Sunday 22 June 2008

Gallipoli (1915) - Anzac & Suvla

God has been kind to the Gallipoli Peninsula. In 1915 it was the stage for suffering on a massive scale but nowadays it is a place of beauty. We visited in May and the place was a picture of perfection. Turqoise water, blue sky, vibrant colours, lush vegetation and an abundance of wildlife. At first glance one has to concentrate hard to remember that this place is sacred ground. The peninsula is now a National Park and is therefore spared the development that has blighted so many battlefield sites.

Anything more than a cursary glance instantly reveals a dark history to this lovely place. Rusting fortifications, beached hulks, scarred earth, trenches and, of course, the cemeteries. The allied CWGC sites - well documented and perfect to the last detail. The Turkish sites - immaculate but without the rows of names that are the poignant legacy of allied sacrifice.

The two principal Anzac beaches are hinged at a small outcrop (known by the diggers as Hell's spit) which juts out between the stretches of sand. It is here that the beautiful Beach Cemetery can be found. You don't need a map to quickly identify the surrounding topographical features; Plugge's Plateau, The Sphinx, Russell's Top and Walker's Ridge. The climb up to Plugge's Plateau is hard going but the view from the Cemetery at the top is breathtaking.

We were keen to see Shell Green Cemetery. I'd seen photographs of cricket matches being played out here (under shellfire) in 1915. Now the players lie in serried ranks carefully delineated by name, rank and number. The photograph of the young Australian above was found blowing amongst the flower beds at Shell Green. I presume he's buried there. I left the original and took the above copy.

Chunuk Bhair was the key to Anzac and the view is fantastic. To get there it is necessary to take the road up along the old front line. The trenches are stll there - tucked into the reverse slope on the edge of the escarpment. Lone Pine, Johnson's Jolly, German Officer's Ridge, Courtney's, Quinn's Post, Bloody Angle, The Chessboard, Baby 700 and Battleship Hill. There's a veteran's recollection in the IWM archive where a digger talks of sitting up on the ridge watching the battleships firing at the Turks; "sort that one out amongst yerselves, yer bastards" he mutters as a huge shell whistles overhead towards his foe. It must have been so demoralising when the ships steamed away following the recall of the fleet in the Autumn of 1915.

The road up to Suvla is marked by a series of CWGC cemeteries. 7th Field Ambulance looked beautiful framed by a field of poppies in the foreground. We passed the three freshwater wells which had proved so critical during the battle, travelled up to Hill 60 where the fields are full of shrapnel and on to the salt flats where Stopford's IX Corps landed (and went no further) on the 6th August 1915. Our journey ended in the peaceful tranquility of Lala Baba, Hill 10 and Azmac.