I’m going to make a confession: Before 2015, I had no idea that both the World War One Gallipoli battlefields, and the ruins of ancient Troy, were both in Turkey. My memory’s pretty vague on where I thought they were. I think I thought Gallipoli was in Libya, somewhere around Tripoli, probably. Because, you know, they are places that sound the same, so of course they would be right next to each other, like Mexico and Morocco. I mean, both areas are at least on the Mediterranean Sea, but still. All I knew about Troy was that it wasn’t in Greece. It was probably, I figured, in Iraq or Iran or one of those cradles-of-civilization countries near the Euphrates.
I get that a lot of other people also have no idea where these places are, if they’ve heard of them at all. Given my ‘historic’ interest, however, I feel like I should have known these things.
One day, after I had signed up for my photography workshop and tour in Turkey, the tour organizer and photo leader, Shari Tucker posted a link on one of her Facebook Pages about the Gallipoli Artist in the context of the Turkey trip. I was checking my Facebook at work, like a slacker, and literally yelped out loud. My co-workers thought I was a bit crazy. I immediately (yes, at work) started the search to see if there were tours to the battlefields that I could get on. It was through that search I learned not only was Troy also in Turkey, it was practically in the same area. That makes sense, given in the strategic importance of the Gallipoli peninsula.
With Shari’s help, in conjunction with that Gallipoli Artist, Roachie, who, as it turns out, is not only an artist but a tour operator, I booked a three-day tour through Crowded House Tours to visit the battlefields.
A Brief History of the Gallipoli Campaign
The Gallipoli Campaign lasted from April 1915 until the Britain’s withdrawal in January 1916. The British Empire, along with France, fought the Ottoman Empire, supported by Germany, for control of the Dardanelles Strait that would have given them access to Constantinople/Istanbul and then Asia.
For the most part, each contingent (national or colonial) controlled a difference part of the region. Newfoundlanders (not a part of Canada until after World War Two) were in Sulva, while the French were mostly on the Asian side of the strait. Time was short, so I didn’t visit either of these areas. I did, however, visit the Helles area (British) and what came to be known as the ANZAC region, controlled by the ANZACS – the Australian/New Zealand Army Corps. The French as well as Indian forces also supported the campaign in the other areas as well.
I came to realize something as, in preparation for my trip, I researched about the campaign. It was one that, for the British Empire, was doomed to failure. The officers were, for the most part, still thinking in terms of Victorian morals and values, and fighting as they had almost since Waterloo. They invaded an area defended by an army that was made up of natives to the area, yeas, but also people from across the vast Ottoman Empire. They were led, however, by Mustafa Kemel, father of modern-day Turkey, and supported by Austria-Hungary and the German Empire, led by Otto von Sanders.
The two armies slogged away until, after a change in command, the British staged a peaceful retreat. Some accounts say they managed it in secret. Others say their opponents, just as tired of the fighting, allowed them to go.
For more on the Gallipoli campaign, check out Peter Hart’s excellent book on the subject, comprised mostly of first-hand accounts.
My Tour of the Gallipoli Battlefields
I arrived in Turkey on the night of September 25th. After sleeping at the Istanbul airport that night, I was picked up by a Crowded House bus as part of their hotel pick-up route for the four hour drive to Ecebat, near Çanakkale on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) peninsula. We arrived in time for lunch at a local restaurant, before I was whisked away for a tour of troy. On a clear day, you can see the monuments of Gallipoli from the ruins of Troy. It wasn’t until the next day that I began to explore the Gallipoli battlefields. We started off that morning with a tour of the Helles Region.
I was actually going to go really in-depth in this post and discuss each place I’d visited over the two days and more about it. This post is already pretty long. Also, I figure most of you aren’t that interested in military history, and those of you that are, should go read a more reliable source (like that book I liked to, above). Instead, I’m just going to go the slideshow route and maybe give some general impressions.
The Çanakkale Memorial is the main Turkish memorial in this area. It’s a sprawling park, really, that includes a symbolic cemetery (head headstone representing 40 Ottoman fallen), sculptures, gathering areas, a museum, and the massive, and beautiful in it’s simplicity, monument. It’s 35 flag poles fly Turkish flags most days of the year. During commemoration days, however, they fly a flag for each country that was involved in the campaign, on both sides of the conflict. You can actually walk through the park on Google Street View here and here.
Our next stop was our first landing beach – V Beach. This was the site of the beaching of the SS River Clyde, an important part of the landing. It was also the first of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries I visited in this region. At first I was struck by the differences between the other GWGC sites I’ve visited (due to the geology, I later found out). In fact, until I saw the famous Stone of Remembrance, I thought I was in a French or Turkish cemetery.
We moved on to another Turkish memorial nearby. The area actually had several different monuments and sites, including:
After lunch, we headed out in the other direction to view sites in the sector where the Australians and New Zealanders fought. We visited sites such as:
Chunuk Bair, including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s cemetery, trenches, and Turkish memorial.
My last day in the Gallipoli area was rainy. I spent the morning exploring and taking photos of Ecebat, while dodging downpours. After lunch, I went on a bout tour of the ANZAC area. In theory, the tour includes snorkeling at a landing shipwreck. The rain meant the water is too choppy, so we simply hung out at North Beach and chatted about the landings. I was wishy-washy on if I was going to do the boat tour or not, when I was planning this weekend, but in the end, I’m very glad I did. All the landing beaches I visited, I’ve never seen them from this perspective – the beach as the soldier’s would have seen it. The small speck of land they would all need to storm, and the massive wall of dirt that they needed to scale to meet their objective.
I found this weekend of tours to be very interesting. I’ve explored several military battlefields, landing beaches, cemeteries, and other sites. I’ve never had a guide before. I’d never specifically researched the area I was going to be visiting before going there. It’s just been my family and I and whatever knowledge we had had of the battle or area we’d picked up along the way. I really enjoyed having a guide native to the area to give me a difference perspective. My guides were all extremely knowledgeable Turkish gave a different perspective of these battlefields, where the British Empire invaded the area.