Ayse Cebesoy Sarialp

After the completion of an extensive research and personal interviews with Turkish historians, I have come to the conclusion that the New Zealanders and the Turks had their first encounter during the Dardanelles War.

It is sad for myself and for you distinguished readers, to have to point out that New Zealanders and Turks met each other, on the battle fields of the Dardanelles. At the end of this tragic meeting, 952 New Zealanders met martyrdom. Today, at Conk Bayiri (Chunuk Bair) of the Dardanelles there is a monument named after the location which has been erected in memory of the martyrs of New Zealand and there is a cemetery where 632 brave soldiers of New Zealand lie in peace. The identity of 622 of them couldn’t be traced. God bless the souls of all those who lie there in different cemeteries. Chunuk Bair is the slope where New Zealanders fought.

A New Zealander described the Chunuk Bair battle with the following words. “If I were asked to give a description of the color of the earth on Chunuk Bair on the 9th and 10th of August, I would say that a dull browny [brownish] red … and that was blood, just dried blood.”

New Zealanders had entered the war “ignorant of its causes and innocent of its meaning.” When 8574 men sailed from New Zealand shores, they sailed not as New Zealanders but rather as a number of highly competitive provincial teams: Otago, Canterbury, Wellington, and Auckland. These principal teams were more conscious of their differences than of any national identity. They were sailing overseas to play a series of games the results of which, in their minds were preordained. They believed that the British Empire would definitely win. Their real concern was that the New Zealand Expeditionary Force would not arrive in time for the competition. On the other hand, no one was sure of the destination. The most likely rumors were England, then France. It could also be India or South Africa. It did not matter, they were off. They were off to find adventure and to see the rest of the world.

Turkey’s entry into the war, found these young men in Egypt training with the Australian Imperial Force. It was planned that, out of these 8574 men, 5100 would land on the beaches of Gallipoli. However, 1000 of them returned to Egypt with ships carrying the wounded. These were drivers, batmen, groomsmen of the Army Service corps who were originally to land once all the fighting echelon was ashore. They would trickle back to Gallipoli during May 1915.

The Allied Powers of the Dardanelles War were composed of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand (ANZACs), Canada, India, Greece, and France. Great Britain participated in this war campaign with a force of 400,000 men which included Canadians, Hindu, Greek, and ANZAc soldiers. The French Troop was composed of 80,000 soldiers and the total number of Turkish soldiers during the war reached 700,000. The British and the French lost 205,000 and 47,000 lives, respectively, and the number of Turks dead, wounded, and sick, reached 253,000. It is most tragic to know that almost half a million young men from the Oriental and Occidental cultures lost their lives for the sake of fulfilling the political satisfaction of a handful of ambitious politicians whose blind and greedy desires were to reign and become the masters of the world. It is a historical fact, that for months the color of the water of the Strait and the surrounding shores was red, because blood ran like streams into the sea.

Let us now try to answer the question which already exists in our minds. That is: What was the main reason to start this war? The Allied Powers, i.e., Great Britain, France, and Russia, wanted to neutralize the Ottoman Empire, which was then an ally of Germany and Austria. To be able to accomplish this, it was absolutely necessary for the Allied Powers to invade Istanbul. There was, however, another reason: and that was to help imperial Russia, which was then experiencing a serious internal restlessness. By strengthening Imperial Russia, it would become possible to prevent the concentration of the large German and Austrian forces on the West front.

The Dardanelles War started on November 3, 1914 with a short attack by the navy of the Allied Powers. It was intended to find out the defensive strength of the Turkish fortifications. Then on February 19, 1915, under the command of the French Admiral Carden, the Allied armada, composed of 12 ships, unceasingly bombarded Seddulbahir and Kumkale. Apparently, 1100 projectiles were aimed at the Turkish bastions. This attack was supported by Allied war planes which also bombarded the Turkish trenches. On the other hand, the Turkish cannons damaged the British battleship Agamemnon. On February 28, 1915, the British, this time, together with the French, made another attack, during which, the battleship Agamemnon was seriously damaged and was forced to leave the battle area with the support of the French battleship Gaulois. The Allied Powers were eager to expedite the conquest of Istanbul, therefore the Allied military headquarters made a unanimous decision to withdraw Admiral Cardin from the command and replace him with Admiral J.M. de Robeck. After this change in the command chain, the first naval attack by the Allied Powers took place on March 18, 1915. A week before this attack, Allied Powers carefully swept the sea of mines. However, on the night before the attack, the Turkish mine-sweeper Nusret, under the command of Captain Hakki Bey, laid twenty mines in the Northern section of the Strait called the Dark harbor (Karanlik Liman.) Allied Powers were completely unaware of this.

The next day, on March 18, the Allied Powers made an attack with their full naval force, which ended in complete failure. The Allies lost ten battleships, including the French battleship Bouvet and the British battleships Irresistible and Ocean. This failure made the Allies think that the Strait could not be crossed unless the navy received full support from land troops. After this unanimous decision, Sir Ian Hamilton was assigned as the Chief Commander of the Mediterranean Allied Forces and given an army of 75,000 men.

This army began concentrating its troops to Mondros Harbor on the Limni Island. The troops that were designated to attack Ariburnu were ANZACs under the command of General Birdwood. British and French forces were to attack Seddulbahir under the command of General Weston and d’Amade followed by General Gouraud and, after he was wounded, by General Bailloud. On the Turkish side, the 5th Army was given to the command of the German General Liman von Sanders. At that time, Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal was in Maydos as the commander of the 19th Division and of the Maydos sector. He resumed his position on February 25, 1915.

The Allied forces started landing on the eve of April 24/25 under the full bombardment cover from the sea. They first landed on Ariburnu, Seddulbahir, and Kumtepe, but met very strong resistance from the Turkish trenches. The number of Turkish soldiers at that time was much less than that of the Allied troops. This strong defense prevented the Allied troops from marching inland and forced them to stay on the shores of the strait.

The troops under the command of Colonel Mustafa Kemal won two important victories at Anafartalar, on August 7 and 21, 1915. During the War, the British Battleships Goliath, Triumph, and Majestic sank. Moreover, four British and four French submarines sank. After this, the naval strength of the Allied Powers was considered weakened. At last the Allies realized that the Dardanelles could not be trespassed.

The British Minister of War, Lord Kitchener came to the front and winessed the hopeless situation. In the end a unanimous decision was made by the Allies to withdraw their troops. The troops withdrew in two steps, the last part on the eve of January 8/9, 1916.

I was a child of 12 when I, with my parents attended the spectacular funeral ceremony of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Ankara. I distinctly remember General Birdwood in his dress uniform walking with the aid of a stick, for he had lost one of his legs in the War, at the head of his New Zealand troops.

It is humanely impossible not to have tears in one’s eyes when we read about the incidents which happened in the trenches. The Allied and Turkish trenches were so close to each other, that occasionally they took a break from fighting and offered each other cigarettes, chocolates, and drinking water. Both sides admired each other for their bravery.

About six months ago I heard on the TV a true and very sentimental story about a young man from New Zealand visiting the people of Bekdigin, which is a small district 90 Km West of Samsun (Black Sea.) The young man was visiting this area with gratitude and sentimental feelings because during the Dardanelles War his grand father, the late Mr. Broadmeadows was in the Anzac troops. He and an other soldier friend of his were seriously wounded and they were found by a Turk from Bekdigin, who took them to his district and with the assistance of some of his neighbors, healed the wounds of these two ANZACs. After a while he assisted them to go to Istanbul and from there to Australia. The Turkish family is now called Dayioglu family and the late grandfather Dayioglu cashed the gold necklace of his wife and provided these two New Zealanders with enough money to travel. I am sure hundreds and hundreds of such true stories existing in the memories of Turkish and New Zealand families.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was an active participant in the War of Dardanelles, witnessed all these heart-breaking incidents. Therefore the address he made in 1934 in Gallipoli reflects the sincere feelings of all the Turkish families who lost one or more member during that war. [That address had been printed more than once in past issues of the Voice of ASA]

The pages of history say that the bravest of all the Allied troops were the ANZACs. There was reciprocal admiration among them and the Turkish soldiers.

Today New Zealand and Turkey are developing strong political, economic, and cultural relations. A New Zealand Embassy started operating in Ankara in 1993.

Let me close in saying that every year we are honored by the visit of our ANZAC friends who attend the memorial ceremonies held in Dardannelles and Gallipoli. It is our sincere hope that this 80 year old friendship born out of tragic hostility, will reach even greater depths of good-will and understanding.