A personal Gallipoli pilgrimage
The DIY touring approach to the Gallipoli Peninsula
GRANT Purcell looks like he’s been in the wars, and not for the first time during his stay on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula.
“Oh, just a few scratches from the briars,” he explains. This retired army reserve officer has just spent the morning pushing solo through thickets of scrub oak, gorse and wild strawberry trees on the steep, sandy slopes beneath the legendary Chunuk Bair summit, a key objective in the Allies’ 1915 campaign to force the Dardanelles Strait and so knock Turkey out of the Great War.
For Grant, a Queenslander with a particular interest in battlefield topography, there is no better approach to understanding the ANZAC experience, and at once honouring it, than by retracing the major advances that those soldiers made under withering Turkish fire. Not that the full-on bushwhack is the only way to appreciate this historically key finger of land in the northern Aegean. Less challenging itineraries await independent travellers planning visits in the centenary year, be they combatants’ kin, dedicated battlefield tourists or the simply curious.
Generally excellent information boards at the 70-plus war cemeteries, memorials and monuments (always open, no charge), and the moving collections of personal relics displayed in local museums, offer vivid on-site insights into the campaign, a heroic but fly-blown and unutterably bloody expedition that cost an estimated 150,000 lives.
Nor need any visit focus exclusively on 1915 as mustsee ancient Troy, fascinating Turkish-owned Aegean islands such as Bozcaada, and a flourishing local wine scene all lie within easy reach. Bear also in mind that the “national history park” designation means the peninsula has been spared the development now afflicting much of the Turkish Aegean; here’s an ecologically pristine haven of pine forests, farmlands and beaches that’s strikingly rich in birdlife and flowers.
As no public transport serves the remote 48km littoral, with its three conflict zones at Anzac Cove, Cape Helles and Suvla Bay, you should sign up for tours with recommended local guides such as Kenan Celik or Tj Gezici (Anzac Gallipoli Tours) or hire a (widely available) local taxi. With levels of interest sure to be stoked by Gallipoli-themed movie releases such as Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, don’t even think about competing with the record-breaking crowds — the Turks on March 18 and the ANZACS on April 25 — expected for the ticketonly ceremonies of commemoration. Aim instead for midweek (Turkish visitors descend en masse at weekends) any time between April and October.
Begin by driving the coast road to the ANZAC sector. At Anzac Cove, where the landings of April 25 were mistakenly made beneath formidable heights, take in the Beach Cemetery, one of about 30 grave sites superbly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Amid the rosemary bushes, stands of irises and cut lawns, look out for the memorial headstone to the legendary “Man with the Donkey”, John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who was finally killed after heroic service carrying the wounded out of the aptly named Shrapnel Valley. Walk the strikingly narrow beach north to Ariburnu where a monument bears Turkish leader and Gallipoli veteran Ataturk’s moving words of reconciliation.
The submerged war wrecks including the steamer Milo attract regular snorkelling tours with Crowded House Gallipoli.
Walking routes remain undeveloped on the peninsula, though an exception is the graded 2km Artillery Road. Join it at Clark’s Valley and walk up to Shell Green Cemetery — famously the location for a cricket match staged to draw the Turks’ attention away from the December 1915 evacuations — before climbing to the main cemetery at Lone Pine, the exceptionally moving focus of the annual ANZAC commemorations. From here the one-way asphalt road follows the contested ridge which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the campaign, with successive ANZAC cemeteries and Turkish memorials to either side.
Make for the Nek, with an extensive network of intact trenches; this was the setting of the doomed charge by the Australian Light Horse dramatised in Peter Weir’s film, Gallipoli. For excellent views over the landing beaches continue to the heights of Chunuk Bair. Be sure to follow the short but beautiful walking trail through bush to the remote Farm Cemetery. Retrace your steps to the main New Zealand memorial. On the nearby statue to Ataturk the inscription describes how his fob watch — now shattered, and displayed in a Berlin museum — saved the great man’s life by stopping a piece of flak. Follow the loop road to Kabatepe where the newly-opened Legend of Gallipoli Centre (open daily) presents the official Turkish version of the campaign with a walk-through audio-visual and 3D simulation experience.
For more on the national perspectives of the Brits, Turks and even the forgotten French (who all lost men here), venture south to Cape Helles. At the village of Seddulbahir is the lone grave of British officer Charles Doughty-Wylie, buried where he fell leading the assault on V Beach. Doughty-Wylie, honoured with a VC, is also remembered for his affair with the legendary Orientalist and explorer Gertrude Bell whom local legend identifies as the veiled woman sighted at his grave shortly before the eventual allied evacuation; it’s a classic weepie that film-maker Werner Herzog incorporates into his forthcoming Queen of the Desert, with Gertrude Bell played by Nicole Kidman and Doughty-Wylie by Damian Lewis.
Follow the one-way road up to the main Turkish Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial, a vast modernist structure surrounded by commemorative rose gardens. Take in the nearby French National Cemetery, one of the largest on the peninsula, with its ossuary and iron-wrought crosses tipped with honorary fleurs-de-lis emblems.
The northerly conflict zone at Suvla Bay, with very few cemeteries or memorials, receives few visitors. Visit instead for the wonderfully wild landscapes around Salt Lake and excellent swimming off the roadside, dunebacked A Beach. While in the area take in the best of the peninsula’s numerous village collections of war relics by following the signs to Buyukanafarta and Ozay Gundogan’s 1915 Museum (open daily). Local farmer Gundogan has set aside a room where he displays the likes of bullets, buckles, pickaxes, boat-makers’ brass plates, tea strainers, cap badges, false teeth, cigarette cases, pocket Bibles and other objects retrieved from the battlefields. It’s especially moving for the spot-on English captioning (not always a Turkish strength), with an officer’s whistle described as “the last sound that many of these men ever heard”.
On track to sites associated with the failed Allied naval assault of March 1915, cross the spectacular Dardanelles to Canakkale by regular car ferry, which takes 30 minutes from Kilitbahir or Eceabat, a charming port town with a Naval Museum (closed Mondays and Thursdays); tour the replica of the minelayer Nusret and hear the meticulously turned-out duty cadet tell of her vital role in defending the Straits against the Allied fleet.
From Canakkale head south for half an hour to Troy. At nearby Geyikli Yukyeri up to five ferries daily leave for the 45-minute crossing to Bozcaada, a charming Aegean island with fine beaches and an old port town of shaded alleys and tavernas.
Accommodation? Gallipoli Houses is a delightful small hotel in rustic Kocadere; Hotel Crowded House is a good budget option in Eceabat; and Hotel Kervansaray is a period town house hotel in Canakkale.
The Gallipoli Memorial, left, and ANZAC Cove, above; Bozcaada Island, below