Homage to heroism

Gallipoli will forever be associated with the bloody battle of the First World War. As Anzac Day approaches, Adrian Hamilton retraces a brave ancestor's steps

Frank Faulkner, or "fafa" as my Australian wife called her grandfather, enlisted, aged 19, soon after the First World War broke out. Within seven months he was landed, along with his own horse, as a trooper in the Australian field artillery, in Gallipoli. The horse was killed, Frank was wounded but he, and his brother, survived the whole campaign only to get thrown into the Western Front. Here he was promoted to captain, wounded thrice, gained the MC and bar and returned to Australia, in the words of the official account, a "cot case" in 1919. He led the first Anzac parades in Melbourne in 1920 and 1921.

Frank Faulkner, or "fafa" as my Australian wife called her grandfather, enlisted, aged 19, soon after the First World War broke out. Within seven months he was landed, along with his own horse, as a trooper in the Australian field artillery, in Gallipoli. The horse was killed, Frank was wounded but he, and his brother, survived the whole campaign only to get thrown into the Western Front. Here he was promoted to captain, wounded thrice, gained the MC and bar and returned to Australia, in the words of the official account, a "cot case" in 1919. He led the first Anzac parades in Melbourne in 1920 and 1921.

Having promised to take our eldest son as a birthday present to Istanbul - how could he be allowed to miss Europe's most entrancing and changing city? - we decided (as much for our sake as his) to take in a visit to Gallipoli to see where his great grandfather fought and where the whole legend of Australian courage and openness was born.

These days it's easy enough to get there from Istanbul, on a one- or two-day trip by coach or car, taking in nearby Troy on the way.

The proximity of the two sites is no accident. Troy was the port where the ships of the ancient Mediterranean sought refuge, waiting for a kindly, and infrequent, southerly wind to take them up through the straits of the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara and hence onto the Black Sea and the riches of the Crimea. Gallipoli, at the southern end of the seaway, was the point where the Allies chose to land to force the same straits, and provide a speedy supply route for our Russian allies.

The straits are still very much there, or course, and still serving the same purpose. The road takes you right down the sea passage on the European side, past the castles and little ports, from where you can watch the tankers and cargo vessels glide up in a never ending procession towards the Marmara Sea or down into the Aegean. Then you take the ferry across to Canakkale on the Asian side, where a quick stop can give you a fulsome meal of local kebabs before you take in nearby Troy.

The guidebooks tend to dismiss Troy's remains as a poor site, which may be true compared with the great monuments of the ancient Greek colonies in Ionia and southern Turkey. But it's an atmospheric place, still being excavated by the Germans in detail, still scarred by Henry Schliemman's drastic digging for the gold of Troy well signposted in its many layers of rebuilding.

"Dad has just fallen down 5,000 years of history," my son said to his mother as I tripped over a protruding storage vessel and slid down the causeway to the bronze age citadel

No one is certain whether this is the real site of the Troy of Homer and, if it was, how big a siege the Homeric assault was. The dating would suggest that the city was taken, if it was, when it was but a shadow of its former glory and already devastated by an earthquake. Which would suit our post-modern vision of myth and reality. But, as the newspaper editor says in John Ford's great elegy on the West, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

It was the moment when the Greek city and island kingdoms became a united Greek nation. Whatever the truth of the legends, you can feel their force still as you look across the plains where Greeks fought Trojans, and out to the silted up harbour and beaches from whence the Greeks pretended to retreat, leaving their famous horse behind them.

Gallipoli, back on the European side of the straits, also bred its own myths of martial heroics and military disasters, of course. The first memorials you meet on the way down are actually to the losses incurred when Churchill tried to force the straits by the power of his fleet alone, a reliance on the battleship that mirrored America's devotion to the helicopter gunship. It failed on the mines laid across the waterway and the mobile artillery moved along the side. Hence the decision, far too rushed and under-resourced, to land an army and take the straits from the land in April, 1915.

It was Rupert Murdoch's father, Keith, who helped create the legend, repeated in film ever since, that the Australians were given all the dirty work while the British lolled about at their ease. Go further down the Gallipoli peninsula and you can visit the memorials to the British forces, who lost more dead for every man wounded than the ANZAC forces, to the Indians, who did most of the transport from the beaches with terrible losses, and the French, who lost more than the total Australian casualties.

The French no longer remember this particular battle, although their part was far from dishonourable, while to the British it was a military disaster they would rather forget. Poorly prepared, badly led, far from opening up new fronts and strategies, the landings at Gallipoli led to precisely the same kind of bloody stalemate that was developing on the Western Front.

But for the Australians and the New Zealanders, operating on their own separate front away from the main landings, it was the forging of a national legend and identity. The ANZAC force was deposited at a point well to the north of the main landings and over a mile from the beach where they were supposed to disembark. Instead of an open beach they found themselves on a narrow cove surrounded by high hills. They nearly made it a success but, by the time they got to the top they were met by a force of Turkish troops rushed there by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, "Father of the Turks."

That is what makes Gallipoli so special a place to visit. The battlefields of the Western Front are the memorials of the victors, white cemeteries of regimented rows of dignified gravestones amidst a landscape of neatly ploughed land and cared-for copses. The memorials and the graves of Gallipoli lie amidst the wild pines and scrubland of sun-drenched Mediterranean coast, the trench ditches still visible beneath the gorse and bushes of a peninsula preserved as a national park. It is a place of pilgrimage as much for the Turks - who saw their modern nation forged here - as to Australians and New Zealanders who come to search out their past. Across the road from the New Zealand memorial at Chunuk-Bair is the Turkish memorial to the 57th Turkish Regiment, rushed to the front to meet the Austral-ians by Colonel Kemal with the order "I don't order you to attack, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die other troops and commanders can take our places."

In excavating the foundations of the main memorial, workers came across the skeletons of a Turkish and allied officer literally locked in mortal embrace. They are now buried there together. The victors in this theatre were the Turks and their memorials sit, as did the trenches of the time, almost within touching distance from the memorials to the ANZAC forces. So close to each other were the opposing forces, indeed, that it became too dangerous to retrieve the wounded and the dead. They were left to rot and to be memorialised in the lists of those whose remains lie unknown and unburied. The cemeteries of the Western Front are full of tombstones. Those in Gallipoli have few graves and long walls listing those without them.

Out of this awful struggle came many of the tales of individual heroism, comradeship and friendship across the lines still remembered in the names of the cemeteries and the trench lines of this surprisingly small area. You can walk it in an afternoon and shudder at the thought that nearly 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders died on this narrow front, a quarter of all who landed, and at least as many Turks. Total casualties on all sides were of the order of 50,000 in an Allied campaign that killed or wounded more than 300,000.

From the Anzac front at least came the genuine tone of respect between the two sides that makes this battlefield so much a joint land commemorated by both sides. Inviting the ANZAC veterans back for ANZAC day in 1935, Ataturk gave one of the most moving speeches of reconciliation ever given at a battlefield, ending with the lines: "There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away 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."

On a quiet evening, looking out from the Lone Pine Memorial, where a plain white wall lists those whose bodies have never been found and the small square flat gravestone contain inscriptions of duty and nobility, it was difficult not to feel both the pride in the dead and, like Othello, "the pity of it, the pity".

SURVIVAL KIT

GETTING THERE

The nearest international airport to Gallipoli is Istanbul, which is served from the UK by a number of airlines. Direct flights are available from Heathrow with British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and Turkish Airlines 020-7766 9300; www.turkishairlines.com); Turkish Airlines also operates out of Manchester. Flights from other UK airports are available on airlines such as KLM (08705 074074; www.klm.com) via Amsterdam or Swiss (0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com) via Zurich.

STAYING THERE

Ibrahim Pasha Hotel (00 90 212 518 0394; www.ibrahimpasha.com), Terzihane Sok 5, Adliye Yani, Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Double rooms start from €125 (£85), including breakfast.

VISITING

Plan Tours (00 90 212 230 22 72; www.plantours.com) organises individual day tours to Gallipoli from Istanbul. These cost $260 (£137) and include transport, lunch, dinner and the services of a guide. Tours to Troy from Istanbul cost $450 (£236) per person; however, if you can put together a group of four or more, the price falls to $180 per person (£95). Troy Anzac Tours (00 90 286 217 5849; www.troyanzac.com) also offers half-day trips to Gallipoli from Canakkale, for around $20 (£11), including transport, a guide and lunch.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Turkish Tourist Office (020-7629 7771; www.gototurkey.co.uk)

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