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Visiting Gallipoli

Dr John Basarin speaking at the Wellington [NZ] Rotary Club in 2013

In the news

Friendship forged by shared tragedy (The Standard)

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Major General Jim Molan’s first visit to Gallipoli

rosemary, anzac cove, gallipoli, turkey

My wife Anne and I first went to Gallipoli in the summer of 1974. I was a young Australian infantry captain, with only a few years of experience of soldiering after four years at the Royal Military College and three years in the depths of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea was as distant from the Gallipoli Peninsula and Turkey as you could get.

Travelling through Instanbul

But we arrived in Istanbul after about four months travel on the famed Hippy Route, having consumed some very strange food and both with severe stomach troubles as mementoes of our journey. We spent a few days in Istanbul and with our strength returned, we took a ferry to Canakkale. Our intention was to quickly go to Gallipoli, back to Istanbul, then take the “Orient Express” train to the UK, so that we could recover from our ailments. The ferry trip through the Sea of Marmara was uneventful except that everyone on the ferry was listening to a soccer match, I think between England and Germany, and I think that Germany won, to the joy of many on the ferry.

Canakkale, gateway to Gallipoli

We arrived in Canakkale and saw for the first time the white painted soldier on the hillside guarding The Narrows, opposite Canakkale. We arranged our accommodation and set out to find someone to take us to Anzac Cove. It was very easy as there was little competition in mid-summer, and we soon found ourselves a guide and a white van. Early the next day we followed in the footsteps of many famous soldiers such as Alexander the Great, and crossed Dardanelles, albeit in the opposite direction to Alexander, who died in Babil and so never made the return journey.

After some time we arrived at Anzac Cove, seeing from a distance the very few monuments that in 1974 were on the peninsula. Our priority was Anzac Cove and we had no feeling for how long it would take us, so we went straight there.

An Anzac Cove surprise

We arrived at Anzac Cove and found to our surprise that the first thing we saw was a Turkish soldier in combat equipment and with his rifle, standing in front of the modern pillbox that had been built on the southern edge of the cove, with another that we could see in the distance at the northern end of the beach.

We had not been aware that tension between Turkey and Greece had once again broken out. We had gone through Ankara on our way to Istanbul in the middle of the night, and I had woken in the bus once in some Ankara suburb and was confronted with lines of armoured vehicles parked by the side of the road. Unknown to us, the invasion of Cyprus was only days away. Once again, a little place like Anzac Cove was considered to be of not just tourist and commemorative value, but of military value. Once again, Turkish soldiers stood behind their weapons looking out across the sea for invaders. And this very young Australian soldier, accompanied by his wife, stood looking up from the beach at Shrapnel Gully, to the Sphinx and the steep, scrubby country in between.

Exploring a well-known landscape

And it looked so familiar, from the books and photographs that all Australians see, but without the developments that have occurred to serve the modern flood of Australians who travel to Anzac Day at Gallipoli. Now that I was here, I very quickly had to figure out what I was going to see and how I was going to see it.

(to be continued)