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Gallipoli

Listed under Battlefields in Marmara Region, Turkey.

Photo of Gallipoli
Photo by flickr user maz hewitt
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This steep knob of Turkish peninsular is rich with the bones of Allied soldiers, killed over the nine months in 1915 of the thankless Gallipoli Campaign. A bloody loss, both sides were dug into bitter trench warfare for centimetres of these rocky cliffs sprouting tired green; which today lie under hot Mediterranean sun by bright blue water and the green grass and lines of white graves.

The Army of the British Empire, incorporating regiments from Australia and New Zealand (ANZACs), and French forces attacked Gallipoli attempting to push through to the Ottoman capital and gain a secure route to Russia. Several narrow strips of beach rimed by tall, steep cliffs were chosen for the supposedly surprise landings but Turkish forces were well prepared, dug into the cliffs in nests of barbed wire. Arriving in open boats the infantry men, who could only leave the boats one at a time, were easy targets; all along the coast casualties of 60 to 90% were reported between the boats and the beaches. Attempts to gain ground, in many places pushing upwards almost vertically, quickly resulted in sieges and gains of a few centimetres were costing sickening numbers of lives. The peninsular quickly became a ruined tangle of trenches and nests.

Turkish forces were losing men in similar numbers, and a month after the landing a brief truce was called to bury the thousands of dead literally piling up in no man’s land. By scorching August both sides were locked into static trench warfare fought amongst a thriving army of flies feeding off the bloated bodies of the unburied dead. There were so many flies men wrote that it became difficult to eat. Allied positions were exposed and there wasn't enough land in which to bury the dead. Re-enforcements did little but add to the massive numbers of casualties as pushes from both sides seemed to be equally futile.

Loss of British and personal prestige became the main concerns for politicians debating an evacuation, and the onset of winter brought more deaths. Heavy storms flooded the trenches and billowed down the now thrashed cliff faces putting men into contact with turgid, corpse laden water, spreading dysentery even further than the flies - records show around 145,000 British personnel were ill during the campaign and almost 100,000 injured - hospitals brimmed. That winter while politicians debated thousands more died from exposure.

The bodies of almost 100,000 men from both sides nourish this clay and soil. Ottoman forces lost almost 56,000. There are 31 Commonwealth War Graves at Gallipoli and one French cemetery. Five more Australian memorials to the missing and those whose bodies were lost can be found at Lone Pine, the New Zealand missing are commemorated at Chunuk Bair and Twelve Tree Copse and the British at Cape Helles.

Australia and New Zealand commemorate the anniversary of the landing annually with more reverence than Remembrance Day and there are ceremonies both at home and on the peninsular (now a place of pilgrimage for the younger generation.). It was both countries first major forays into the war and historians coolly call it 'a nation building experience'. Poets, artists, authors and film makers see it rather more colourfully, memorably in Peter Weir's 1981 film Gallipoli, shown nightly in hostels along the Gallipoli coast.

Dispatches from Gallipoli on the National Library of Australia Website.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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