Gallipoli must not happen again. That was my overwhelming response to visiting the site of the WWI tragedy. And yet I know it has. Again and again and again. On and on throughout human history. And it always turns out the same. Good men die. We arrived at Anzac Cove (an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) on the shore of the Dardanelles on a chilly October day, a stiff wind blowing.
The battle at Gallipoli, which began 24 April 1915, was a horrible event. The Sultan of Turkey had wanted to stay out of WWI, but couldn’t because (under duress) he had accepted gifts of two war ships from Germany. I had recently seen the The Water Diviner movie (starring Russell Crowe), which brought home the horrors to me. I hate war movies! But actually being here in Turkey and seeing the hills and eroded trenches, the gravestones and monuments, raised my awareness to an entirely different level. And always looms the overarching impossibility of their struggle.
A case of poor maps
When I read the names of those thousands who gave their lives, now written on the wall at Lone Pine, my heart breaks for them. I learned that the Australians and New Zealanders comprised 34, 000 handpicked men, all educated, and the crème de la crème of the two nations. They came to Turkey, eager to suppress the infidel in the name of God and country (the British Commonwealth of Nations), and lost their lives in trenches just a few feet away from the Turks as they blasted away at each other.
Winston Churchill was Lord of Admiralty and ordered the battle, but he didn’t have good maps. Not only that, his intelligence officers strongly advised him not to invade because they believed the assault would fail. Churchill, however, went ahead. As it turned out, the army’s maps showed one ridge of mountains whereas there are actually three.
Why is Churchill considered such a national hero? Because he finally got it right in WWII? But with the slaughter at Gallipoli in his military baggage, why did he get that second chance?
Turkish Memorial at Gallipoli
I heard for the first time the story of the Turkish Commander, Kemal Ataturk, who was shot in the heart. The bullet was deflected by a pocket watch he was wearing and he went on to win the battle at Gallipoli. His victory catapulted him into the status of national hero. Due to the vagaries of war, however, just a few months after the dreadful standoff in Gallipoli ended with a Turkish victory. The British allies declared victory in WWI and Turkey was on the losing side. A classic oxymoron of winning the battle and losing the war. Ataturk, however, used the prestige and power he had garnered in the war to mold the Turkish nation into a modern state with eyes turned toward the west instead of the east as in centuries past.
As first president of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk’s words at a commemorative service at Gallipoli in 1934 show the marks of a generous heart and a gallant statesman:
“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 difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.”