From Istanbul in the tourist area of Sultanahmat, Turkey, Lorna and I used a company called New Deal Travel Agency to book our tour of Gallipoli. They also arranged a stay at a nice budget hotel called Serenity Hotel (where you can also access the internet and fantastic breakfast from their sister hotel, the Sokullupasa) and a cheap airport transfer later on.
At 6 a.m. a mini-bus rocked up with about twelve other Aussies and drove us for five hours to Anzac Cove in Gallipolli. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but if you’re an Australian you really need to make the visit. Anzac Cove is the most sacred place for Australians to visit outside of Australia where thousands of our own died fighting a battle for the British. Our men were ordered to help secure a beach that would hopefully see Istanbul be captured by Britain so they could secure a safe trade route with Russia.
As soon as we arrived our tour guide, named T.J., began telling us the story that the local Turks believe caused the war, including the reason he believed the Australians were asked to fight on the shores we were standing over to begin with.
T.J. told us that during 1914 the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were training in Egypt. Britain and France were fighting with Germany and wanted to be able to trade with Russia. However, the best trade route for Britain to get to Russia was through the Bosporus, which is the opening to the Black Sea that runs past Turkey, near Istanbul. At first, Turkey was a neutral country and didn’t want to be on the British or the German side.
T.J. then reckons Turkey became a little scared that they were in the middle of all this drama with no decent battleships to defend themselves, against either side, so they asked the British if they could build them a couple of ships and handed over the money for them.
T.J. then reckons the British government took the money, but never delivered the ships.
Apparently the Germans caught wind of this and offered the Turks free battleships and weapons, in exchange that they be allowed to cruise around in the waters of the Bosporus and Black Sea.
The Turkish government was pissed that Britain had taken their money and delivered no ships, so they agreed.
This is where things get hairy, according to T.J., and according to what the Turks believe as historical fact, as opposed to what is written in the English books…
Apparently the two battleships that were given to Turkey from Germany were absolutely filled to the brim with Germans and were allowed to sail right-up the Black Sea, right-up to and around Istanbul, where they docked. T.J. said the Germans though, they were all dressed as Turks and even had Turkish flags flying on the ships. The two ships then sailed over to Russia and bombed the living crap out of one of the ports . . . all the while flying the Turkish flags.
So, Russia figured the Turks had lost their minds and told Britain that the Turks had battleships and were bombing them and so Britain figured that Turkey had decided to join Germany in the war and were no longer impartial. T.J. said Britain also thought Turkey were probably pissed that they were taking so long to deliver the ships.
Britain decided they wanted to secure the Bosporus waters and establish the safe trade-route to Russia they’d wanted all along and help Russia at the same time by invading Turkey with the intention of securing the capital of Istanbul as its own. But, to capture Istanbul, they’d have to enter from the south. From the Bosporus.
The British planned to just bomb the living crap out of the south-coast of Turkey and then walk right in to secure a vantage point on the Bosporus, but within the first few days of the fight, two out of six British battleships were sunk from mines planted off the coast from the Germans.
Britain then backed off the ships and decided it would be best to send in troops. They established where they themselves were going to land, where the French were going to land and… the Australians and New Zealanders who were still training in Egypt were sent to land at Anzac Cave in April, 1915.
The Turks had about six weeks to plan a defense for the peninsular for the inevitable attack they knew would soon be upon them.
The poor Australians and Kiwis who were sent in to fight and secure a piece of country that had nothing to do with them didn’t know what hit them. Still, the Aussies were asked to do a job and they bravely risked their lives for Britain and Australia. It was the first time Australia went to war and our effort has gone down in history as the moment we came together as a nation to stand behind our brave soldiers. And then mourn them. It was the first time our country proved how brave its people can be.
From April 25th 1915 until the end of the attack, 20th December, 1915, all-in-all nearly 7600 brave, young Australians lost their lives.
During an early period of the battle, on the 19th May, the Ottomans (what the Turks were called at the time) sent 42,000 men to attack 17,000 Australians and New Zealanders on the beaches of Anzac Cove. 3000 Ottomans died. 160 Australians died.
All that being said, again, most of what I’ve just told you here is what a born-and-bred Turk told me, so although a lot of it may be true, some of it may be just a Turkish perspective of what happened. I urge you to do some more research for yourself before making up your mind on what you believe really happened.
Anyway, Lorna and I were there to see with our own eyes what our soldiers went through. There’s no denying they were brave and were ridiculously sent-in to secure a nearly-impossible position on foreign soil. We witnessed the harsh landscape and bush they had to clamber through. The beach they bled and fought on. The mountains and trenches they dug through. No matter what the reasoning behind 7600 Australian troops turning up to Anzac Cove on the 25th April, our guys accepted a job and did their best. The ANZACS proved that Australians can be tough, strong-willed, brave, proud and men of their words. The diggers said they’d go. They said they’d fight for the Queen, the mother-land and young Australia. And they did.
It was good to thank their spirits in person for helping to establish our awesome country’s credible identity.
Rob Kaay is an Australian author and musician.
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