Istanbul surprised me. I don’t know what I expected but the streets were clean of rubbish and dust, the Bosphourus was a great blue divide between East and West that seamlessly blended into one huge mixing pot of 14+ million. Shopkeepers were relaxed, not pushy, animals were tagged and well kept and the food was accommodating to vegetarians.
Istanbul was a great start to our 12 day tour of Turkey. We had booked our tour for our 2nd wedding anniversary and to attend the memorial service at ANZAC cove to remember and honour our fallen troops. On day three I realised that Istanbul was just a taste of the many surprises that Turkey would have for us. Today was but a glimpse…
We were up at a pink dawn, shortly after the first prayer of the morning was shared over the loud speakers in the streets, and on the bus at 7am. On our way to Gallipoli Ilker, our tour guide, told us some almost unbelievable stories about the war in 1915 and the amazing bond that the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish troops had.
On the morning of 25 April 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and an ally of Germany.
The campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915, the allied forces were evacuated. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed and the 25th of April soon became the day on which Australians remember the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.
After a 4.5 hour bus trip and a quick lunch by the Aegean Sea we stopped at Anzac Cove where the ANZAC Memorial Dawn Service would take place two days later. It was surprisingly small and knowing that hundreds of thousands of allied and Turkish boys and men had sacrificed so much at this exact location almost 100 years ago was both sobering and sad.
We then visited Australian grave sites and saw the rehearsals for the Australian memorial at Lone Pine, the Turkish memorial and the New Zealand memorial at the very top of the hill at Chunuk Bair. At a second Turkish memorial we witnessed the 41m giant monument on the peninsular where the English and French troops had landed.
So many senseless deaths had occurred at each of these locations, in the muddy, disease infested and blood drenched trenches. Almost 100 years ago this site was stripped bare of all its beautiful green trees and landscape and used as a bloody killing field. Seeing the small beach and that steep, epic hill that took the ANZACs months to approach, it is obvious that this was a suicide mission. I wonder if the boys and men that were “lucky” enough to survive the storming of the beach knew as much as they wrote letters of boredom and hope back to their mothers, girlfriends, wives and siblings.
Tomorrow evening we will return to the same locations with thousands of others to remember those that lost their lives. The stories and tours of the shallow trenches has helped me understand the magnitude of what we will be commemorating.
Driving back on the windy roads I see red poppies dotted throughout the countryside. I remember, and silently thank them, for their ultimate sacrifice.
Lest we forget.