Mark Barnes arrives at Anzac Cove.
There is little doubt that Anzac is the place most people identify with the Gallipoli campaign.
Many accounts suggest that this place, just as Vimy Ridge was for Canada; is where Australia and New Zealand found nationhood and began to develop truly separate identities from the mother country thousands of miles away. Unfortunately less accurate notions also apply, in that the Anzacs suffered more casualties and fought worse battles than the British. Poor direction and terrible suffering were not unique to the Anzacs at Gallipoli and we have to keep a weather eye on events on the French front before any arguments should rage comparing the experiences of the Anzacs and the British. The whole campaign was a litany of high command incompetence and awful conditions for the men who landed there. The Turkish army itself was not short on horrors. The peninsular was a dreadful place to live and fight for all the participants.
As we have seen already, the British landings were only part of a wider plan. Ian Hamilton required the Australians to land on ‘Z’ Beach near Ari Burnu point and progress up the steep spurs and ridges in front of them to push inland to capture the Sari Bair range of hills and it’s highest point, Hill 971 on day one. They should then move on to capture the Kilid Bahr Plateau to cut off any enemy counter attacking force heading towards the British landings at Helles.
In the early hours of 25th of April, 1915, men from three Australian infantry battalions began to row ashore. These troops had around two hours to get themselves ashore and sorted before the first Turks from a single company of infantry began to put any fire on the beach. The second wave came in followed by a fourth battalion – so that the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions were ashore with more to follow. The Turks continued to fire, but unlike ‘V’ and ‘W’ Beaches at Helles, Australian casualties were light.
The plan to move inland and achieve objectives on that first day proved impossible over the entire campaign and seem absolutely ridiculous even before you stand on the ground and see just how difficult things were for the Australians. As with Helles, the narrow strip of beach offered very little room for manoeuvre for the landing forces. In the case of the Diggers they almost literally had to start climbing the first of a seemingly endless succession of ridges as soon as they got ashore. The disappointments of the first day would continue as the weeks went turned to months.
Modern day Anzac Cove is a bit of a disappointment. The new road and the seawall supporting it dominate the beach and leave little room for a truly pleasurable walk. The cove continues round to where a couple of WW2 era pillboxes have tumbled onto the shingle. Despite liking a pillbox anywhere in the world, I found the impact a little underwhelming in the early morning haze and it may come as no surprise that most tourist buses bringing trippers from Istanbul or Troy drive right past it and stop at the beautiful cemetery at Ari Burnu to look out along the large inviting Ocean Beach which fits anyone’s idea of what a landing beach might look like. To underline this a bus load of Americans and Aussies arrived while I was there. They rushed across the cemetery lawn on to the beach; took a few snaps and left within little more than fifteen minutes. Only a few of them paused to reflect by the graves. One of my guides lamented that it was sad they did not stay longer or look further.
A large monolith next to Ari Burnu cemetery records the 1934 statement by Mustafa Kemal when he said:
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away lands, 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.”
There are many similar monuments all over the region and we will encounter more later on. The battlefield offers a genuine mix of appealing and not so easy on the eye monuments but they all do a job of work.
Walking this landscape for fun is hard going on a fifty-five year old bloke carrying no more than a couple of bottles of water and a camera. The assault troops were weighed down with kit in addition to their weapons and would not have anything like the necessary amount of drinking water to compensate for their exertions. All on all fronts the invading army had to bring absolutely everything it needed to conduct the campaign and water was a never-ending problem.
Look inland from the beach and the first thing that strikes you is the imposing height of The Sphinx, a promontory swiftly named as such by the Diggers who had trained near the ancient monument in Egypt. Recent earth tremors have shaved some of the landmark off, but it retains the character men landing at Anzac in 1915 would recognise.
Beach cemetery is another beautiful location and, as the name suggests, it is right on the landing ground at Hell’s Spit, the southern end of Anzac Cove. It is a lovely place. One of Australia’s heroes, John Simpson Kirkpatrick is buried here. A native of South Shields, known as a sand dancer in local parlance, he served in the Merchant Navy before the war and arrived in Australia in 1910. He deserted his ship and travelled across the country doing all manner of jobs. A big strong man, he was not slow in using his fists and had a reputation for trouble. Following the outbreak of war he enlisted using the name John Simpson, probably to avoid any comebacks on his desertion from the Merchant Navy. He served as a stretcher bearer with 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps and landed at Anzac on the 25th of April.
On the following day he took possession of a donkey he used to move casualties down from the high ground to the beach. The legendary status of ‘Jack’ Simpson and his donkey “Murphy” lives on to this day. He was killed, aged 22, on the 19th of May while bringing in a casualty. Simpson was Mentioned in Dispatches but was not recommended for a gallantry award. In recent times a campaign urged that he be awarded a retrospective Victoria Cross, but a committee looking at gallantry awards found that his MiD was in line with the other stretcher bearers at Gallipoli and there the matter rests.
Once we had walked Anzac Cove and paid our respects at the two cemeteries it was time to stock up on water and start the climb on to Plugge’s Plateau to get a true appreciation of the topography awaiting the Australians. This was the first of a series of quite stunning climbs I was hopeful of achieving without mishap. The broken foot I was still recovering from was going to be seriously put to the test.
Words and images by Mark Barnes for War History Online. All material copyright: Mark Barnes 2014 unless stated. All Rights Reserved.