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.”
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:
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.