. Yet that small, desperately hilly and impossible landscape, shaped not only a generation at war, but the nation itself. What was heartening, was the respect, the remembrance and the consideration given by the Turkish people to Australians, the very descendants of “Johnny Turk”. 

©Will Davies 2013




The ANZAC memorial at North Beach, Gallipoli

Will Davies


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