Gallipoli battlefields tour (part 1)
Another bluebird day dawned. We breakfasted in the hotel and filled in time before our guide arrived at 9.30am. During my research I came across a recommendation for Mr Kenan Çelik, and, being some months out, I was able to secure his services for a full day private tour. He is one of Turkey’s leading experts on the Gallipoli campaign and is sought after by visiting Government delegations. I figured he’d be pretty alright.
Fortunately Mr Çelik also offered his car if necessary. I think most people who tour the battlefields have their own rental vehicle, but the during my reading it had been emphasised that driving in Turkey should be avoided! So yes, we would be needing his car as well as his knowledge. It cost 140 EUR for a full day tour, plus 100 EUR for his car.
Mr Çelik arrived while we chatted to an Aussie bloke who was on a motorcycle tour for several months.
The peninsula is split roughly into three battlefield sectors: Cape Helles at the end, Anzac in the middle (also known as Gaba Tepe), and Suvla Bay to the north. You can spend days going around them all on account of how many battlegrounds and cemeteries there are. But we had one day. Being Kiwis we were mainly interested in the Anzac places of interest and Mr Çelik has a fairly standard tour outline focusing on this sector, which excluded Helles and Suvla. I had requested one alteration, to go to Cape Helles, as I had been asked to photograph a name on the memorial out there.
Our tour began.
Mr Çelik likes to provide balance and we would visit several Turkish sites in amongst all the others. Our first stop was the village of Bigali, significant because Colonel Mustafa Kemal Atatürk lived there and left from there on the morning of 25 April 1915 to fight the Anzacs. Atatürk later became founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey and is revered in the country. His house in Bigali is now a museum, which we had a look through.
The first NZ stop of the day was the Hill 60 cemetery and memorial, a few hundred metres off the road up a bumpy old track. This is in the northern Anzac sector, heading out toward Suvla Bay. Hill 60 is believed to have been a particularly futile battle on account of it being fairly unimportant ground and the cost with which the relatively low gains (some trenches) were won.
Mike and I saw several Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in 2010 on the western front and the Gallipoli cemeteries had very much the same flavour. All beautifully maintained and cared for. A common feature is that the majority of soldiers who gave their lives were not identified. Many headstones bear the words “believed to be buried in this cemetery”. Even more names are listed on the Memorials to the Missing. This sad fact is understandable given these were battlefields and given the dire nature of the battles and often the conditions in which they were fought.
I also had a personal mission during the Hill 60 visit.
We stopped at the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery and New Zealand No. 2 Outpost Cemetery. Near the latter is Maori Hill, so called because the NZ Maori Contingent took position there.
By now we were heading along North Beach. The Canterbury Cemetery is there along with good views to the hills above and around/across the bay.
North Beach is also where the big dawn service is now held each Anzac Day. The Anzacs landed around the corner but North Beach has more space to cater for the huge crowds that now head to this remote location for April 25th. The area still didn’t seem big enough to fit in the thousands of people it does, so I can only guess they’re wedged in there like sardines! At the end of this short TVNZ video is a quick view of what it’s like on this one big morning each year.
I asked Mr Çelik if he had been lined up for the 100th anniversary commemorations in 2015. While he had been approached he had not committed to anything as it was too far out and he might die!
At the southern end of North Beach, and the northern end of Anzac Cove, is Ari Burnu Cemetery. This is where the Anzac Day dawn service used to be held until 2000. Over 250 identified soldiers lie here including 35 Kiwis. It is the best place to access Anzac Cove due to the incline further along.
And finally we reached Anzac Cove, where Australian and New Zealand troops landed. While the Aussies came ashore at dawn, hence Anzac Day dawn service, the first Kiwis did not land until a few hours later. The toll of nature is very evident here when you see old photos – in 1915 the beach was much wider and less stony.
Along from this is Beach Cemetery, where about 20 identified New Zealanders and 280 Aussies are buried. Another very beautiful place.
It was afternoon by now and we were half way through. Lunch and some respite from the sun was needed – and achieved!
Due to the amount of ground covered during the nine hour tour I have split this post. Part two to follow.