Friday, September 23, 2011


Six frigates of the Turkish navy came from the south, sailing sedately and line astern out of the faint haze of the Aegean. I watched them from a small bluff on Anzac Cove, conscious of the poignancy of witnessing warships once more standing off this sacred site.

The Cove itself is insignificant: there might be a million like it off the Aegean. What is surprising is the height of the country: it rises immediately from the beach; cliffs of clay ascending into steep, gorse covered hills. Not that they were covered in gorse in 1915; within days of the landing all that was blasted into oblivion by the guns. Yet the sharp rise of the hills remained the same; every rising metre to be fought for and died for.

This was a battle for the high ground; our visit to Lone Pine tells us that immediately. This place dominates the coast line for miles. Howitzers here would have rained devastation on the beaches below. If you took the high ground you could take out the guns guarding the narrow Dardanelles; take out the guns and the British and French battleships could sail unhindered to Istanbul and take Turkey out of the war. Great strategy on paper: but one look at this country tells you that, against a superbly led determined and experienced enemy, it would be the hardest ask imaginable

I think maybe the generals in the panelled rooms of the British War Office underestimated ‘Johnny’ Turk. Men in the regiments under Attaturk had seen action and were hardened soldiers; six months earlier our boys had been farm hands and shop assistants. It’s a wonder that they hung on so long.

Which is perhaps why so many of the eulogies carved on the simple gravestones try to make some sense of the senseless; to reconcile the loss of young, long-limbed sons and brothers and husbands to the will of God and the certainty of meeting again on the other side.

But carved in stone on a grave marker at Lone Pine is a message that, for me, says it all. It’s the grave marker of a captain lying between two privates. Captain GW Brown was twenty-five: a captain at the same age our kids are starting their careers. What could a man who made captain at the age of twenty-five have made of his life? What could he have been at forty; at fifty?

Captain Brown, dead at twenty-five was the son of WA and EA Brown. They knew exactly what they had lost. They made no attempt at patriotism or reconciliation to an after life. On their son’s marker they had carved, ‘Our best we have given to the earth’.

This sombre, gorse-covered earth is filled with the best of at least five nations. The generations who have come and gone since they went into the earth have missed them sorely.

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