A terrible beautyOctober 16 in Turkey
After yesterday's taste of Istanbul traffic I had psyched myself up ready for today's drive to Gallipoli. We woke early and crammed in a fast hotel breakfast before riding the 7am hotel shuttle back to the airport and the Avis counter. I had pre-booked a Toyota CHR, so naturally I was given a Renault Kadjar. Does anyone ever get the rental car model they specify? Is it a giant giggle the rental companies are having at our expense? "I see you have booked a BMW 5 series sir. Please enjoy your Dacia Duster (look it up)." Mild disappointment forgotten we set the sat-nav for Eceabat, the closest city to Anzac Cove, and hit the road. All went well for the first 5ks, until I missed one lane change and we got to enjoy the charming but very narrow side-streets of central Istanbul, for about 15 minutes. Luckily I managed to get us back on the motorway and our journey resumed for about the next 4 and a half hours. Along the way we noticed a few interesting things about Turkey. Firstly the driving. The phrase 'drive it like you stole it' may have been invented here. The drivers aren't rude, they are determined and they are going where they are going, whether there is a lane there or not. Secondly speed limits. These are mere numbers to give people something to look at. At times I was doing 130 on the 120k stretch of motorway when multiple vehicles sailed by as though I were parked and if you aren't going fast enough, or move over promptly the flashy lights you shall get. Finally the wildlife. Wherever we pulled over there were what seemed to be stray dogs laying in the sun, on the motorway and at rest stops. They all seemed fairly chilled out, except for the lanky fella who chased our SUV down the road. I think he was a sheep dog though and he may have been near-sighted, so I'll forgive him.
Eventually we arrived at Anzac Cove and looked upon the beach and landscape where so much of our Kiwi identity was forged. It was definitely lump in the throat time. I had two conflicting thoughts battling for attention as I looked around, what a beautiful tranquil place and at the same time what a horrible, impossible landscape to try and stage a landing on, against a foe with command of the heights. It hits you like a punch to the gut how tough it must have been for the men clinging to cover and trying to scale the hillsides while bullets and bombs rained down.
After Anzac Cove we continued on down the peninsula, headed for a memorial that holds very special meaning for me and my family, the Hill 60 cemetery. Last night I was checking the internet to make sure of the location and directions when I had some very upsetting news. It seems that the road to the Hill 60 cemetery has been undergoing work since late July and is not due to be completed until the end of October. This meant that it was closed. As I read this I wasn't sure how to react. The whole reason for travelling to Turkey was so I could visit my Great-uncle's grave at Hill 60 and pay homage to the men of the Otago Mounted Rifles and the other New Zealanders who died in this especially difficult battle.
After soaking in this news I decided that I would not be stopped. I owed it to these men to visit their graves and let them know that New Zealand still remembers and we still honour them. However, until we arrived at Gallipoli we wouldn't know just how closed the road was, so I set off hoping that the work might have been finished ahead of schedule. When we had travelled just a further 5k along the peninsula from Anzac Cove it was apparent that the work was very much still underway. The road had been completely dug up and was bare earth, ready for gravel and tarmac. It was also blocked off. I was ready to ditch the vehicle and walk whatever distance remained to the memorial, through fields, scrub and gorse. Luckily I noticed a gravel road just before the main blocked route. It looked like a farm access road, so we pointed the Kadjar down it and after half an hour, some off-roading and a few bewildered stares from farmers we arrived just 500 metres from the memorial. At this point I knew there were 76 named headstones and my Great-uncle Malachi was not one of these. What I was clinging on to though was that the names of the other 400 or so soldiers killed in this battle would be inscribed on the memorial. Approaching the quiet glade which houses the Hill 60 cemetery I don't think I breathed the whole way over to the memorial, until I located the section for the Otago Mounted Rifles. Scanning the names I finally found Malachi's and just instantly started sobbing uncontrollably. Of course I never met my Great-uncle, nor did my father, but we share the same family name and the same bloodline and I think what got me so emotional was how very far away from Southland this little piece of Turkey is and how the immediate families must have felt, never to see their loved ones again, alive or dead.
I had brought with me a little bit of home to leave with Malachi, a sliver of paua shell from the beach at Fortrose in Southland, near where he grew up. I felt a little better in making this offering but I still found it really hard to leave the cemetery and these New Zealanders lying in a place so many miles from home. From the uttermost ends of the earth.
Retracing our steps back to the paved and permitted roads we continued touring the battlefields, stopping at Chunuk Bair and the Ataturk memorial before reluctantly turning the car towards Istanbul and travelling back to our hotel. This was a quiet, reflective journey, except when we struck Istanbul city traffic and I had to reprise my Stig impression, bouncing between lanes like a slalom skier.
The final challenge was to locate the rental car returns yard. I had had a heads up on how tricky this was to find, so had made a pin on a Google map to assist. Thank goodness I had, otherwise I would have had to circle Istanbul for eternity, like some 21st century Flying Dutchman, but in a Renault. Now we are comfortably back in our hotel room, decompressing and processing the day's events. Tomorrow the Istanbul city sights await.
Click the link for Hill 60 video
Click the link for Chunuk Bair trenches video