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Australians, and I suspect Kiwis, learn a lot about the WWI landings at Gallipoli in school and in popular culture as kids and later. We learn of the heroism of the Australian soldiers, about the harsh conditions and steep hills the diggers faced and how misguided orders from officers wasted countless lives. But what we don’t learn is the role these battles played in defining the Turkish nation and the enormous sacrifices the Turks made.

The Turkish lost 86,000 soldiers during the battles at Gallipoli, though it is estimated another 250,000 died of injuries as a result of the battles. According to our guide today there was almost no family in Turkey that was not touched by a death as a result of defending the Gallipoli peninsula during the early stages of WWI. It was also the battle that was the making of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), who later went on to become the first president of the newly created Turkish republic and forge a legend like status that persists to this day.

The Gallipoli site is not a place that the Turks use to celebrate their victory, though they are very proud of the fact they successfully defended their land from the Allies. Instead the place is devoted to the loss of all lives and the friendship and respect that has flourished after the war.

It is a respectful, yet busy place. The site is filled with tour busses shuttling people between the multiple monuments and cemeteries. You see it is compulsory for all Turkish school students to visit the site and learn about the battles that happened there. It is also the site where 5,000 people  will gather next Saturday for dawn services and then other services at Turkish and ANZAC monuments all other the hills surrounding ANZAC Cove.

There is a certain draw for all Australians to Gallipoli. I think it is the closest thing we have to a pilgrimage site. At least that is how it feels to me. The place is so much a part of the Australian nation’s sense of self. I am glad I have made my pilgrimage and can only be forever thankful that unlike those that landed during WWI that I am able to visit distant parts of the world without fear of being shot or blown up.

Lest we forget.

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Large monument showcasing an extract of a speech by Atatürk. It reads:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

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ANZAC Cove where the troops first landed

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Lone Pine Cemetery with seating ready for ANZAC Day

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The Turkish 57th Regiment memorial

The Turkish 57th Regiment was wiped out in the very early fighting defending the peninsula from the initial invading Australian forces. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) instructed the soldiers – I do not order you to attack, I order you to die! In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our place.” – to this day there is no 57th Regiment in the Turkish Army out of respect to these soldiers.

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Wild rosemary at ANZAC Cove

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