LLOYD BURR: Te Puna School's Anzac questions

03/05/2015

When I was in Gallipoli, I received an email from my old teacher at Te Puna School, Miss Chambers. She was one of my favourite teachers (if not THE favourite), and it was a delightful email to receive in the early hours when I was writing one of my blogs. The school has a special place in my heart, and it is wonderful (and incredible) Miss Chambers is still teaching there nearly 20 years since I sat on the mat in her classroom with my arms and legs folded. I still call her Miss Chambers, even though I’m an adult and she’d probably insist I call her Kylie (although that still feels so weird). Her email went like this:

Hi Lloyd, Kylie Chambers here from Te Puna School. We are of course studying ANZAC day here at school and I realised you were over there working at the moment. I have told the kids about you and your job and some of the amazing opportunities you have. Having an ex-Te Puna student over there right now gives them a bit of a link to the events that are happening. I know you must be super busy but is it okay if the kids could send you a question or two about the commemorations and what it is like over there? No worries if you are busy - I completely, completely understand. Take care, Kylie Chambers.

How could anyone say no to that? The questions came through later that week, but because I was a bit busy, I didn’t have time to reply until I’d left Turkey. The kids in Room 10 are a smart bunch – I didn’t know the answers to some of their questions! Nevertheless, I hope they find it useful:

Connor: Is the beach mostly sand or pebbles?

Hi Connor, good question. There are a number of beaches around the peninsula. The beach the Anzac troops landed at on April 25 1915 – Anzac Cove - was one of the worst they could have arrived at. It is mainly pebbles and rocks, with very little sand. It is surrounded by steep cliffs so it would have been so difficult for them. The beach they were meant to arrive at was 1.5 km to the south, which was nice and sandy and not surrounded by steep hills (although this is where the Turks were waiting, so if we landed there, the causalities might have been much worse).

James: We remember ANZAC day - do the Turks also remember this day and if so what do they call it?

Hi James, tough question! Short answer – yes, Turkey does remember this day, but it’s part of an entire week of commemorations. For Turkey, winning the Gallipoli campaign was the birth of their modern nation. Before the war, their country was called the Ottoman Empire and it included a vast area including Iraq and Syria. But the empire was broke, fractured and for hundreds of years before the invasion, the Ottomans had never won on the battlefield. So when they successfully defended against the Allied Forces and Anzacs, it was a big deal for them. The Ottoman commander of the later stages of the Gallipoli battle was a man called Mustafa Kemal - he’s hailed as a hero by the Turks, and is known as the Father of Turkey. ‘Ataturk’ was added to the end of his name when he became the first president of the Republic of Turkey, which replaced the Ottoman Empire after the war. He’s now just known as Ataturk. The week of Gallipoli commemorations is very special for Turkey, because it’s a celebration of the beginning of their country. Thousands of people from across Turkey make the trip to Gallipoli every year to commemorate Ataturk and the 86,000 Turks who died there. There are flags of Ataturk everywhere you go, and most cars have his signature on the back windscreen. Our Turkish driver for the week showed me the front page of the local paper during the week and it was a giant photo of Ataturk, and he looked at me, hugged the paper, and said “I love Ataturk!”. In terms of a name for the week of commemorations – I actually don’t know what they call it. I will try and find out for you James.

Anna: What's it like being on an old battleground?

Kiaora Anna – this is a tough question to answer because words can’t really explain the feeling. The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at Gallipoli is just how beautiful it is. It is a paradise. Beautiful beaches, clean, blue water and lovely bush. It is a stark contrast to what went on there 100 years ago, when it was pretty close to hell – the water would have been red with blood, there would have been dead soldiers everywhere, the smell would have been horrific, and disease would have been common. Seeing it now, it is so hard to imagine those gruesome scenes. The most poignant and emotional places on the Gallipoli peninsula are Anzac Cove where the Anzacs landed, and Chunuk Bair where 850 Kiwis were gunned down. In your head, you’re constantly thinking ‘There are bodies buried beneath me’. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye. What brought the reality of Gallipoli home to me was finding two human leg bones in an old trench system at a place called Quinn’s Post. It made me realize the entire peninsula was a grave site, a cemetery that deserves utmost respect. We dug a hole and buried the bones, and held a minute’s silence. I placed a poppy on top too. It was surreal, but very special. It could have been a New Zealander.

Renee: How steep are the hills by the beach at ANZAC cove?

Gidday Renee. Anzac Cove has changed a bit since the ANZACs landed there 100 years ago. The nearly vertical cliffs used to come right down to the beach in 1915. But today, the Turks have built a road around it to get to the main commemorative site. There was much controversy when they did this, because it is the resting place for so many of our men. They also built a massive retaining wall around the base of the beach to accommodate the road, which has ruined the cove a bit if I’m honest. But despite this, it is a very special place. Standing on the beach and looking up to cliffs is quite moving. Up in those hills, the Turks were waiting with machine guns and when our boats arrived, bullets rained down on them. How on earth our soldiers managed to climb up the steep cliffs, I have no idea.

Oliver: Can you make a rough guess as to how many graves you have seen?

Hi Oliver. It’s hard to guess how many graves I have seen. The majority of the men who died here don’t have headstones and aren’t buried in any of the 31 cemeteries across the peninsula. To give you some numbers – around 55,000 men from the Allied Forces were killed at Gallipoli and are their remains still lie there. But only 36,000 of those men are buried have grave stones or memorials at Gallipoli. The reason we don’t know where they lie or who they are is because they were just left there when the Allied Forces pulled out. And we didn’t return until 1921, which was too late to identify them. It is impossible to say how many graves I’ve seen in total because you just don’t know where they all are.

Toby: How long is Anzac cove?

Kiaora Toby. The most surprising thing about Anzac Cove is how tiny it is. The beach is only 600 metres long at the very maximum, and a couple of metres wide. To put that in perspective, the distance from Te Puna School down to the railway bridge is just over 400 metres. It’s not that much space for tens of thousands of soldiers to arrive is it?

Amanda: Is ANZAC cove quite busy - do many people visit it?

Hi Amanda. I was lucky enough to be at Gallipoli a week before Anzac Day so I got to see Anzac Cove when no one was there. But a few days later, it was full of people and the road above it had buses which had pulled over to let tourists off. The terrain of the cove, especially with the new sea wall means it is really hard to get down to. The only easy access point in at the northern end, so you get a lot of congestion at that point. After the dawn service, Anzac Cove is just swarming with Kiwis and Australians. It is really special to see. Anzac Cove also attracts Turkish tourists too.

source: data archive

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