The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 7 December 1970

GALLIPOLI: then and now


Major "Bob" Southey, ED, wrote this article and brought it to the Museum a few days prior to his death on 13th June, 1970. He was a constant visitor to the Museum and a great personal friend over many years. A tribute to Maj. Southey by Col. E. S. Thompson, ED, appears on page 28. The Museum and The S.A. Military History Society wish to associate themselves with Col. Thompson's words and offer condolences to his widow and his son and daughter. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

I have always supported the theory that the best way to study a campaign or specific battle is to do so, whenever possible, on the actual scene of operations. Consequently, when an opportunity presented itself whilst travelling in Greece, I made it my business to extend my trip to include a quick visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

To do this, one has to get oneself to Constantinople (Istamboul), the usual method being by air. As there are no airfields capable of accommodating tourist traffic either on Gallipoli or the adjacent Asiatic mainland, one has to proceed by sea down the Marmora to Cannakale -- the old Chanak -- a very pleasant voyage lasting the best part of one day. There one contacts the "Anzac-Troy Travel Agency", run when I was there by a short-statured Turk by name of Dilmen. As he had fought on Gallipoli, then in the Caucasus and finally in Palestine where he was put "in the bag" by some of Allenby's braves, the years were catching up on him, and it is not improbable that the sands of time have since run out on him. However, I feel reasonably certain that the 'Travel Agency' still exists, as its main function is to provide facilities for people intent upon visiting the site of ancient Troy, which is not far away. They also undertake to organise the very necessary mechanical transport for those desirous of viewing the battlefields. Accommodation of a satisfactory nature is to be found a few miles out of Chanak at the "Helen of Troy" Motel, which is served by bus into and back from the harbour.

To go across the Straits to the Gallipoli battlefields, one negotiates the Narrows by ferry to Kilid Bahr -- now known as Esceabat -- and proceeds by indifferent but passable roads and/or tracks to the various battle areas.

As is generally known, there are three main operational sectors, namely, the Sedd-ul-Bahr-Krithia-Achi Baba battle zone where ill-conceived tactical direction and handling led to massive British casualties and utter lack of success. Then comes the ANZAC complex, where troops from the Antipodes covered themselves with imperishable glory at a cost equivalent to the total number of men originally put ashore - again without satisfactory return. Finally, way up north, is located the Suvla Bay zone, where incompetent field leadership without parallel in the history of British Arms led to the final abandonment of the Gallipoli venture, also at a frightening cost in wastage of human lives.

The first route I took was Esceabat - Maidos - thence across the neck of the peninsula to the southern end of the ANZAC sector, then north through Lone Pine, Johnstone's Jolly, Courtney's, Steele's and Quinn's Posts, Pope's Hill, Russell's Top, The Nek, Baby 700, Battleship Hill, Rhododendron Ridge, the Apex and finally Chunuk Bair (pronounced by the Turks CHONK BAHEER). From its summit, looking north, can be seen the broken hill and scrub-covered country stretching up to Suvla Bay, in which the indifferently-trained elements, comprising the Kitchener's Army formations employed, got hopelessly lost and finally cut up. At the foot of Chunuk Bair, can be clearly seen the small plateau later known as "The Farm", where a complete British Brigade of four battalions, including the Brigadier and his entire staff were utterly destroyed in a counter-attack directed and personally led by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. The focal point of this savage butchery is now marked by one of the 31 cemeteries scattered all over the peninsula.

There is a track from Anzac Cove traversing the Suvla complex of battlefields, but I unfortunately did not allow sufficient time to study this important sector.

The next route I followed involved a return to Esceabat, and thence right down to the point of the peninsula at Sedd-ul-Bahr Castle, where the converted collier "River Clyde" was run ashore on the adjacent "V" Beach of evil memory. On the way one passes Achi Baba, the hill-feature which was optimistically detailed as the objective for the first day, but was never approached, let alone taken; also the village of Krithia and the famous Vineyard. There is a by-road from Sedd-uh-Bahr serving the other western landing beaches, i.e., W, X, Y2 and Y1, also Gully Ravine and Gurkha Bluff but here again I had to call off a visit to them on account of the time factor.

As stated above, there are 31 separate cemeteries scattered all over the peninsula, all well cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with a local headquarters at Chanak, but a vast number of British and Dominion remains are still lying around in the desolate scrub and gullies. Go off any road or track into the scrub, disturb the sandy surface and up still come human relics, bits of equipment and the like.

Memorials? Not to anything like the same extent as, for example, throughout the Somme and similar battlefields. Overlooking V Beach is the tremendous all-inclusive British monument recording the names of just about everybody who fell during the entire operation. Quite near it is a small Turkish monument of the deepest historical and military interest. It is to the 64 members of one Company of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Regiment - 18 of whom were killed - who, alone and unsupported by field artillery, held up the initial assault on V Beach by 2,5 Battalions of British Regulars. During the process they were subjected to the concentrated fire of 12 Vickers M.G.'s mounted on the forecastle of the River Clyde, plus direct, close-range bombardment by the heaviest-calibre naval armament mounted on capital ships supporting the landing. Insufficient credit has been given to the magnificent Anatolian infantrymen for this exceptionally heroic performance of duty, which is fully confirmed in the British Official History. At the top of "S" Beach, nearest to the Narrows, is an equally impressive Turkish Memorial of generous dimensions. Nearby, where the Kereves Dere is located, is to be found a huge French Cemetery, but containing no discernible Corps, Divisional or Regimental memorials, but it must be confessed that the time factor again prevented me from carrying out a close inspection.

In the Anzac sector, on The Nek between Russell's Top and Battleship Hill, is an impressive Turkish Memorial to "Mehmetchik" -- the Turkish equivalent to our "Tommy Atkins" to a sergeant and some private soldiers who seem to have made a considerable nuisance of themselves at the expense of the Australian Light Horse, who, acting as infantry, lost a great number of men in a very short space of time during the bloody British August offensive.

On the summit of Chunuk Bair is a huge New Zealand obelisk commemorating some 700-800 officers and men who fell in the assault on that point. There are, however, only a bare half-dozen individually marked graves. The rest? Still scattered around in the scrub and gullies. Close by is a Turkish marker identifying the exact spot from which Mustapha Kemal directed the massive counter-attack which virtually brought the Gallipoli campaign to an end.

Each British Cemetery contains standard-type memorials commemorating by name large numbers of men who are believed to have fallen somewhere in that vicinity, but the number of identified graves is pitifully small. There are still literally thousands of British dead all over the peninsula with no known graves.

In the village of Krithia -- also an objective for the first day but never taken - is a small Turkish museum. It does not contain many exhibits, as there has probably been a certain amount of vandalism during the fifty odd years which have elapsed, but amongst them I noticed some photographs of Australian prisoners surrounded by their Turkish captors, a skull with a shrapnel ball embedded in it, some rusted remains of British rifles and bayonets, and a gold signet ring, presumably from the skeleton of some deceased British officer. This bears an armorial device which could easily be identified if referred to the Royal College of Heralds.

On the whole, I would say that there is little to be seen of the scars of war. Everything has long since silted over, but it does look as though a serious attempt is currently being made to reopen sections of the original trench system in the Lone Pine area.

In a nutshell, I would suggest that although a visit to Gallipoli would be intensely rewarding to the serious student of military history, it would be a complete waste of time for people whose primary interest is souvenir-hunting. And, furthermore, if you belong to the former category, give yourself three full days on the peninsula. I mistakenly attempted to clean it all up in a single day, and am left with little else than the urge to go back again some day, some time, somehow and do the job properly - if I am spared long enough to be able to complete the necessary arrangements.

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