Sunday 22 June 2008

Gallipoli (1915) - Helles and the Narrows

The place to start with this battlefield is amongst the guns. Many have gone - the monsters mounted on ships like Majestic, Prince George, Ocean, Agamemnon, Inflexible, Vengeance, Irresistible, etc. But ashore there are many - in the forts on the peninsula, on display in towns like Cannakele, on the clifftops on the Asian side of the Straits and amongst the vegetation of the battlefield.

The Turkish memorial in the centre below commemorates Seyit Onbasi who, through an act of bravery, enabled a direct hit on HMS Ocean. The Turkish authorities are beginning to refurbish some of the old forts as tourist attractions others remain derelict and are, in my opinion, MUCH more interesting! Careful though - the modern day Turkish army still has a presence on the Peninsula so best leave your camera in your bag.

We took a day out with my friend Eric Goossens (picture below on Gully Beach). Eric runs a really homely tourist hotel on the peninsula and is passionate about the 1915 campaign.  The Gully is hard going but well worth effort. Start at Gurkha Bluff and follow the ravine south to X Beach. At the mouth you'll find a well dug by the Royal Engineers and the remains of one of the evacuation ships which was beached and stranded on the night of the 8th/9th January 1916.

One of the highlights of the trip was our exploration of Observation Hill - just North of Skew bridge cemetery. Here we found (with a little local help) this incredibly well preserved Royal Naval Division dugout. The area around the Eski Defence Line is covered in trenches - well preserved because they were carved into stone and rock.

Eric took us down to three cliffside bunkers at Cape Helles. Above them one can find two big water tanks built in 1915 by men of the Monmouthshire Regiment. The picture below right shows me sitting under the Duckworth Oak in Redoubt Cemetery. 2nd Lieutenant Eric Duckworth, B Company, 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers was killed in action at the Vineyard on the 7th August 1915. His father planted the oak after the war. 

The area around V Beach is full of interesting features. Apart from the batteries and guns there are a number of really impressive memorials. It's a straightforward walk from Seddulbahir down to the beach and easy to make out the spot where the the HMT River Clyde was grounded. The terrible ferocity of this battle is illustrated by V Beach Cemetery which sits right on the waters edge.

Nearby one can visit Hunter Weston Hill, site of the VIII Corps HQ and Doughty-Wylie Hill the lonely burial site of a holder of the Victoria Cross. These features are framed by the blue water of Morto Bay where, on the night of the 12th May, 570 sailors lost their lives when HMS Goliath was sunk by a Turkish Motor Torpedo boat. 

We reached Lancashire Landing (W Beach) on a warm evening - the sun was dropping, the sea was shimmering and a lone fisherman was casting his net from a boat. A far cry from the scene at that same spot on 25th April 1915 when the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers won six VCs 'before breakfast'. There is much to see - the shoreline is marked out with rotting pier stanchions and beached boats.

It is here, near Tekke Burno that HMS Majestic was sunk on the 27th May 1915. The ship was sunk by a torpedo from U21 a German submarine. She settled in 16 metres of water and veterans recall that the old battleship looked like a beached whale.

Helles is a fascinating battlefield. Overshadowed in popularity by Anzac to the North, it is a relatively undiscovered treasure trove for anyone interested in the history of the Great War. Go there - you won't be disappointed!