Mark Barnes relives his climb from Anzac to Lone Pine via Plugge’s Plateau
Within two hours of getting ashore on the 25th of April the Australians had begun ascending the steep hills abutting the beach. At 100 metres Hain Tepe would not be the highest the Anzac troops would have to climb, but it’s small moderately flat area on the summit would prove suitable for the headquarters of Arthur Plugge, the officer commanding a battalion of Aucklanders who arrived as the invasion progressed – or rather, didn’t. Plugge’s Plateau is how this piece of land is known to this day.
In some respects our guides were testing us with the climb to the top. Well, at least that is what I and some of the others in our party suspected. A lot of awkward steps had been cut into the slope, meaning you are wise to measure your pace; but in real terms it was not an arduous assent and we all made it up having taken the path running alongside the large and picturesque Shrapnel Valley cemetery.
At the top the vista in any direction is stunning. The view out to sea revealed the dark shadow of a wreck while The Sphinx seemed close enough to touch. We had a good view of the Anzac commemoration place down at Ari Burnu where tour buses were parking up for their brief stopovers. The importance of our location was revealed when we looked inland. Even on a hot, hazy morning it was easy to pick out the many ridges, most deceptively higher and further away than they appeared. The main crest in view that drew our attention would prove to be the old front line denoted by a modern one way road linking Lone Pine with the delights of Chunuk Bair and the damaged road leading up to Hill 971. This ridge was the extent of the Anzac advance in the campaign and would prove to be a place we could reach in time for lunch. How this fact impacts on your appreciation of the campaign is something of a moot point.
On top of Plugge’s Plateau is a small eponymously named cemetery where I sat with a fellow traveller who, like me, was recovering from recent injury (her’s wasn’t tank inflicted!). I also have to admit to a bit of an issue with the idea of ascending or descending knife-edged ridges and the plan to do just that did not appeal. While the others went off playing silly sods we chilled out and were joined by a couple more sensible souls who were content to miss out.
We descended back the way we came and had time to pay proper respects to the men buried at Shrapnel Valley. Having joined up with the others we set out on the winding climb up to Steele’s Post via 400 Plateau, the name betraying the height. We looked down into Monash Gully and on to Pope’s Hill. I know all this because I am looking at my maps as I write. We saw so many places I never managed to keep note of them all. At some point we passed a marker for the grave of an unknown soldier buried in the side of the ridge below our path. With so much vegetation covering the battlefield it would not surprise me that the undiscovered remains of others were not very far away.
We reached 4th Battalion Parade Ground cemetery, named after an Aussie infantry unit who had used the site to bury it’s dead. Our guide Peter related bringing a couple of hippy chicks of an advanced age to the cemetery to pay respects to an ancestor. They poured beer on his grave and then did a fair bit of chanting and dancing which he felt they were best left to perform by themselves so, he retreated. Another recent pilgrim in these hills was the filmmaker Peter Jackson who ignored the lethal brush and went everywhere in search of his chosen history. We never encountered any other pilgrims on the adventurous trails Peter Hart took us along. If I’d met Peter Jackson I’d have told him to stop sodding about and get on with his remake of The Dambusters. It is interesting to note the cemetery is a three hundred metre uppy downy climb from the road we were heading for. By the time we reached the top it was not difficult to sympathise with the younger men attempting it under fire a century ago.
The commanding height of the memorial at Lone Pine came into view, but we were first drawn to the little cemetery on the site of Johnston’s Jolly named in honour of the 2nd Australian Infantry Division’s chief gunner Brigadier-General GJ Johnston. This was the site of serious fighting when the Aussies got there on the 25th of April, but they lost the position and never got it back. While we were there a tortoise lumbered out of the foliage and caused a bit of a stir among the wildlife buffs. But of much greater significance were the extensive network of Australian trenches on the opposite side of the road. The front line was the width of the modern road with little more than ten or fifteen metres between the opposing armies. At some points they were so close they could practically reach out and touch each other.
Compared to the Western Front Gallipoli seems to be awash with original trenches, weapons pits, dugouts and tunnels. They are usually very well defined and if it were not for the immense amount of vegetation now smothering the battlefield that was once practically bare, it would be possible to see much more. It is easy to connect with history when you are literally walking in the footsteps of soldiers from a hundred years ago.
We ate our lunch resting in the shade of a handy clutch of trees at Lone Pine.
Having been for their fleeting walk on Ari Burnu to look out on Ocean Beach and tick off their Anzac visit from the itinerary, the bus loads of tourists trundle round the road network to halt for a short time at Lone Pine. If this is Thursday, it must be Gallipoli. We watched the buses stop and the groups hurry out to get their snaps. One or two were hastily looking for a name on the Memorial to the Missing and, as ever, it was a moment to withdraw and leave them to their thoughts. Lone Pine is a stunning place on a scorching September day and I had to remind myself that in winter it can be covered in drifting snow and the frost is a constant enemy of the stonework. The contrasts between the seasons are stark and once again illustrate the misery for the men fighting here in 1915.
Leading elements of the Aussie battalions had reached this place on the first day of the landings but did not manage to hold it. The plateau was contested from May to July and the Turks gave it the name Kanil Sirt – ‘Bloody Ridge’. Matters came to a head on August 6th when mines were exploded under the Turkish positions and the 1st Australian Brigade attacked with fire support from artillery and warships. The brigade fended off several counter-attacks and thereafter the plateau remained in Allied hands until the evacuation.
To say this place is sacred to many Australians borders on understatement. I feel like I have almost completed something by being able to say I have been to Thiepval, Vimy Ridge, the Menin Gate and now Lone Pine. It completes a kind of circle, but in actual fact there is a lot more to do yet. In battlefield terms this is a major pilgrimage site for Australians and long may they come. It is a shame, however, that more of them don’t make the short trip to Helles where other Australians fought and died and are commemorated on the memorial we visited in an earlier instalment. There are other memorials to the Aussies and Kiwis on the battlefield and we will be visiting them in due course.
We took our leave of Lone Pine and got on our bus for the short journey along the ridge to Quinn’s Post and there we changed tack with a visit to the impressive Turkish 57th Battalion memorial from where I will start the next part of this series.
Words and images by Mark Barnes for War History Online. All material copyright: Mark Barnes 2014 unless stated. All Rights Reserved.