Monday Morning Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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The word “Gallipoli” is synonymous with Australian history.   It has been said that it was the birthplace of Australia as a nation.  Our ancestors arrived as sons of the British Empire and came home as Australians. They developed their identity as they fought another nation’s war.  They willingly spilled their blood for the British Empire, and yet they had no real grievances with their enemy.

There was a sense of respect for each side.  The Armistice Day in May 1915 proved that men on both sides could be friends.  For the duration of the day, whilst they buried the dead, many shared family photographs and swapped small token gifts.  Then at 5.30pm, each side returned to their respective trenches and the fighting recommenced.

That respect has continued well after the end of the war.  Turkey has maintained the war cemeteries where our dead are interred and each year they accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who visit Gallipoli each year. The words of the World War One Turkish General Ataturk are very telling of the ongoing friendship between Turkey and the countries of the British Empire.

“Those heroes that 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 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.”

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Recent news reports have surfaced of  so-called “renovations” of the Gallipoli memorials in Turkey.  The above memorial has totally been defaced and it is up for debate as to the truth of what is taking place.  The photo below is what is looks like now:

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The Turkish Government is stating that the monuments are being renovated, however, it has been hinted that the current Government intends to emphasize an Islamic angle to the conflict, by casting Gallipoli as a crusader invasion which was resisted by Jihadi defenders.

I would love to sit down with my Great Grandfather and have a discussion on the subject.  When I first read the article that appeared in the paper I became quite incensed at my Great Grandfather’s memory being disrespected.  Then I realized that no words can change what transpired.  History is what it is and was witnessed by thousands of men whose accounts of the conflict have survived to this day.  Each Anzac Day, television screens are beaming actual footage into our living rooms;  spokespeople tell the sorry tales at services around the country and fortunately, no veterans are here to witness the rumoured  events that are transpiring in Turkey today.

I do hope that the defacing of the monuments are just part of a renovation project and not an act of vilification by an extremist Islamic government.  However, the spirits of our ancestors who fought and lost their lives in Turkey know the truth and with our help, that truth will certainly survive.  After-all, it has already survived for more than a century.

 

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Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

Good Morning Family Friends and Followers

In case you were wondering whether I will be continuing my blog, the answer is Yes.  I have had a break due to my husband being ill, however, the life and times of William Lyons are ever present in my mind.  He is always looking over my shoulder, guiding me to follow the trail of clues he left behind; to unravel the tangled web of conflicts that consumed his life for more than three years.

The year is now 1916 and my eyes are burnt from the sun and intense heat of the Sinai Desert, as I follow the paths that he and his horse cut through the sand as the regiment endeavoured to push the Turks back from the Suez canal.  Directed by the signposts written by Ion Idriess in “The Desert Column” and the Commanding Officer of the Fifth Light Horse in the “War Diaries”, the war drums are beating at every twist and turn in the road as the Turks heat up their attacks on the Anzac and British outposts.

My original assumption that nothing much happened in William’s life in the year 1916 has proved to be so wrong.  As my eyes scan the war diaries, the words hit me like flying bullets, as the various attacks explode off the pages of text.  Nervously I wait with he and his men as they sit silently in the dark expecting the enemy to appear out of the shadows or thick desert fog.  The long and sleepless nights patrolling the desert most certainly affected their nerves, knowing that at any given moment an Arab could creep up from behind and cut one’s throat without any warning, as they often did.

War in the Sinai Desert was a war of many foes.  Along with the Turks, the sun, sand, flies and stench of death were formidable forces to deal with.  Food was often inadequate and water was scarce.  By mid year, men were issued with one bottle of water every 24 hours. Chlorinated tablets were also issued to kill any bacteria in the  brackish water. However, the same tablets were also used to rid stirrups of rust and it burnt leather, which makes you wonder how good it was for human consumption.   The combination of searing heat and lack of water saw, on occasion, both men and horses dying of sunstroke and thirst.  Some men resorted to drinking from the horses’ wells, although it was forbidden.

As I think of William, I wonder how he was affected by the extreme elements.  He had experienced similar hardships in South Africa in 1899 and took it upon himself to prepare himself for the heat and lack of water prior to his departure in October 1914.  Whether the conditions of South Africa were on par with those of the Sinai Desert, I cannot say.  However, according to family he had problems with his eyes as a result of the war and always wore wrap-around sunglasses to cut the glare.

So, I continue my journey of discovery, sorting through the numerous “stunts”, trying to decide which to include in my story.  To the untrained civilian, they seem quite serious, resulting in numerous casualties, although the history books claim that the regiment were only involved in minor scuffles throughout that year.  I guess when you put things in perspective, compared to major campaigns such as Gallipoli and the Western Front, they are relatively minor.  That fact, however,  would have done little to alleviate the grief of families who lost loved ones in those “minor scuffles”.