Since starting the history of the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters some five years ago, I had wanted to visit Gallipoli. As well as walking the ground where so many of the men fought and died, I wished to pay my respects to the fallen.
I decided that it would be best to join an organized tour and on September 27th, Barbara and I departed from Heathrow for Istanbul and the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Owing to BA delays we arrived at Istanbul in the early evening. A quick meal and a drink before bed, only to be woken at 3-30am by drums blasting from the Mosque!
After breakfast on Sunday 28th we boarded the coach for the long journey to the Gallipoli peninsula. The tour operators estimate of four hours was somewhat optimistic but despite this the journey was a pleasant one and we arrived at Gallipoli Town for a pleasant lunch by the Dardanelles. We then drove towards our hotel, stopping at the Turkish Museum on the way.
The Hotel Kum is a pleasant little hotel situated next to the beach and we checked in before driving to the Helles Memorial. I lay a wreath to all the men I would be visiting on this trip, many of them, my own 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters. I photographed some of the panels and specific names, also views from the memorial. It was a sunny but rather windy headland to stand on, although the views over the area were excellent. Returning to the hotel for our evening meal followed by a chat over drinks. Eventually getting to bed at 2.30 am but not getting to sleep until 4.30 am owing to various aches and pains. It did though remind me to make sure I took my medication on time. Barbara thought that I might miss the days visits but nothing was going to stop me now and after a good breakfast I made the coach on time. It was a warm but wet day and I was pleased that I had not spent money on factor 100 sun block! Today we would cover the Cape Helles landings and Krithia area although the constant rain would mean I missed visiting Redoubt Cemetery.
Our first stop was at Skew Bridge cemetery and I visited the grave of Major George R Fielding who was the first officer death of the 9th Bn on 24 July 1915. He forgot his own warning to the men and was shot in the head by a sniper. The first Other Rank death was on the same day - 6067 Pte Daniel Barfield had been a regular and is buried at redoubt cemetery which sadly we could not visit as the weather and time beat us. I laid a cross at George's grave and paid respects. The Battalion had arrived to shadow the Royal Naval Division before being pulled out for the Suvla Bay landings in August. Many more of the Battalion would die in their first battle at Suvla Bay.
Our next stop was at 'V' Beach to see the location of the 'River Clyde' landing and 'V' beach cemetery. The first thought on standing on the beach was ' Why did they pick here for a landing', A small area with the heights around it ideal for defense. The task the 29th Division were given was virtually impossible and the Turkish soldiers had a field day. On the heights to the left of the beach stood (and still stands) a Turkish fort and very few of the attackers even made the small bank on the beach which offered some protection, let alone the fort and heights. It was a sobering thought as we stood on the beach and looked around us to think of all the young men thrown into the carnage of 'V' beach. One Sergeant in the Dublin's described it as '..... hell on earth'. We visited the cemetery and paid our respects to these brave lads.
I then made the mistake of deciding to walk from the beach, up the hill to the grave of Doughty-Wylie VC. As I painfully struggled up the hill I realized just how impossible the 29th Divisions task had been. After visiting the grave we drove to the area of Lancashire Landing (W beach). The famous 'Six VCs before breakfast area when the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers landed. This was particularly moving for Barbara as a Lancashire Lass born near Bury. We had a longish walk to get to the beach and it was obvious when I had walked half of it, that I could not make it. I decided to cut across the field to the Lancashire Landing cemetery where the coach had driven too. Our Turkish guide had lagged behind the group which proved to be a mistake. The dogs (big) guarding the sheep and goats decided that barking was not working and attacked her. Barbara immediately ran back closely followed by Steve Chambers and the sight of this terrified the dogs! The guide was OK but her coat and jeans had been ripped. She was obviously very shaken as well. My advice to anyone doing the Gallipoli visits is to invest in a stick and be prepared to use it. The group proceeded to Lancashire Landing beach and I crossed to the Cemetery which proved to be very difficult. The rain had turned the soil to a thick clay and when I eventually reached the other side, I was carrying several pounds of mud on my walking shoes. The poor coach driver took one look at my walking shoes and burst into tears! - another thirty odd people still to cross the field with the same results as me would make a mess of his lovely coach. I wandered around Lancashire landing cemetery and visited the graves of three of my lads. Two of them actually died in January 1916, after the withdrawal which poses the question as to where they died. The cemetery does have burials from small Aegean islands nearby and it is likely that they died on Imbros. Barbara returned with the group and had taken a number of photos of Lancashire landing for me. After removing as much mud as possible we rejoined the coach and set off for Lunch. Owing to the drizzle we drove directly to Krithia and our Turkish guide managed to talk a local chap into allowing us to use his cafe to eat our 'picnics'. We all purchased a coffee and he was happy. Owing to a problem in translation an excellent film on his TV concerning Gallipoli was changed for CNN news! A quick look around Krithia and its museum followed by a visit to the first storey mobile toilet cubicles before moving on to the afternoons visits. We visited Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery and New Zealand Memorial to pay our respects and get an idea of the lay of the land during the battles. The area close by was named Twelve Tree Copse by men of the 29th Div and the cemetery was given the name when it was formed. It is a concentration cemetery made after the war and also has the names of the NZ troops who took part in The Second Battle of Krithia. We also saw the Pink Farm area, the Vineyard and Eski Line. My 9th Bn men spent time in this area learning about trench warfare in July 1915, before being relieved by the French in preparation for the Suvla Bay landings in August. We also visited the Turkish Cemetery and memorials at Ziindere which is at the top end of Gully Ravine. Interesting to see how the Turkish memorials differ from those of the Allies. By the time we reached Fusilier Bluff with the depressions of two mines showing up quite well, all of us were very wet and cold. The day had been extremely interesting and a very poignant one. It showed us just how small an area the battlefield was and also that little has changed in 90 odd years. One of my 9th Bn men once quipped when asked why it was called a rest area on the beach ' Cus the front line get most of the shells and we get the rest'. After walking the area we could see just why he had said it as nowhere on Helles was safe from enemy shelling. We returned to the Hotel for a change into dry clothing and dinner.
Apparently Stephen Chambers has written a good book on Gully Ravine and after much arm twisting , most of us bought a copy :) Actually for anyone looking for Gallipoli books, Steve's from Pen & Sword is well worth getting - despite not mentioning the 9th Sherwood Foresters once. No doubt we will get more press in the soon to be released Suvla Bay book.
The following morning was bright and sunny and in complete contrast to the previous day. Our poor driver had spent three hours the previous evening cleaning up the coach and we had interesting newspapers on the floor to read! He was still smiling though as we set off at 9 am for another full day on the battlefields. Today was the Anzac landing area and ridges beyond. I had taken enough medication to survive the day and the sun shining also helped. We drove the short distance to Anzac Cove and Beach Cemetery. A beautifully situated place by the sea. We read the names of the young men who left Australia and New Zealand for adventure and glory, only to find a place in a far of land for ever. We explored the beach and the fisherman's hut area and again wondered why an attack had been planned for such a place with the heights towering behind us. Then we returned to the coach for the drive to the ridges above and drove passed Lone Pine and Quinns Post - actually we were to stop at Lone Pine but some of the less hardy 'ladies' needed a 'comfort' stop and despite having the choice of thousands of trees and bushes, wanted a 'real' toilet. It was though pleasant to drive around the one way system around the ridges with views towards the sea. On our second time around we stopped at Lone Pine with its cemetery and memorial, for lunch. A pleasant hour eating an excellent packed lunch and then walking the area. I also took a number of photos of headstones and the memorial before leaving two crosses. So much better when the sun shines. Before rejoining the coach our driver offered us some of his fermented carrot juice and the consensus was that it was much like marmite - you either loved it or hated it - I loved it. After checking out some Aussie and Turkish trenches which were barely a few metres apart, we stopped at Quinns Post and its cemetery. I proceeded to take numerous photos for someone who wanted an idea of its position etc. Vanishing into the undergrowth was probably not a good idea but I did get some good photos of the area. I did though make the mistake of thinking that a four foot drop would not be a problem. On feeling the pain shoot through my body I realized that it was a problem. The area does have excellent views of the various ridges and later I could take photos of the post from other ridges. Onward and upward to the Nek and the scene of heavy losses for the Light Horse in August 1915. Again I vanished into the undergrowth but was rewarded with some excellent views of the area and a better understanding of the problems faced by the Aussie's. Our final stop of the day would be Chunuk Bair and to me this was the highlight of the whole trip so far. For the first time I could see the Suvla Bay area laid out in front of me. At last the hundreds of maps I had looked at made sense and I could pick out all of the areas in which the 9th Bn had fought. It also gave a clue as to why so many men died on 9th August 1915. A failed attack in this area gave the Turkish troops advanced warning of the Suvla attacks with terrible results for the men. Chunuk Bair has an impressive New Zealand Memorial and nearby one of Mustafa Kemal. A cemetery and preserved trenches can also be found here but for me the vista from Chunuk Bair is the one place to be and see. We returned to the hotel after another full and informative day. As the sun was shining a walk along the beach was in order. After watching a kingfisher for a few minutes we walked on to the secluded beach and to our right could see Lone Pine and the ridges beyond. As the sun set next to Imbros Island we thought of so many lads who had suffered near these peaceful beaches. A beautiful evening in a beautiful land. The area is no different now than it was in 1915 and the following years seem to have passed it by.
We were blessed with another warm and sunny day for our Suvla Bay visits. Our first brief stop was at the trench line where the 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters first dug in. They landed first and immediately came under Divisional control which left the 33rd Brigade short of troops. Instead of being given the order to advance and get on with the job, they found themselves linking with the Anzacs and digging in. In the following days this would cost the battalion dearly. I took a few pictures and pondered on yet another lost opportunity by the men in command. When we reached Green Hill Cemetery and Chocolate Hill close by, the reason for the halt on 6/7th became even more unfathomable. Despite desperate fighting the 9th Bn Sherwoods came up agonizingly short when trying to take Hetman Chair ( or Char which means low ridge in Turkish). By the time they had got within yards of the strongpoint fewer than a dozen men were left. Six of my men lay in Green Hill Cemetery including the Second in Command Major Blackburne who along with the Commanding Officer Lt/Col Bosanquet died on 22 August after the second abortive attack. As with the entire campaign the term, so near but so far came to mind. I paid my respects and lay crosses at the graves of my men and then walked up Chocolate Hill which was so very quiet. Either side of Suvla the ridges and hills rose menacingly for the men in 1915 but now give a wonderful backdrop to the whole area. We then drove to Hill 10 cemetery in which I had four men buried who had died later in the campaign. On walking around the cemetery I actually found five Nott's & Derby men. Private Oldfield is listed on the CWGC site as 1st Garrison Battalion but must have transferred to the 9th Bn. In the distance was Lala Baba Cemetery in which one of my men lay but sadly the cemetery was too difficult for me to get to - maybe next time. Again I laid my crosses and paid my respects before we moved on to 'A' Beach which today is a truly beautiful area devoid of anything which can disturb the visitor. I walked the sand dunes and found pieces of Rum Pot from 1915. As I looked inland the whole area opened up into the plain and I could only wonder why - why was this place not chosen instead of Anzac, why had the men in charge not let the men attack immediately on 6th August. We lunched at Suvla Point with its wonderful views all around the bay and out to sea. I think that a more beautiful place would be difficult to find. Recently an area of scrub had been burnt and it was possible to make out the remains of 1915. Two fragments of bone were also found and discreetly hidden from the view of others. The Turks have been known to display bone fragments etc for some macabre reason. After a pleasant lunch and stroll around the Suvla point area which was an important rear area in 1915, we set off for Azmak and also the area of the 'Sandringham Company' disappearance! I personally think the alien abduction theory is the most likely :) The group set off to find the Sandringham Company but my body was telling me that walking was not a good idea. I also wanted to spend time in Azmak Cemetery which has fourteen of my men in it, all of whom died later in the battle. The majority of men killed in August have no known grave. I wandered around the cemetery and then sat quietly for almost an hour, thinking of what my men had suffered in this ill fated campaign. What must the men from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have thought of this strange land. Actually with its flatlands, low hills and high ridges it is much like the Peak District but with sun. It is a land of sheep and crops which again would lead the men to think of home. I was so engrossed in my quiet contemplation that I almost forgot to take my photos. Although many of the headstones are difficult to read and in need of re-etching. It was good to get the time to myself whilst the others toiled in the sun in search of the 'Lost Company'. It was time to return to the coach and leave Suvla after a day of many emotions. We would stop again at Anzac for a walk to either Shrapnel Valley cemetery or Shell Green. I opted for Shell Green and soon realized that it was a mistake and sadly after 100 yards, Barbara made me see sense and return down the hill. After three varied and interesting days we returned to the hotel for dinner and a stroll on the beach. The sun setting next to Imbros is a wonderful sight and for many men in 1915, their last sight of anything. I had purchased the usual postcards during our visits and one had something that , for me, sums up Gallipoli -
Linger not, stranger, shed no tear, Go back to those that send us here. We are the young they drafted out to wars their folly brought about. Go tell those old men safe in bed, We took their orders and are dead. (A.D. Hope).
I had thought long and hard about what to do on the last day as the itinerary had troy. In the end I decided to go as Barbara had spent the week taking photos on the battlefields. Suffice to say that we both agreed that on our next visit, Troy would be given a miss. If you like ruins then fine but I would have preferred an extra day on the battlefields whilst Mrs. M would have enjoyed a day on the beach or around the pool.
Early (8 am ) on Friday morning we set off for the return journey to Istanbul and after 6 hours arrived at our hotel. It was a quick wash and brush up before jumping on a tram to do the tourist bit. We went to the Blue Mosque but unlike some others on our trip, did not get conned into a carpet shop. In fact we looked at the outside of the Mosque and decided that the little cafe nearby was more appealing. By this time I was addicted to a glass of Chi. We then walked up to the Grand Bazaar and through the main part of it. Managed to do a bit of shopping and returned on the tram to the hotel. Next day a relaxed morning before the flight home.
The trip we took with a well known tour operator was well organized and run. For a first time visit, it is a good way to go and we would recommend it. The alternative would be to fly to Istanbul and either get a coach or self-drive. The plus side for the latter option is that you can spend as much time as you like on the Battlefield. The area has hardly changed from 1915 so do not expect a 21st Century lifestyle but if you do go, you will not be sorry.
This was a pilgrimage in memory of all the men of the 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters (Nott's & Derby Regiment) who fought and died on Gallipoli. Also in memory of every man from all lands who fought here in 1915.
May they always be remembered.
Steve and Barbara Morse October 2008
PS - The Efes beer is pleasant but never 5%. Turkish Coffee and Tea are good but I needed lots of sugar.