My father was sent to the Middle East as part of an Australian trade mission, we call Tehran home for 10 years, half a century before my grandmothers brother came to fight and die in the Middle East.
At the start of world war one, Australian were called to fight for the british empire, for what was popularly know as the Mother country Many signed up to traveled to the other side of the world to fight the Germans.
Photo of my grandmothers brother, who was know as Boy. In the uniform of a light-horseman, spurs on his boots and slouch hat. Probably taken in Sydney before he left Australia.
One young man was my grandmother brother and young fresh faced man the family called “Boy” he was the only boy with five sisters. Descendants of Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty ( thats another story) they grew up on Norfolk Island in the Pacific. Once one of the harshest prison in the British empire it by 1900 was inhabited by the mutiny descendants.
With the call arms the young teacher joined what was the glamour boys of the Australian fighting force, “The light horse” Mounted infantry, not cavalry, they would ride into battle , dismount and fight as infantry. They were the SAS of the day.
He found himself in Egypt, a large camp was set up near the foot of the Pyramids were they trained, preparing to head for Europe to fight the Hun. They never made it , the plans for the invasion of turkey were being hastily draw up in London. Gallipoli, now know as one of the great military blunders of the 20th century.
Below is a story written for newspaper after a recent visit to Gallipoli with my father.
A sad, beautiful place.
It can be a sobering sight when you are confronted by a row of war graves. It is the age engraved on the stones: 19, 20, 21 year old men. Sons, boyfriends and husbands buried in some far off land, victims of sometimes forgotten battles.
Gallipoli, however, is not one of the battles. During the First World War in the spring of 1915, allied leaders, including Winston Churchill (then First Lord of the Admiralty) and Lord Kitchener looked for a way to break the stalemate on the European western front. They came up with the idea of taking the Dardanelles Strait – the narrow waterway between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea about five and a half hours drive south west of Istanbul.
Many nations fought at Gallipoli including the British, French Irish, Indians, Sri Lankans and Newfoundland – which is now part of Canada. Two young countries, Australia and New Zealand, known as the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were also there, in many ways to prove the point that they too could fight and hold their own. On April 25, 1915 theANZACs struggled up the beach at Gallipoli.
It was one of the bloodiest battles the world had ever seen, and achieved little. Historians now decry the campaign for its poor planning and bad execution which led to one of history’s greatest military disasters. After nine months the allied forces were evacuated. Churchill and Lord Kitchener were lucky to keep their jobs.
Most Australians have grown up learning the names of this battle field. Lone Pine, Shrapnel Gully, Monash Valley, Dead Man’s Ridge, The Nek and Quines Post. Surveying it firsthand it surprising is how small area was, how many had died and how significant this plot of earth was to become to Australia’s history.
My grandmother’s brother came ashore near were we stood. Above us the sheer cliffs rise, jagged gullies created by heavy erosion. The plant life is hard; thorns, thick bush – plants that just seem made to hurt you. Its only blessing was that the Turkish army assumed no one would be crazy enough to land there so it was relatively lightly defended.
As a member of the Australian First Light Horse Regiment, he was not even supposed to be there. Forced to leave their horses in Egypt, they found themselves digging for their lives with the rest of their countrymen, trying to find shelter from the relentless barrage of gunfire. The First Light Horse had a defensive role for most of the campaign but mounted an attack on the Turkish position known as “the Chessboard” as part of the August Offensive on 7th of August – 200 men were involved, 147 became casualties.
The fighting was close; sometimes trenches were just meters away. It was hand to hand combat, the sort that reduces men to animals, sometimes fighting naked with baronet and club. Acts of great heroism and compassion were recorded on both sides. A truce was called on the May 25 between the Turkish and Australian troops. After days of vicious fighting, including several suicidal charges by the Turkish, over 3000 dead lay in this small part of the battle field with many more wounded.
As the survivors watched the dead being rolled into mass graves at the end of the day, a Turkish officer said to an allied officer, “At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep.” That moment, one of sadness and of respect between the Turks and the ANZAC, still holds today.
For Turkey, nothing would be the same. Gallipoli produced a remarkable hero, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk who showed extraordinary leadership, grit, and courage. His famous order to Turkish soldiers as their country was being invaded has always been remembered. “Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place,” he said. Ataturk went on to be the first President of the Republic of Turkey.
He never forgot the ANZAC, in a 1930s speech to grieving Australian and New Zealand families he paid tribute:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… 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 faraway 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.” ATATURK, (1934).
Despite the total failure of the campaign due to incompetent English leaders, the legacy of the ANZAC legend grew and in many ways defined both Australia and New Zealand.
Photo: My Father and myself at Gallipoli in 2009. The beach below is were Boy came ashore. This is one of my favourite photos, such a valued time with my dad.
The cost was high; the actual casualty figures are still open for debate. Some 480,000 Allied troops had landed on this slither of land. British and ANZAC casualties amounted to approximately 205,000, some 43,750 allied soldiers lost their lives. Turkey incurred around 250,000 casualties, 60 to 85,000 killed.
As for my Grandmother’s brother, the 19 year old school teacher survived Gallipoli. The young handsome Norfolk Islander, direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, the HMS Bounty mutineer, only son and brother to five sisters was later killed at the battle of Romani, near the Suez Canal. He is buried in a small commonwealth war grave just outside Cairo. My grandmother never got over it.
Phil Weymouth flew Turkish Airlines (Bahrain to Istanbul), then bus to the Gallipoli peninsular.