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Monday, 2 April 2012

Peace Project - Gallipoli

Awake at 5am, I can’t sleep. I’m mesmerised by the thoughts I had in Istanbul about the power of prayer.

Isn't asking for something for an outcome for yourself, family or friends in whatever language still a prayer.  It made me think of what we ask for and why?  Is this my second question?

When you ask for Divine Intervention it becomes a prayer, that request then asks with the unimaginable power of  hope and faith.  Without hope and faith, it’s an empty request. 

And with that answer in mind I start to contemplate what awaits us today as I map in my mind the winding route through the Gallipoli peninsular.

There are only 3 of us staying at The Crowded House Hotel.  Certainly not crowded!  But I suspect the naming of this ‘up market’ hostel is also connecting itself with a great Australian band. Especially as they turned on the sound system with ‘Don’t Dream it’s Over” as soon as we arrived. I can see very clearly that this is also our time of connecting with Stu’s birthplace and my spiritual home if not my physical home for the time being.

We arrived last night after a long drive from Istanbul and battled the wind and vertical rain to find some food in the tiny village of Eçeabat.  It’s ‘off season’ here so most of the hotels are undergoing renovations in readiness for the onslaught of tourists from all over the world.  From April to September when the weather is more friendly the whole peninsular is awash with people, coaches in their hundreds, walkers and independent travellers all hungry to learn more about this place and the events that happened here in WWI.  The other tourist needs are also closed so our choices are very limited and in some way I find it nicer that there's only locals around.  So after a fabulous meal, we were quite literally blown back to the hotel and settled down to have a well earned beer or two at the bar!

Obviously our party for two looked too inviting to miss for the other traveller – enter Warren from Brisbane complete with his own hip flask of 'Bundy', who joined in the singing and conversation late into the night.  He told us he had come to scatter his dad’s ashes.  His father like so many Australians who would love to visit this land couldn’t make the journey while he was alive, so Warren made sure he rested here.  Sleep well Warren’s dad and God speed Warren on your journey around the world.

Gallipoli is a word that most people would recognise as the name of a film.  I can't remember it ever coming up in my history lessons at school in England, in fact I only became aware of it's importance once I had moved to Australia. 

So here's a wee little lesson....

I was told a story, more than once, while in Turkey that I haven't been able to confirm yet.  The story goes. Before WWI the Turkish had ordered two ships to be built in England and they had at that time paid for them in full.  War broke out with Germany and the Turkish wanted to stay neutral.  Their ships were ready but the British would not deliver them. The British needs for all available ships were more urgent and refused to reimburse them for the money that had been paid.  Enough to get anyones back up!  Enter Germany and they then offered two ships fitted and equipped and asked for no money! The Turkish then took up Germany's offer and joined them in the war.  Was this the beginning of one of the worst cock ups in recent military history

supplied by Norman Einstein under the GNU Free Documentation License 
The nearest I have got to finding anything near this story comes from World War I by Rodney P Carlisle  a great book and an immensely interesting read. It states that the close relationship between Turkey and Germany scared the Allies, only then did they refuse to supply their ships. Backed up by the about Turkey website.  

I don't know what the truth is, people lie all the time, you could call it manipulating the truth.  But whatever the truth, this action was caused by fear and to be driven by fear is counterproductive.

The Dardanelles Straight is a very important shipping route that leads to Istanbul and through the Bosporus to the Black Sea affording direct access with so many strategic countries. 

I'm afraid that my views on War are very simple.   War is directed by people who sit in a comfortable office who have very little respect for the people on the ground who are carrying out orders.  This comes under the guise of fighting for your Country and your freedom.  I get that motivator, we all want to feel safe and free to carry on as we have always done, but I don't get the way it is done.  Everyone has their own agenda, whether it is to further their career, status, power or money.

The higher up the pecking order goes the less altruistic they become.  I guess Churchill was no different, the following comment is straight from the BBC History website, click to get the full picture.
"In the aftermath of the Gallipoli disaster Churchill lost both his high office and his political reputation. It was considered that he had been led astray by his 'amateur strategy', and allowed his personal enthusiasms to over-rule the advice of naval and military experts. Throughout the inter-war years it appeared that his glittering career had been cut short by events in the Dardanelles."  
The Gallipoli Peninsular pays homage every year to two rather large and public events. 

18th March  Martyrs' Day and Dardanelles Naval Victory
This is the Turkish national day to celebrate the turning back of allied forces in the Dardanelles straight as they tried to push their way through a tiny opening from the sea to be able to head straight up and attack Constantinople (Istanbul). But there is so much more.  The fighting then continued from the lower tip of the peninsular at Helles Point by the British & Allied Forces and from the west side of the peninsula around Anzac Cove by the combined Australian and New Zealand forces. Again the Turkish managed to fight off the opposition and send them home wounded. Those that didn't make it lie in numerous graves around the 33,000 hectare Peace Park or Gallipoli Peninsular Historical National Park.

25th April – Anzac Day 

This was the first major battle at Gallipoli that the ANZACS - the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps had fought as a combined unit.  In both countries ANZAC Day is possibly seen as the birth of their national consciousness and this commemorative day outstrips the Day of Armistice or Remembrance.

Every year a Dawn service is conducted at the Anzac Commemorative Site which is attended by absolutely thousands of Australians and New Zealanders. Believe it or not this Celebration actually lasts for 2 days.  The programme starts on the 24th continuing through the night to the Dawn Service and then more services around the peninsulars' respective sites during the day of the 25th.  It's not for the feint hearted, there is no shelter anywhere - as I so well know, so whatever the weather you are out there braving it. And if you participate in the complete programme it means walking about 10 miles through some very strenuous terrain. I guess it's all part of sharing in the discomfort that all the troops had to go through.

A day to remember the people who fought in this battle.  Anzac Day is not a celebration of victory of winning a battle, but a day to celebrate the lives of every soldier. Just as we would remember a friend or family member that lived his life. It is also a very special day for The Australian and New Zealanders as a tribute to their Nationalism, their belonging and their renowned mate ship.

For me my memories of Anzac day are parades, sprigs of fragrant rosemary in lapels and dawn services. Diggers in the RSL, complete with their medals, playing TWO UP, as today is the only time you can gamble in public! And of course not forgetting Anzac Biscuits.

The Tour Begins

The closer we got to our first destination the less talkative we became until in silence we parked the car. There was not another soul in sight.  Who else in their right mind would go out in this weather?  I had so many layers of clothing on I was now resembling the Michelin man.  But despite all the layers we were both shivering in the 2c temperature, now take into account the wind chill factor, which reduced that to -6c!

Our first stop was Anzac Cove and the Beach Cemetery.  What struck us as we looked at this landscape was the almost impossible task these guys had.  The beach is a narrow strip of sand and rises steeply upward.  You know yourself what it's like trying to fight for your own piece of beach on a hot day in England, this was horrific.  Feeling for these guys and hearing over and over again "are they crazy sending us here, it's impossible"  the silence was broken when Stu said "They must have been in their rowing boats, looking up it this and wondering who on earth was giving the orders to do this - it's madness?"  Say no more.  The cemeteries are beautifully kept, little oasis' in an otherwise natural wilderness.  I had no overwhelming emotion but the tears were streaming down my face.  I was numb.

I've been to a lot of cemeteries, call me weird.  Everywhere from tiny churchyards where Billy Smart the famous Circus boss is buried to Highgate in London where Carl Marx amongst many other famous people are resting.  I find them amazing, the beauty, tranquillity and the abundant information engraved on the headstones is mind blowing.  Tiny churchyards in the Australian bush to less formalised resting places, as in the mass grave in the forest at Kragujevac in Serbia, the memory of that still makes me shudder, but that's another story.

I have visited The Somme,  Changi and Kranji in Singapore, Kanchanaburi and Chonk-Kai War cemetery in Thailand.  I've been to the prisoner of war camp and travelled what is left of the brutal Death Railway alongside the River Kwai.

Just writing this makes me realise how war has shaped my interest.  I don't set out, well most of the time, to visit these places, it just seems to happen.  Like a magnet pulling me in.  Even on an innocuous trip to Pullman near Chicago, I met a very lovely but seriously affected man, who, it transpired had pressed the button that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The consequences for him of that action I can't even fathom, "I was just following orders" he said searching for some understanding from us in the group.

This in Gallipoli was something else. Maybe this was the headliner in a life of visits to war to show the Sheer Futility of it all.  Nothing else I had seen brought this home to me more than this tiny cemetery on the shore of Anzac Cove.  These boys most no older than my own Son here today were slaughtered as they stepped off the boats.  For what?  I just know that a mother wouldn't send her son to war like a father would.  I know in my bones that women wouldn't engage in fisticuffs and gun battles.  I know that the word mother and all it entails, holds a key to achieve peace.

I came across a memorial to a Trooper in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade and it reminded me of a patient I had in Australia.  An actor who was tragically injured on the last day of filming of the Australian film The Lighthorsemen. An absolutely stunningly handsome man who also starred in the miniseries Anzacs, who was after the accident paralysed and had locked in syndrome. It only added to my feeling of numbness.

There is a steep path up the hill to Lone Pine, it passes Shell cemetery on the way to the end of the path 1.5 kms later.  Taking a depth breath we started up this hill, after 50 yards I was beginning to question my sanity, Stu asked "Do you really want to do this?" "No I don't" I answered "but I have to" we carried on battling through the gale force wind, the sleet and rain and trudging through the sticky mud that clung to our boots.  It was as thick as treacle, picking up stray stones and grass as we inched up the path, at one point leaving my boot in the mud with my foot hanging in the air.  Strangely enough the foot I've had so many issues with over the past few years.  I took it as a sign I was now free of all the challenges that had plagued my right leg for most of my life.

I offered Stu the essence we were 'cooking' on our travels.  "No thanks Mum, the harder it is for us, the easier it is for the essence to work"  He's his mother's son for sure.  We both laughed when I stated "if the boys can do it whilst being shot at, we can do it too." The top of the path opened up to reveal a road that we could have so easily taken in the car.  So much like our own life journeys that are taken up steep rugged territory rather than the easy way.  But this is one journey I will never forget, it did something to me - and to Stu.  It will stay in our minds forever.

Lone Pine Ridge and yet another cemetery with more and more memorials and busy with men clad in bright yellow protective wet weather clothing getting the stands ready for the ceremonies that will take place in the comings weeks.    We carried on our criss crossing around the peninsular following our intuition and letting it take us to where we needed to go. Paying our respects to every nation involved in these battles.

I can't describe with any clarity the feeling of total silence and numbness we both felt during the day.  So many cemeteries, memorials and bunkers, far from becoming immunised against the sheer enormity of it, the feeling grew and grew until we were both frozen both physically and mentally.  Overwhelmed I couldn't take it all in then and I'm still struggling now.

When I asked why I was here, I was reminded of the memorial that said Peace Perfect Peace

I can't convey what I felt during this day in words and a few photos wouldn't do this any justice either.  So here is a montage of the photos I took in the order that they were taken.  You'll have to excuse the water spots on some of the shots, it was absolutely chucking it down and as you'll see at one point up the top it was snowing.  Please bare with it and please watch.

Just click here for the video

1 comment:

Bernhard Racz said...

I actually looked after Jon Blake at his home, and sent in Christian Khalifeh (Lidcombe trained) who really brought Jon out of his mentally locked-in state). His mother Mascot suffered more immensely from the shoddy treatment by the 'protective office' lack of support. Jon's money was very sought-after by many, who wanted control taken away from his mother. She gave up her post as first-dting at the Sydney conservatorium to look after her son. Sad...