A visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula and ANZAC Cove is a deeply moving experience, and I am not sure I can begin to do justice to it here. But I will do my best to put the sentiment into words that I felt visiting this site.
When documenting such a place it is important to be as respectful as possible. So there was no posing for photos and no on-site commentary for anything that we did or saw that day.
It is a place for quiet reflection and appreciation of those who came before us.
This post is my best effort to convey what I felt visiting a place that I had thought about often since I was a kid. But of course, I have also tried to offer as much practical information as possible.
My Aussie Disclaimer
First I wanted to highlight this is written from the perspective of an Australian and is heavily slanted towards why this is a special place for Australian’s.
I want to respect the Turkish perspective and what Gallipoli may mean to them.
When I refer to the arrival at Gallipoli I call it the landing, but to them, it was an invasion.
So I wanted to start off this article by sharing the Ataturk Memorial. I thought this was the most moving memorial at the site, and a great leveler no matter what your background.
It is a message inspired by peace from the Turkish people that recognizes that wartime has passed, and neutralizes any debate of right or wrong with supreme forgiveness and an offer of brotherhood.
Both Anh and I could not hold back the tears as we read through this message intended for the families of those who lay there.
“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.”
What is ANZAC
For those of you not from Australia or New Zealand you may not be familiar with ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) or the Battle of Gallipoli.
As a brief background, the battle started on the 25th April 1915 when allied troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli in an attempt to take control of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits. This would have isolated Turkey from its allies, and opened up the sea-lanes from Europe to Russia.
This was the ANZAC forces first entry into the war effort and came at a time when Australia was a new nation. Having only become a commonwealth 14 years earlier in 1901.
The reality of war was a foreign concept to many of the men who enlisted prior to the Gallipoli Campaign.
The opportunity to travel abroad and fight the Germans was an opportunity too good to pass up according to some very effective propaganda at the time. Their primary worry was that the war would be over before they could get there!
But the Battle of Gallipoli alone dragged on for nine months. Led to a stalemate and eventual retreat, with little to show for it.
But it was the stories of bravery, courage, mateship and a unique sense of humor that came out of this campaign that established the ANZAC legacy, and this is celebrated annually in Australia on the 25th April.
Despite this event taking place over 100 years ago, the ANZAC legacy not only lives on, but gathers strength every year. The younger generations continue to embrace and celebrate ANZAC Day with this annual commemoration.
The battle is depicted in the 80’s movie Gallipoli. Which gives some insight into the odds these men faced and the sheer bravery they showed as they charged the Turkish trenches.
I have not seen this movie since high school but I still remember a line before the final scene from the officer in charge of sending his men over the trench into what was an unwinnable raid.
“I cannot ask the men to do something that I will not do myself”
I think that goes a long way to sum up what these men stood for, and why the ideals that have influenced Australian and New Zealand culture ever since.
Sharing the Experience with Anh
I felt somewhat privileged to be sharing this experience with someone who had not grown up in Australia where the ANZAC legacy is celebrated each year and is deeply ingrained in the national identity.
Anh didn’t come to Australia until she was 11 years old, and living in an immigrant community did not expose her as much to what this means to her adopted countrymen.
This gave me the opportunity to talk through what this legacy meant to me personally. Which is something that I had never thought to discuss in such depth before with anyone.
I found myself having a hard time staying composed as I tried to articulate my thoughts. But going through that process helped me to some important realizations which I will share at the end of this post.
Sites We Visited
ANZAC Cove in its current state is a beautiful sight. The clear blue water runs up to a lovely small beach, surrounded by manicured grounds and well-kept retaining walls.
It is difficult to imagine what went on here in such beautiful surroundings.
What stood out to me the most was just how small the site was.
Between the landing site and the eventual battlefront is a steep hill that is covered in thick shrubbery.
This is an intimidating obstacle to tackle without even factoring in the conditions of war.
The coastal road sweeps past the site, site and the main ANZAC Cove memorial site.
After making our way up the steep hill past Plugge’s Plateau, we reached the site of the Battle of Lone Pine.
It was on this site that four days of intense fighting led to the death of over 2,000 Aussie troops.
This was a much larger memorial site with a well-manicured cemetery that overlooks a stunning view of the Aegean Sea, which glows in the background.
Overlooking the grounds was a memorial that also contained a guest book where you could sign your name and leave a note.
This was something I wrestled with for about ten minutes. Not just to find the words to write, but to be able to do so without tears welling up in my eyes.
If you visit the site I would encourage you to do the same. It really makes you stop and think about what you could say to these brave men if given the opportunity.
I have shared a longer version of what I wrote in the guest book towards the end of this post.
To be added
How to get to ANZAC Cove
You can do the round trip from Istanbul to Gallipoli in a day, but it will be a long day. A 6am pickup would likely end with a drop off around 10pm that evening.
This is why we recommend a tour rather than self-driving if you plan to do it in one day. You can at least relax on the bus when weary on the way home.
If you want to visit for the dawn service then the easiest route if to book a tour that will organize your transport, meals and camping space on site.
For prices and booking information check out the links below:
From Eceabat and Canakkale
This is a cheaper option, and far less taxing than the long day involving a round trip from the capital.
Whether it is suitable depends on your time to spare, and our general direction of travel. If you would also prefer a tour guide then this is an affordable choice compared to a private guide.
Flights depart from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Cannakale, which is just a short ferry ride to Eceabat.
The cost of the flight is not much more than the bus ticket with a range of $30-$100US depending on when you fly.
You can take a bus from the Greater Istanbul Bus Station (Esenler Otogari) directly to Eceabat, or Canakkale.
The journey will cost $15US and take approximately 5-6 hours.
The trip is about 4-6 hours by car depending on traffic (and wrong turns).
Our drive definitely ended up near the higher end of the range!
Unless you plan on continuing on past Gallipoli and down the west coast of Turkey we don’t recommend the self-driving option. It is much easier to just get on a day tour.
We rented a car through Europcar directly from the airport. We found their terms and pricing were the most favorable for our trip:
- Unlimited KMs
- Low holding deposit
- Easy experience
<Book your car rental here>.
We did the drive from Istanbul the night before and stayed in a hotel in Eceabat. This is a convenient home base with ANZAC Cove just a quick 15 minute drive away.
Canakkale is also a viable option, just factor in an additional 20-30 minutes in travel time to get across the ferry ($15-20US with a car).
Unfortunately, my lack of a proper map, and some poorly made assumptions about where the entry point was based on what I had seen in the dark the night before led us to a 90 minute drive through the back fields of the Peninsula.
We realized the mistake early but doubled down in an attempt to snake our way through the backcountry and back onto the main road.
With every turn the dirt road became narrower. At one point we were on a single lane gap through the back of someone’s farm. And speaking of snakes, we did see a massive one dart across the road in front of the car.
Now we did find the road we were looking for that was supposed to join up with the main road to ANZAC Cove…. But as of July 2019 that road is a dirt construction site. Maybe try in 2021 if you want to go that way.
So we had to turn around and go all the way back.
Don’t do what we did.
Preparing for Gallipoli Without a Tour Guide
If you are not going with a tour guide and want to learn more ahead of time then there are some great resources that can help you get the most out of your time there.
For the history buff, the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs has prepared an audio guide covering each of the following sites on The ANZAC Walk:
- North Beach
- Ari Burnu
- Anzac Cove
- Shrapnel Valley
- Hell Spit
- Brighton Beach
- Artillery Road
- Lone Pine
- Johnston’s Jolly
- Quinn’s Post
- Turkish Memorial
- The Nek Cemetery
- Walker’s Ridge Cemetery
- Overlooking North Beach at Walker’s Ridge
If you are more of a couch historian you have the option to watch one of the many documentaries about the campaign such as the one below:
5 More Tips for Visiting ANZAC Cove
- If you wish to visit for the ANZAC Day dawn service book well in advance
- Take the time to write in the guest books at the memorials. While no words could ever be enough to express appreciation to those who fought there, just stopping to think about what you could say is important.
- Give yourself at least half a day to walk around the site. You will want to take your time to appreciate your surroundings and read the memorials.
- In the summer months, it gets very hot so you will need a hat, sunscreen and to dress light
- Oh, and if self-driving use a damn navigation app so you don’t waste a chunk of your day driving through sunflower fields as we did.
A Personal Reflection
As I walked through the various cemeteries on the site I came to a humbling realization. At 35 years of age, I was much older than the vast majority of the men who’s names stared back at me.
Row after row of headstones where young men just like me, from a land just like me, met their end for a cause greater than I could imagine.
It may have only been my good fortune to be born a hundred years later that would determine how different our lives would be.
When we were back in the car and driving away from the site Anh asked me the question of whether I would have enlisted and joined the war effort if I was around at the time.
This is a question I have thought about a lot over the years, and it is very difficult to answer.
My gut says yes.
This may be out of pride, ego, adventure, love of country, love of family, and a complete lack of understanding of what war is really about. Just as it was for many of the young men who did enlist back then.
But deciding to go, that may just be the easy part.
For me the real question is this:
If I was faced with the same circumstances, would I have the courage to do what they did?
Am I capable of charging up a beach, or out of a trench, directly into machine-gun fire? Shoulder to shoulder with my mates.
That is a question that I cannot even begin to answer… And thanks to the sacrifice of the men who lay here, and thousands of others around the world since, I never have to.
And for that, I am deeply grateful.