Gallipoli Report – 3
Kabatepe Information Centre and Museum
by Dr Jacqualine Hollingworth
This museum made me feel very humble. Except for a few artefacts and an Australian uniform on display, it would be easy to think that the Anzacs had never been on Gallipoli or that our most important national holiday, Anzac Day, had ever taken place. For the 8709 plus Australians buried on the Gallipoli Peninsula there are some 46,000 British soldiers and 250,000 Turks buried there also.
A monument erected further up the Peninsula reminds us of the 250,000 Turks who sacrificed their lives for the Motherland. It is so easy to get caught up in the tragic waste of Australian and New Zealand lives on Gallipoli and forget that we were the invaders. The memorial states:
"… Do not ignore the ground on which you have walked.
It is not ordinary soil
Reflect on the thousands of people who lie beneath
Without a shroud …"
Pretty powerful stuff. And pertinent to all those men, women and children buried on Gallipoli. It is also very easy for all of us to forget that in early 1915 the British and French had shelled and bombed the ancient Byzantine forts and also the townships on the Dardenelles. The main assault had been on the city of Canakkale. This had resulted in very large casualties amongst the Turkish civilian population. But it had also resulted in a Naval victory for the Turks. It was at that point that it was decided that the British Army would be sent in: along with the Colonial troops. And, our history was made.
This is a relatively new museum. It is government funded and open on most days, charging a small maintenance fee. It houses an eclectic collection of light and heavy arms as well as a number of personal items like letters and diaries, all translated into English. One of the most poignant exhibits is a letter written in Ottoman Turkish, to his mother, from a young officer who had left law school in Istanbul to enlist. The letter is very poetic and literal and talks about the beautiful countryside and the flowers he has seen. The young man clearly adores his mother and talks of returning to a wedding (perhaps his own?). A few days later he was dead.
Amongst some of the more gruesome items on display is a skull with a huge bullet hole in it. It would have thought that something like that would have been traced. But, naturally, heads often ended up separated from bodies and nametags in battles. And if nothing else the Turks were meticulous about recording the identities of the fallen, on each side from extant nametags.
Other items on display are pieces of bone and even sections of false teeth. There are spent and rusted bullets, bits of medals and a whole glass case of items donated by the family of an Australian solider – A McEwen. There are fragments of mines and domestic equipment like spoons and mess tins. Shovels for latrine pits and entrenching tools. Apart from being in display cases, and a notice to refrain from smoking, there are no attempts to preserve these memorabilia of war. They are as they were found. Most are rusted and ready for the scrap heap.
These exhibits are all about real war. All of its undesirable and in your face reminders. I felt so. Perhaps the most threatened as exhibits, are the vulnerable uniforms of the Great Wear. I am used to seeing the Anzac uniforms and told myself to remember that these items of clothing once belonged to a man. However, two displays in the uniform gallery really meant a lesson in history to me.
Atatturks’ (Mustafa Kemal Bey) field uniform is on full display. This man was a brilliant commander and military leader. His taste in clothing was superb. The knee-high boots and leather belts are in handmade leather. His uniform was also handmade. I was very impressed. This man left nothing to chance and made sure that his troops knew it.
The other surprise was the uniforms for the French Infantry. I had no idea what a bright blue this was. Fighting bravely against the Turks the two French Divisions were reduced to 13,000 men by diseases and high casualty rates. Their blue uniforms were no match for the Turks and stood out in a landscape so suitable to khaki uniforms. They did not stand a chance.
When I had finished with this Museum, I went outside and breathed in the sunshine and the fresh air. It has a stunning impact. You look over the places that have been so much a part of the Australian spirit and soul for 85 years now. For the Simpson Prize winners – cherish the memories of those brave Anzacs. However, as Australians, we need to remember all the "…brave martyrs who lie sleeping on Gallipoli…"