I do not know
There is a flood, but it will be over

Dawn passage through the Dardanelles on MV Nautica

The eternal flameKEITH JACKSON

WE arise before dawn and we see the dark shape of land - the Aegean Sea is funnelling into the Dardanelles, just a narrow strait but with a name that triggers an emotional response in Australians.

In the half-light we see silhouetted on the rocky clifftop that marks the strait’s entrance four soaring columns of a massive monument and an oversized Turkish flag.

At about this time on 25 April 1915, 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders traversed these waters to be landed on Gallipoli’s precipitous and lethal shore.

Over the next eight months until the Allies retreated, 33,000 Allied (Diggers, Kiwis, Tommies, French) troops were killed – as were 86,000 Turks.

In the outcome, this invasion was a failure of literally Churchillean proportions for the Allies.  But, despite the defeat and the ultimate midnight escape of December 1915, the way these young men fought in this inhospitable place forged their reputation, galvanised the peoples of Australia and New Zealand and gave birth to the legend of Anzac.

And, from the conversations I had in their land, Turks of my generation (ageing) know this story every bit as well as we know it.

From the sea, the battlefield presents as a long series of undulating hills and ridges fringed by the steep cliffs I recall from graphic and heroic paintings hanging in the cold brick corridors of my primary school in Nowra 60 years ago.  The vegetation is of a khaki-olive not unfamiliar to Australians.

As Nautica comes abeam of the great monument, the sun rises, bursting through a low sea mist.  With 200 passengers gathered on deck, a bugler (“just call me Piotr, I’m from Poland”) plays the Last Post and Reveille, and over the ship’s PA system cruise director Willie Aames offers the words inscribed on that giant monument –

“…mothers wipe your tears … your sons lie at peace … they now lie in the soil of a friendly country … they become our sons as well…”

It is a moment charged with high emotion for the assembled Aussies and Kiwis.  I shed a tear.

This was a fine gesture by the US-owned Oceania Line: Nautica had been scheduled to transit the Dardanelles at 2am but the skipper loitered for four hours to enable this rare opportunity for his Australian and New Zealand passengers to pay respects to our shared and considerable national tradition.

As Taps is played, followed by a five-minutes silence (yes five minutes, no messing about by the Americans), the giant red Turkish flag alongside the monument is borne aloft like a spinnaker on the brisk, cool southerly wind that has emerged with the dawn.  And Nautica motors on through the Dardanelles.

Some 30 minutes into the strait, at its narrowest point, I observe a large swathe of cleared hillside.  White stones pick out the figure of a gun-bearing soldier and, in white and red, a stone eternal flame has been confected to flare from a stone crucible (top photo).

Etched in Turkish, again in white stones, is this injunction -

“Traveller, halt.  The soil you tread once witnessed the end of an era.  Listen.  In this quiet mound there beats the heart of a nation.”

The Dardanelles campaign ended in defeat for the Anzacs and our Allies and it was a great military triumph for the Turks under their great leader Kemal Ataturk.

Gallipoli helped build the Turkish nation through victory just as surely as it helped build our own through defeat.

Istanbul minaretsNautica’s transit of the Dardanelles takes about two hours, and then we are in the Sea of Marmara, final resting place of one of Australia’s first submarines, AE2 (AE1 lies on the seabed somewhere off the Duke of Yorks in Papua New Guinea).

Later in the morning, we enter the Bosphorus (a narrow strait no wider than an average river, separating Asia and Europe, and where currents flow in each direction, one atop the other).

On both sides sit Istanbul, a misty, mystical, mosquiccal, minarettal city. Nautica moves on carrying us into the Black Sea.


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Chris Overland

Thank you for posting this Keith. It is a very fitting contribution on this day.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald someone wrote an article which asserted, amongst other things, that the Anzac mythology has airbrushed from history some of the distinctly less noble things that our soldiers did during World War 1.

The tone of the article, whatever its intention, was somewhat disparaging, managing to conflate Anzac day commemorations with our supposed national amnesia about how our noble ancestors treated Aboriginal people.

This article annoyed me quite a lot but, as a historian, I know that gathering the facts about a given event is usually the easy part of the exercise. Putting those facts in context and then trying to give them some sort of meaning is the really tricky bit.

So it is with Anzac Day. The bald facts are well enough known but are insufficient, in themselves, to explain why Australians have latched on to a major military defeat as somehow being the event that created, or at least revealed, a unique Australian identity.

It is much easier to understand why the Anzac campaign is important to the Turks, because the whole notion of modern Turkey arose out of that conflict, led and embodied by the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his fellow "Young Turks".

Ataturk was a special man by any measure and his magnanimous words of comfort to grieving Australian mothers are, to this day, exceptionally compassionate and moving.

Sadly, neither the Anzac campaign nor any other event has produced an Australian of comparable genius or standing. No political figure in this country has come even close to Ataturk. Our World War 1 leader, Billy Hughes, was a bright but devious, quarrelsome and divisive figure, not a great nation builder.

So it is rather fitting that we choose instead to venerate a group of men who, mostly unhindered by either real knowledge or understanding about the war and its purposes, gallantly charged ashore at Gallipoli Cove.

In doing so, they accidently created a legend of courage, sacrifice and humanity that has transmogrified into the Anzac myth. That they were all too human, not really heroes at all, simply magnifies the myth in a country that has, since its founding, always insisted that no man (or woman) is better than any other, either before God or the law or their fellow citizens.

This is, I think, why Anzac still resonates so strongly with us today. We know that the Anzacs were essentially like us.

They were not heroes of the type extolled in Homer and other classics: they were just men, often scared and bewildered, who did what they felt they had to do even when caught up in events beyond their understanding.

Importantly, when they left Gallipoli for the last time, they understood that they had been defeated by men just like them. It turned out that "Johnny Turk" was not the inferior and cowardly fighter that they had been encouraged to expect.

The courage, determination and humanity of the Turkish troops had been on vivid display throughout the campaign. They fought and died for their country in a way we could only respect and admire. We still do.

So, the meaning I'd like to give to Anzac Day is really about how human beings can rise above their limitations to endure great suffering and do great deeds in the name of a cause they sincerely believe in.

This inherent capacity in humans has been both a great curse and a great boon to us all. It has brought us triumph and tragedy in equal measure.

Today, of all days, we should reflect on this in the probably forlorn hope that someday, somehow, we will reach a point where we collectively cease to have any need to go to war.

Paul Oates

Having visited Gallipoli twice in recent years I can only say that the experience is very moving and I empathise with you Keith. It is a very emotional experience. The care and effort the Turkish authorities have made, make the whole area well worth a visit.

Interesting that the ship played 'Taps'. I wasn't aware the yanks were part of the campaign or in fact the war until 1917? Oh well, nothing like friendly relations.

Speaking of which, in the PowerPoint travelogues I now give to historical groups, schools, service groups, retirees etc. I have an extended version of the ANZAC story.

I explain the fact that there are at least two Turkish memorial showing a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Digger to safety. Where else could you see that magnanimous spirit of reconciliation?


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