The battle at Gallipoli is truly a unique tale — it’s a story of warring sides who became friends when the fighting ended. In total, 26,111 casualties resulted from Gallipoli, including 8709 deaths. Now, thousands of Aussies make the pilgrimage each year to commemorate Anzac Day.
No one crossing the straits of Dardanelles can miss a huge impression of a soldier on the European side of the channel.
The relief, drawn out of stones, is there to remind us of the unfortunate battle of Gallipoli, where almost 100,000 people lost lives: Turks, Anzacs, British, French, Indians and others. The poem is inscribed on the hill next to the soldier figure to remind passers-by of the brutal and sad confrontation of World War I.
Gallipoli is unique in world history. It is not just a battle, it is also an epic tale of courage, self-sacrifice and stubborn endurance. It is also a story of enemies who displayed mutual respect during the battle and who became friends after it. No battle has forged such strong comradeship and everlasting peace in its aftermath. On the shores of Gallipoli, Australia and New Zealand became nations and Turkey embarked on its journey to become a republic from the ruins of an empire.
When you visit the peninsula, you will see the trenches of both Anzacs and the Turks, which in some places stood only a few metres apart. Great mutual respect exists between these two cultures. The Turks could not help but admire the way Anzacs fought with such courage and tenacity. Enemy soldiers, at times, would toss cigarettes and food to each other instead of bombs and bullets. During ceasefire, when it was time to clear the slain from dead man’s land, they would each help carry the others fallen to their enemies trenches.
Read more: A Gallipoli pilgrimage
The one that got me from all stories is from Fatal Shores documentary: a man who told the story of being shot, returning to the trenches and on the way seeing four of his comrades.
“They were crying for water,” he said. “They were wounded, fatally wounded, and they were crying for water.” He then tried to hold back tears as he said, “So I threw them my water bottle. They needed water… so I threw them my water bottle.” It was such a simple act, from one wounded man to another – but it showed these boys would do anything for one another, even if they were at risk of dying themselves.
Until recent years, it would have been seen as somewhat provocative for a local Turkish group to link itself to Australian’s Anzac experience. But, over the past decade or so, there has been a remarkable change in the public mood of these one-time protagonists. Turks and Australians have seemingly buried their hostility and now see Gallipoli as a unique bond between the two nations. The Turks think about the Anzacs: “In Turkey, we don’t consider them as the enemy any more. They fought bravely, Turkey is proud of the fight on both sides. It was our greatest military victory. But your sons, buried in Turkey, are our sons.”
It is quite like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s immortal pronouncement almost seventy years ago:
‘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 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.’
This respect between Turk and Australian, born out of war against each other, is truly unique. Come Anzac Day each year, neither Australia’s political leaders nor the RSL embrace the Germans or the Japanese as it does the local Turkish community.