Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Battlefields of Gallipoli

Wednesday is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, in World War I on April 25, 1915. "In the early months of 1915, World War I was raging in most of Europe, including the Ottoman empire in the geographical area that is now Turkey. Russian troops were fighting on many fronts, particularly against troops from Germany and the Ottoman and Austro -Hungarian empires. At dawn on April 25, 1915, forces from France, Great Britain and the British Empire, including Australia and New Zealand, landed at a number of places on the Gallipoli peninsula. The campaign aimed to open up new fronts for the Allied forces and a trade route to Russia. In the ensuing battle, many lives were lost on both sides and the Allied forces did not succeed in opening a trade route to Russia."

In remembrance of their sacrifice, here is a section from my currently being written book about visiting Turkey.

It was on the battlefields of Gallipoli that my heart broke. As we traveled down a long, lonely stretch of road leading to Anzac Cove, I began to cry and I couldn’t stop. I covered my head with the hood of my jacket so that the others on the tour couldn’t see my anguish and I buried my face in the crook of my arm, bracing it against the window. I hoped it appeared that I was merely fascinated with the scenery.  But I wasn’t looking at the view. I was struggling against the tears. They came in wave after wave, like the sea surge of young men who raced onto the narrow strip of beach only to ripped asunder under the unrelenting assail of gunfire. Unexpected, unbidden and completely unwanted anguish washed over me.  My stomach knotted, my mouth grew dry with fear and I was plunged into the depths of a full-blown panic attack.

When we parked at the Australian Memorial cemetery, I stumbled out of the bus, thinking that perhaps some fresh air would help.  It didn’t. As the rest of the tour wandered amid the stark white grave markers, I stood at the top of the hill, writhing inside, gasping for breath as the pain and panic of all those young men who died more than a hundred years ago pounded through my veins. As I looked over the bay, it suddenly turned red, and I could see the blood lapping against the rocks.  It was as if I were there.  I could almost smell the gunpowder, hear the artillery, taste the death.
Until that moment I had never even heard about the deaths at Anzac Cove.

I was not a student of World War I and I couldn’t have told you a single thing about Gallipoli except that it had something to do with a battle. In fact, had you asked me a month before, I probably couldn’t have told you where Gallipoli was. Yet on this dank November afternoon, under a slate sky with threat of rain standing on the top of an embankment overlooking the Straights of the Dardenelles, I was as broken with grief as I had ever been before, in agony for all these young men who died in the senselessness of battle.  

My feelings were as inexplicable as they were bewildering. Why was I so profoundly affected by this place? Even as I struggled to put on a calm, I somehow knew that this was a significant moment. “Pay attention,” an inner voice warned.  “You need to remember this, all of this.”
I pulled out my now worn Moleskine notebook and began writing:
We just visited the cemetery at one of the battlefields where 240,000 Australian and New Zealand troops and 400,000 Turks died in World War I. I couldn’t crying and the pressure in my chest is crushing. The loss of life for no reason. I saw the graves of 22, 24, 25 year old men who lie here on shores so far from home. I can hardly breathe. I feel the sorrow like a palpable blanket. It seems like the land is saturated with the blood of young men here in Anzak Cove.
May we never forget.


  1. Anonymous8:19 AM

    This shall be a powerful book you're writing, since you were visited by such a profound grief. It's recent news to me of this battle - but I can only imagine you being overcome

  2. I was stunned at my reaction. A place where the pain of death still lingers.


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