The Gallipoli peninsula is situated across the water from Çanakkale in the European part of Turkey between the Dardanelles and Saros Gulf, an inlet of the Aegean Sea. Most visitors to Turkey tend not to visit this picturesque side of the country, but those who do are usually visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park.
The national park takes up the bulk of the peninsula and contains the historic battlefields, cemeteries, and monuments of one of the fiercest battles of the First World War. A visit is a moving experience, for conserved here are not only the remains of the fallen soldiers, but the memory of their sacrifice.
The Gallipoli Campaign
The Gallipoli peninsula has always been of strategic importance and the key to Istanbul (Constantinople). Anyone who could break through the Dardanelles had a shot at seizing this capital of the Eastern European world. Many countries have tried and failed, including the Allied forces in World War I.
When the war first broke out, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) remained neutral. But within six weeks things were headed towards war, as Turkey blocked British, French and Russian ships from crossing the Dardanelles. Turkey found itself unavoidably drawn into the German sphere of influence once German warships, supposedly under Turkish control, attacked Russian Black Sea ports. On November 5, 1914 war was declared on the Ottoman Empire.
The war on the Western Front had developed into the stalemate of the trenches, so to relieve the pressure, the Allies turned their efforts to the Eastern Front, hoping to open an effective supply route to Russia. They decided on a naval attempt to penetrate the Dardanelles and push on to Istanbul, but they failed. This failure led to the decision to force the Straits by a landing on the Gallipoli peninsula.
On April 25, 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces landed on the beaches of what is known today as Anzac Cove. After nine months of ferocious combat but little progress, the Allied forces withdrew.
Known in the West as either the Gallipoli or Dardanelles Campaign, in Turkey the struggle to retain control of the Straits of the Dardanelles is called the Battle of Çanakkale, a defining moment in Turkish history. The failure of the Allied forces to extract that control from Turkey is a point of national pride and is remembered and honored by dozens of historic sites and memorials on Gallipoli.
Gallipoli was one of the most disastrous campaigns of the First World War, resulting in more than half a million casualties.
There are over 50 memorials, cemeteries, and independent grave sites on the peninsula dedicated to the Turkish casualties; a single French Cemetery commemorating the 14,300 French troops who died in the Gallipoli campaign; and 31 Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries which contain the remains of soldiers from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada.
Of these cemeteries, 21 are located in the Anzac area, and they contain 22,000 graves. Only 9,000 of them, however, were able to be identified with grave markers. Those soldiers who are known to be in a particular cemetery, but could not be identified, are commemorated in that cemetery by what is termed a ‘special memorial’.
The number of missing Allied forces soldiers’ is around 27,000 and they are commemorated by name on five memorials in the following cemeteries: Lone Pine, Twelve Tree Copse, Hill 60, Chunk Bair and Helles.
It would take days to visit all the cemeteries and monuments at Gallipoli, not to mention write about them, but here are a few highlights worth mentioning.
The Lone Pine Cemetery
The most moving of the Anzac cemeteries is the Lone Pine. This area saw some of the bitterest fighting of the campaign; in just a few days over 4000 men died here. It was named after the solitary Turkish pine tree that marks the sight of the Battle of Lone Pine in August of 1915. The original pine tree was cut down by Turkish soldiers in battle and used to cover their trenches. It was replaced in the 1920s with the tree that stands there now.
The Ari Burnu Cemetery
The Ari Burnu Cemetery is one of the smaller cemeteries at Gallipoli with only 253 burials, but it is very solemn and picturesque at its location on the beach at Anzac Cove, and it has some very touching grave epitaphs: “They never fail who die in a great cause;” and “Until the day dawns and the shadows fly away.”
Just south of the cemetery is a Memorial that has inscribed on its stone monolith the famous words Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Former Gallipoli Commander and Turkish President) delivered in 1934 to the first British, Australians, and New Zealanders to visit the Gallipoli battlefields:
Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away 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.
Johnston’s Jolly and Quinn’s Post
What is unique about Gallipoli is that the landscape is virtually unchanged from 1915. Many of the original trenches are still in existence, while others have been reconstructed. The area from Johnston’s Jolly to Quinn’s Post Cemeteries paints a pretty clear picture of just how fierce the battle must have been, for in some places the trenches are only a few meters apart.
While visiting historic battlefields and cemeteries is not for everyone, the beauty of the peninsula with its sandy beaches and hilly pine forests is enough to make the trip special for anyone.