In honor of Memorial Day here in the U.S., an encore posting ~
I’m currently reading a book, The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (author of Schindler’s List). I can’t give it an enthusiastic recommendation (a solid B, based on the grading system of my book club) but if you’re interested in a unique perspective on the First World War, do check it out. At the center of the story are two young Australian nurses, also sisters, who volunteer early in the war.
They are initially posted to a hospital ship treating casualties of the prolonged Gallipoli campaign. Here is the relevance for this blog. Gallipoli is a peninsula in European Turkey, on the northern side of the Dardanelles, the straight that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which connects to the Bosphorus Straight, which connects to the Black Sea. It has been a coveted waterway for millenia. During World War I, the Allies, namely the U.K., France and Russia, sought entry to the Dardanelles as a supply route to Russia, with access to Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, a strong motive as well. The Central Powers – Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Ottomans – blocked and mined the straight and held off the Allies at Gallipoli.
After an initial British naval assault failed, fighting raged on land for eight months, from April 25 to mid December of 1915, when the Allies began retreating, having gained nothing. Allied and Turkish casualties together, including dead, wounded, and sick from rampant infectious disease, numbered over 500,000.
Australia and New Zealand remember their losses at Gallipoli (as well as those lost in other wars and peace keeping missions) on April 25th each year, ANZAC Day (ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps). The campaign was pivotal in the national identities of both countries.
Among Turks, Gallipoli is strongly associated with the birth of their independent Republic and is memorialized each March 18th, the anniversary of the defeat of the Allied naval attack. The father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was a commander at Gallipoli and distinguished himself as a great leader there.
In 1934, Ataturk addressed the following to the ANZACs: “Those heroes who 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 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.” It’s inscribed on memorials at Gallipoli and in Canberra, Australia.
Canakkale, a short ferry ride across the Dardanelles, makes a good hub for visiting Gallipoli. The Gallipoli National Park encompasses dozens of memorials, cemeteries and tombs spread out over 125 square miles. A few hours is enough time to see some of the memorials and soak up the solemn atmosphere and beautiful scenery. Those with special interest can spend days walking the peninsula. Even a short visit leaves a lasting impression.