Everybody has an ANZAC Story – Part 3, A208

A208……

You could not imagine a totally different group of people to those of A101, they had of course all shared a special experience. But once again they all came, or left with their own Anzac Story. One story really needs telling.

The Robertson Quest! And Catherine of course……

Graham, Ian and Andrew Robertson and Catherine Clark. What an amazing Anzac Story! Their Grandfather was one of a few Chaplains who served during the Gallipoli Campaign. They had set themselves a task I would consider ‘unfathomable’. The two brothers and son had researched all of the unfortunate souls who their Grandfather had personally laid to rest at Anzac. They had their Grandfather’s war diary and the names and unit details of the 135 lost souls. They had gathered the regimental colour ribbons of each of them and had plotted the locations of every grave or those who had no known grave and represented on the wall at Lone Pine. They had also gathered gum leaves and gum nuts, even soil from the ground in Australia where these men lived prior to the war and where they would no longer tread, or speak, or touch their beloved ever again.

Of course not all those headstones would be in easily accessible cemeteries on an everyday tour experience at ANZAC. We need to remember that this whole peninsula is a cemetery, not only to Australians, but to Kiwis, the Brits, the French and more notably the Turks.

Once again we pondered just how they could achieve their dream.

Catherine, their sister, followed her brothers along in this quest, and for different reasons. Catherine was the support her brothers and nephew needed in taking photos of their mission. Her religious background had invoked in her a need to communicate with her God about the futility of all wars, the death, the maiming, the sacrifice. Her Grandfather had left his comfortable life as a messenger of God to follow these men to Gallipoli. Her passion led to her prayers to ask ‘WHY?’  Hat’s off to Cathy, I thoroughly respect her own mission. Cathy had knelt in prayer along the way. I hope she finds the answers to her questions and that we can all learn from such devotion.

We  found that in the time we as a group would spend getting by road up to Lone Pine, that there would, should be time for these guys to get to Shell Green Cemetery by foot, along the old Artillery Road that existed from the day of the landing. I led the group through Lone Pine, Johnston’s Jolly and past Courtney’s and Steele’s Post, Quinn’s Post and up to the Turkish 57th Regiment.

They had succeeded in their task, the rest would be easy going from here on in.

I have to also mention an incident that could not have been planned or timed to better perfection. In 1990 at the 75th Anniversary, the sole surviving Turkish Gallipoli veteran Fevzi Bey was in attendance. In honour of this man’s great achievement the Turkish authorities cast a statue of him holding hands with a young girl. On our walk to The Nek we happened across an elderly gentleman that to me seemed vaguely familiar. Lo and behold, it was the SON of Fevzi Bey and his own son. Our group spent a lot of time talking and  getting their photo taken with this great link to the past and it’s tragedy. What a fantastic event!

Baby 700…….. A link to Australia’s most significant historical events

I’m probably the only historian that takes the time to visit this ‘off-the-beaten-track’ cemetery. It holds a dear part of my life. I’ve been an avid Australian Republican all my life. On the day of the landing Capt. JP Lalor, of the 12th Battalion made it further than most, he and his men made it to the far flung hill, soon to be known as Baby 700. He stood to rally his troops, and those of the mixed units that had gathered there for a Turkish counter attack. As he stood and yelled “Come on men of the 12th”, a Turkish bullet finished his sentence……

His body and those of the men on Baby 700 remained out in the open, to be sundrenched by years of sun, wind and rain. C.E.W. Bean located  his remains in 1919. Joseph Lalor against all orders from his superiors carried his Grandfather’s sword into battle that day. His Grandfather was none other than  Peter Lalor, the leader of the Eureka Stockade who stood under the flag of the  Southern Cross at Bakery Hill, to swear allegiance in an effort to create a multi cultural almost utopian homeland for those striving to make an egalitarian homeland.

Behind Baby 700 we had discovered many skeletal remains. Nobody knows if they are ANZAC or Turkish, we gathered around them as we had done with A101 (where our coach driver had prayed for their souls). This place  truly is one big cemetery…..

A208, due to the relaxed timing of their Anzac Sector experience were also lucky enough to get to visit one of the lesser known, further flung places in Gallipoli. Out on the northern end of Suvla Bay, tucked away in a small rocky bay surrounded sparsely by a few fishermen’s huts is the sunken remains of a ‘Beetle’ landingcraft. These were introduced for the August Offensive Suvla landing. If they had been offered in Helles in the April landing things may have been very different. The Beetle is the predecessor to the everyday landingcrafts used in WW2 on D-Day, they held about 500 men and equipment and were armoured and armed with machine guns.

After our tour of the ancient city of Troy, a poignant reminder that armies have been fighting over this piece of land for many thousands of years and still we haven’t learned a thing about  how to get along with each other.

29th April….

A208 then made our way back to Istanbul, but the adventure wasn’t yet over. 29th of April, just happens to be the birthday of my lovely, supportive wife (every artist and dreamer needs one of these). As I was still gainfully employed for a few more days it meant that there would be no birthday celebrations with Sevilay and my daughter Jasmin. So I decided to take the whole group for a lightning visit to our home in Tekirdag.

We pulled into the car park opposite our home and there my lovely wife stood to greet us. We didn’t have time to offer the famous Turkish hospitality but for anyone needing a quick toilet break, look around our garden and meet my amazing Mother-in-law…oh and our cat Yumak. We stood and chatted with the group, Happy Birthday wishes were given, the cat received some attention (which is all that cat likes), we boarded the bus and went our merry way to Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar before hitting the Hilton Bosphorus. I of course headed to my favourite, and Istanbul’s oldest nargile cafe at Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresse.

Finally getting checked in we prepared for our final night Gala Dinner at the aging nightspot Kervansaray next to the Hilton. The place throbbed with belly dancing, folk dancing and music, we all said our goodbyes and thanked our amazing local guide Haluk. He did an amazing job and after all the local guides I’d worked with over the previous two decades I would count him as one of the best.

The night at Kervansaray ended with everyone on fine spirits, helped along of course by copious amounts of wine and beer. But the night wasn’t to end there. We hit the Avni Pub, a local pub of good standing. Vicki of Colin and Vicki fame was obviously enjoying herself to the maximum. We all slowly wound our way back to the Hilton. But wait!

I was shanghai’ed by Belinda and the two air force blokes into finding somewhere else for a quiet nightcap.

Well, we watched the sun come up over Harbiye…….

All over, time to relax, enjoy a couple of plates of Hilton bacon and hang around until the next day when I would rejoin my family. It was 1st of May and you can’t imagine a more interesting place to be than in Taksim on May Day. The ruling despotic government still hurting from the Gezi Park Protests of the previous year had once again banned any gatherings on the anniversary of a sniper attack and stampede on students and socialists back in the 70’s. Not to be! The government had stacked their riot shields, Toma (watercannon trucks filled with chemical tainted water) and police to ensure the whole area was in lockdown. Innocent passers-by were beaten and arrested simply for walking in the Taksim Square area and throughout the centre of this amazing city. Of course the Hilton is smack-dab in the middle!

Our clients were slowly transferred to their waiting aircraft. Karen the hardworking GM of Mat’s tours approached me to say they had somewhat of a nightmare going on back down on Gallipoli.

The Western Front Extension tour to follow. I hope you enjoy reading my long winded blog……..

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