On Monday 26th October we assembled at Terminal 5 at Heathrow in order to catch the 9.35 am flight to Istanbul. Our party (numbering 28) comprised of OSs, a former master and two parents. Our primary objective was to visit the graves of, and memorials to, the 27 Sedberghians whose remains lie on the Gallipoli peninsula, and to conduct a Service of Commemoration and Remembrance at the Helles Memorial. Also individual acts of Remembrance in the cemeteries where there are graves of OSs.
At Istanbul Airport we met Peter Marshall and our 2 guides, Dr Bruce Cherry and Erkut Aldeniz, and boarded a coach for the long drive to Cannakale where we were staying for the duration of the trip. As we drove through the vast urban sprawl of Istanbul, our guides were soon into their stride and we quickly realised how lucky we were to have them. Bruce’s comprehensive knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign and its historical and political context, which he imparted clearly and entertainingly, kept us informed throughout, and Erkut’s views from a Turkish perspective were refreshingly frank and illuminating. We reached our destination at about midnight .
Tuesday morning dawned sunny and bright. We left the hotel at 8.30 am to ensure that we caught the 9am ferry to the Gallipoli peninsula (on the European side of the Dardanelles, Cannakale being on the Asian side). The crossing takes some 25 minutes and it was fitting that we should be approaching by water just as those whose memory we were honouring had done 100 years ago.
We paused in Killitbahir where the ferry docked to look at some recently erected memorials, includimg a model of the battlefields (in relief) and a vivid model of combatants in their trenches, which highlighted how close at times the two sets of trenches were. We then drove towards Cape Helles passing the beaches where the first landings on 25th April 1915 had been made. The entire battlefield over which this disastrous campaign was fought was remarkably small, comprising an area of 5 miles from north to south and 3½ miles from east to west. We were told that the topography has not changed in 100 years, but the vegetation has. The heavily forested terrain which we saw was largely scrub on rocky ground in 1915.
Upon visiting the site of a Turkish cliff-top gun battery, we noted that the massive gun which was still in situ, overlooking “The Narrows,” had been manufactured in England by Armstrongs, in the North-East. That afternoon we went on to the Helles Memorial. Our Service there was both moving and uplifting. As one looked around along the coast and over the Aegean Sea, it was difficult to come to terms with the beauty of the setting as being the scene of some of the most extraordinary barbarism and slaughter. The OSs who died ranged in age from 19 to 36. The youngest ones had barely left school; the older ones had begun to establish themselves in their chosen careers; some were married with children. It was apparent from what we had read and were told that they all had a strong sense of duty and unfailing courage in the face of a catalogue of bewildering incompetence and disastrous decisions made by those in charge of the campaign.
We caught the 7pm ferry back to Cannakale. Erkut had booked tables for us all at a restaurant in the town some ten minutes walk from our hotel. There were plenty of people about, the bars and restaurants were busy; the town had a certain buzz. On the way back to the hotel after supper, certain of our number thought that we ought to test the credentials of The Hangover Bar which we duly did. We could have been in any bar in almost any part of the world. It is fair to say that our arrival increased the average age of those present somewhat, but our obviously youthful behaviour redressed the balance.
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny again. We caught the 9am ferry and made for Anzac Cove where the landings in August 1914 took place. Over the ensuing 2 days we visited 6 cemeteries where the remains of one or more OSs were buried, or believed to be buried. At the grave of each, one of us said a few words about the deceased (culled from the information about each OS, which had been assiduously researched and compiled in advance). Someone else gave a reading or said the Pilgrim’s prayer, and then a small wooden cross (bearing the legend “Sedbergh Remembers”) was placed by the grave, together with a scattering of consecrated soil from the top of Winder. At such “ceremonies”, some spoke movingly of relatives of theirs who had fought and died in battle, adding even greater poignancy to the occasion. Near to our first cemetery visit to the Embarcation Pier Cemetery, we were able to see at close quarters the beach where it was intended that the landings should take place, and the utterly unsuitable beach 1,000 yards away where, by an error of navigation, the landings were in fact made, with disastrous consequences. We then visited a brand new Museum and Visitor Centre where we were treated to a peripatetic multi-media film which required us to move from darkened rooms with shaking floors (simulating the movement of the deck of a ship,) to darkened rooms where our senses were assaulted by explosions (simulating bomb and shell blasts), to darkened rooms where tribute was paid to the heroism of the Turks and where the tone became increasingly nationalistic. What was interesting was that in our discussions afterwards, Erkut dismissed the film as being propaganda and offensive. It was difficult to disagree.
After a late lunch we went to the Nek, the scene of suicidal charges by both armies, and stood on the site of what was, in effect, a mass grave, being the place where 3 successive waves of Allied attacks on Turkish positions on a narrow front, with about 150 men in each wave, were repulsed with a total loss of life. It was in this part of the battlefield, we were told, that a contingent of Australian troops had become lost in a gulley and had taken 5 days to find their way out. Shortly afterwards a few of us went to the Farm Cemetery where Lt. Henry Moseley, in whom Gordon Woods, one of the former masters in the party, had a particular interest, is believed to be buried. Those who had gone down to the Farm left to go back to the bus in ones and twos; by which time it was beginning to get dark.
The main focus of Thursday morning was Sulva Bay, where the Australians lost 2,400 men in the first 10 days after landing. It was Turkey’s National Day, a national holiday. The weather turned colder and more windy, as we discovered when standing on a somewhat bleak outcrop of rock by the beach. Thursday afternoon offered alternative activities; a trip by mini-bus (inaccessible by coach) to the Lala Baba Cemetery to visit the grave of Capt. Clemson (SH1897-1900); a trip to Troy, or an afternoon of rest and relaxation, because Friday held the somewhat daunting prospect of having our luggage outside our rooms by 5.30 am in readiness for a 6.15 am departure for Istanbul Airport. Those who visited the Lala Baba Cemetary returned from the Peninsula by the 5pm ferry. As we travelled as foot passengers, having been dropped off by the mini-bus, there was the opportunity to observe our fellow passengers. The ferry was packed with young and old, the young dressed very much as Westerners, the old in traditional dress.
For our last night we went to a nearby restaurant chosen by Erkut. The Turkish National flag was in evidence, as were local families of all ages. The mood was festive. One of our number, a Ten Mile winner (and published author), performed wonders for the cause of Anglo-Turkish relations, and had soon incited an elderly couple to perform a surprisingly graceful belly dance. The Turkish National anthem was sung amidst much miniature flag waving, and in appreciative recognition the locals were treated to a rousing rendition of “Winder”. The evening ended with fond farewells from the locals; the mood amongst the OS party only dampened by the prospect of next morning’s early start.
For those who were able to stay awake the journey to Istanbul gave us a glimpse of the Turkish countryside which had been denied us by the darkness on Monday evening. On the bus, after a brief tea/coffee break, presentations were made to Bruce and Erkut (and later to the bus driver), in appreciation of all that they had done to enhance our experience. In three days we had achieved our primary objective of honouring the memory of those OSs who were killed in the Gallipoli campaign and whose remains lie buried on the Peninsula, by visiting their graves/memorials/final resting places. In addition by seeing the terrain and hearing Bruce’s accounts of events, whilst being there ourselves, we had all acquired a far greater appreciation of what those serving at Gallipoli had had to endure.
Finally we made, and renewed friendships, during the course of the Pilgrimage, and united as a group such that the atmosphere on the bus, at meal times and indeed throughout the tour, was conspicuously relaxed and happy. This was due in no small measure to the personality of Neil McKerrow who not only played a significant role in the organisation and planning of the trip, but was our leader on the ground, and set the tone which we all readily and easily adopted. These were five days which I will always remember for many reasons and with differing emotions.
John Walford (E61-66)