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Sunday, 25 December 2011

Turkey Part 4: Cannakale, Eceabat, The Dardanelles, ANZAC Cove & Gallipoli

(...Continued from Turkey Part 3.)

On Monday 3rd January, we had a long drive day from Selcuk to Eceabat in the Cannakale Province of Turkey.  The drive included a short ferry crossing which took us across the Dardanelles from the town of Cannakale to Eceabat on the other side. After seeing so much of Africa and dipping our toes temporarily in Asia, we were now back in Europe (with the Dardanelles serving as a divide between the Asian and European parts of Turkey).

It was dark and cold when we arrived in Eceabat and it seemed that as we’d journeyed north towards the European winter, everywhere we went we were taking the weather with us. Ironic then, that the hostel we were staying at in Eceabat was called ‘Crowded House’. As the name suggests (and like ANZ Guesthouse in Selcuk), this guesthouse too seemed to cater to the Antipodean fraternity…. but with good reason.

Eceabat is the closest town to ‘ANZAC Cove’ and the battlefields of Gallipoli. If you’re not too hot on world history or just an ignoramous (like me) you may not know much about this place other that it spawned a classic movie featuring a young Mel Gibson and an awesome retro electro soundtrack provided by Jean-Michel Jarre.

Old school movies aside, Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove were the site of one the most tragic stories to come out of World War I. Unfortunate navigation and bad timing compounded catastrophic strategy and left the majority of the Australian and New Zealand troops involved in this campaign as little more than cannon fodder.

The Battle of Gallipoli was the first major battle fought by the ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ (ANZAC) and to quote Wikipedia “is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries.” Furthermore. “Anzac Day (25th April) remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand, surpassing Armistice Day /Remembrance Day.

So, after a quiet first evening in Eceabat, we set off early the following day and an English-speaking guide accompanied us in the back of the truck ‘til we got to the site now known as Anzac Cove – where the Anzac troops landed on 25th April 1915.

Here everybody stood in silence listening to our expert guide explain the story behind the chaos: how the Dardanelles formed a supply route to Russia; how the British wanted to support the Russian efforts on the Eastern Front to relieve pressure on the Western one; how an Allied naval attack had failed; how the Aussie and Kiwi troops had been on training exercises in Egypt and were therefore perfectly placed to provide the infantry needed for a second attempt at the campaign; that this was the first real battle in the war for both countries; that chaos ensued after the commanding officers were either killed or removed from the field with injuries…What was planned as a swift attack took over 8 months and had over 20,000 troops occupying an area of land totaling no more than ¾ of a square mile.

Everybody found a time and space for themselves as they strolled around the cemeteries, reading the epitaphs and looking for an age or even a name that they could identify with. The whole morning was made even more eerily somber by a solar eclipse.

From the Cove, Marjane drove Roxy (with us and the guide in the back) up to the top of the headland, beyond a prominent landmark known as ‘The Sphynx’ and to the cemetery and memorial at ‘Lone Pine’. We then drove further up the hill along a road – which our guide soon pointed out marked the boundary between the Anzac trenches and the Ottoman ones. We stopped the truck on the roadside and got out to explore the still intact trenches – unbelievably, the road was probably less than 10 metres across – which meant the opposing forces frontlines were close enough to hear each other talking. When our guide overheard us noting this, he detailed stories in which the two enemy forces that had fought so fiercely on this very spot, also used to exchange cigarettes and food rations by throwing them from trench to trench. Supposedly unwanted SPAM used to get launched the Ottoman’s way by the Anzac troops…and the Ottomans would launch it straight back…it seems they were all hungry, but not that hungry. Yoichi would have disapproved (private joke you’d only get if you’ve been reading the whole blog!).

Our guide was undoubtedly a knowledgeable chap and the stories he told were nothing short of fascinating: the two bodies of enemy fighters discovered in either a brotherly embrace or a hand-to-hand fight to the death where both and neither were victorious; the fact that in the summer, you could dive off the shore and invariably surface again with a rusty bayonet or other war artifact; how for the entire 8 months of fighting, there was only ever one day of ceasefire allowed…and that was to remove the fetid, putrid and bloated carcasses of the fallen as the smell had become too overpowering in the heart of the summer.

Finally, he told us of the famous command uttered by Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal (the commander of the Ottoman 57th Infantry Regiment) “I do not order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.” (Subsequently, the entire 57th Regiment died defending their part of the Gallipoli peninsula. As a mark of respect, there is now no 57th regiment in the modern Turkish army.)

The Allied Forces had under-estimated this Turkish resilience that was typical of the whole campaign. In all, approximately 23,000 troops (from both sides) were killed or wounded in the landings at Anzac Cove. The Gallipoli Campaign in its entirety claimed the lives of over 250,000 troops from both sides of the enemy lines.

After a fascinating - if not sobering - morning, reality hit home that I was in a very privileged position and had spent the last ten months on a trip of a lifetime…and it was now coming to an end. It was January 4th and we were three days away from our final stop-off in Istanbul.

As such, people were using that afternoon to clear all of their stuff out of their lockers in the truck…it was time to get rid of all the crap we’d accumulated over 10 months of travelling across three continents. We had to be realistic and brutal about what we thought we could truly manage to get on the plane home (without having to pay the extortionate excess baggage fees).

I’d packed my bag pretty well, but was left with a giant cardboard box full of souvenirs, books and other weird and wonderful things. I took it to the nearby post office where my lack of Turkish and their lack of sympathy made it impossible to convey what I needed to do. After half an hour of struggling, I was called behind the counter where an obese, grey-haired Turkish guy grunted orders to a slightly more sympathetic woman who proceeded to help me.

Even though I’d packed everything perfectly and used up what seemed like an entire roll of parcel tape keeping the package from falling apart, I was asked to take everything out for security purposes. BUGGER! The long and the short of it was that I finally got the parcel sent, but at a cost of over £100…and that’s without The Dead Sea Mud that Kay and Allison had picked up and packed into a Tupperware container for me in Jordan….apparently it resembled explosive material.

The next day was a long, cold drive-day towards Istanbul. So cold in fact that at one of the service stations we were able to have a snowball fight. During the drive, people were wrapped up in their sleeping bags or whatever they could bring themselves to unpack from their rucksacks that had been so carefully jam-packed like jigsaw puzzles the previous afternoon.

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