Day 3 – Gallipoli and Canakkale

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20130801-074717.jpgStanding at the Helles memorial on the Gallipoli peninsula on the European side of turkey we gaze at the names of the British soldiers that died trying to secure the Dardanelles during the First World War. We're the only people there and the silence is broken only by the persistent breeze from the nearby Aegean Sea. We've come here to learn about this 9 month conflict which claimed the lives of around 250,000 soldiers but to this memorial specifically to find the name of one of our ancestors - William James Holly McCully, my great grandfather and the kids great great grandfather (my grandma's father).

I have limited information about my ancestor. From my father I have learned that he was born in Alverstoke, Gosport and joined the Army as a boy soldier. He married Alexina Craig and had 3 children, John James, Margaret Emily (my grandmother) and William Tipper, died 1915 (aged 7). 20130729-224444.jpgFrom researching the War Graves Commission I have also learned that he was a Battery Sargent Major in the 4th Highland Mountain Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. We know he died in the conflict here on 5 September 1915 aboard the hospital ship HMHS Valdivia 'from wounds sustained' on 6 August 1915 and buried at sea. The memorial is a large white pinnacle surrounded by a square wall at the top of a green hill with one side sloping down to the Aegean Sea and the other four surrounded by grasslands and short trees and bushes.

Around the wall are placed the names of those who died in the conflict, arranged by division. We walk around the bright white wall and locate the name of the Royal Garrison Artillery on one of the first panels. And halfway down the list we find out predecessors name - 'McCully W'

How he came to sustain his injuries we don't know. His ship is not on the list of main vessels involved in the battle and our new guide, Tim has not heard of it. However we have learned a little about the reasons behind the conflict and how it was played out by the various sides. Tim, a friendly Ankara born Turk with a big smile and a shortcut beard has explained most of the details which I admit I knew little about. The Ottoman empire was in decline at the beginning of the First World War and after considering its options it fell in with Germany. Britain and France had allies in Russia but the only way to supply Russia by sea (without using the northern Arctic ports) was via the Black Sea and the only way to reach the Black Sea by boat was to sail up the Strait of the Dardanelles, across the Sea of Marmara and up the Bosphorus. 20130729-225059.jpgSo with the Ottomans supporting the Germans the allies decided it was necessary to secure the Dardanelles. They started by sea, using battleships to attack the ports around Gallipoli but the Ottomans laid mines across the strait and down the southern bays. After several ship were sunk the allies (Britain, France, New Zealand and Australia plus other small contingents from supporting countries such as India and Canada) decided to launch a land invasion. This didn't go well. Where the British and French landed there was many hard fought battles with many lives lost in either side. It was even worth for the newly created corp of Australians and New Zealanders (ANZACs) who unfortunately missed their landing point and had to attack the Ottoman army up a very steep hill. The result was trench warfare and months of stagnant battles with lives lost and little ground achieved. Eventually the allies decided to pull back. Partly due to the lack of progress but also as a result of the Bulgarians joining the German war effort.

The scenery around the battlefield is truly stunning and we visit several cemeteries and memorials during the day, each with their own tale to tell. There at many stories some real, some perhaps more allegorical. For example in some places the Ottomans who had no hand grenades of their own would through allies grenades back but the allies realising that thei own bombs were coming back started to hold onto them for longer. One Ottoman soldier (probably one of many) had his arm blown off but while in the field hospital he decided to learn to use the left one and returned to do the same job. In another place, as the soldiers reached stalemate the Ottomans would through tobacco and instead of mines the British would return the favour with chocolate.

The battle however was normally much more fierce and in one of the museums we saw several pairs of bullets fired at each other that had hit in mid-air and fused together. There was even a story, commemorated with a statue of an o Ottoman soldier carrying an injury allied officer back to his own lines after being injured. A famous general known as Mustafa Kemel made his name in the Ottoman army, ignoring orders but winning the battles. He famously said 'I don't send you to fight, I send you to die'. And he was also saved from a shrapnel wound by a pocket watch that he had in his pocket! This officer went on to be the founder of modern Turkey taking the name Ataturk.

20130729-235131.jpg It was a very interesting day and we eventually returned to our new hotel at Canakkale (pronounced Chan-ak-Ali) where we had arrived earlier in the day by taking a 2 hour ferry boat across the Sea of Marmara. The kids topped up their sleep from the early start (it was only 7am but they are related to their Auntie Andie!). We had 4 nice seats around a table in 'first class' - it was nice but I think what constitutes first class on the boat is the fact that you get to sit close to Cafe Nero - and therefore are probably the only people able to pay their coffee prices!

Our new guide, Tim and the driver collected us from the Bandirma ferry port and we drove for 2 hours through strangely familiar countryside - green fields, some turned brown by the summer heat, with green trees dotting the landscape between sunflowers and a few olive plantations. It felt like the South of France or even parts of the South of England (except for the olives).

Tim is talkative and very knowledgeable as well as being easy to listen to. We sit with him and our or driver and chat about the history if the region, which apart from the battle for Gallipoli is largely an agricultural one, over a lovely lunch in an open-fronted restaurant right on the water of the Strait looking our over the harbour with ferry boats that take tourists and locals across the strait to the European side. Which is where we headed to see the first world war battlefields. After our visit to the British Helles memorial we visited ones for New Zealander, Australian, and Ottoman/Turkish. At the ANZAC (Australian, New Zealand, Army, Corp) memorial site - where their landings took place and the also the place where every year on the 25 April Australians and New Zealanders gather for a sunrise service - you can see exactly the almost suicidal mission they set out achieve. The high, jagged cliffs look impossible for an army to advance on and give a perfect defence for the Ottomans. However from the closeness of the final trenches it is amazing how close they got.

20130730-094744.jpg We also had a chance to paddle out hot and tired feet in the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea. As the sun started to descend the boys spent the time skimming stones into the calm sea.

20130730-100743.jpg Finally before returning to the Asian side - where we are staying at a traditional Karavansay hotel with old high ceilings, traditional Turkish rugs and a lovely square courtyard - we take in the beautiful view from the highest point on the peninsula. The evening is cool and we spend it in a restaurant along the river front. It's a lovely setting and Tom enjoys all all the cats which gather at tables hoping for food although to be honest the service is not that great. Still the holiday has been great so far so you have to have some low points!