Rest in peace: The once bloody, now peaceful scene at windswept Anzac Cove, at Gallipoli, near Shrapnel Gully. Pictures: Col Maybury
IT seems nothing special. And yet, this simple tourist photograph holds great significance. It’s shows sacred ground really, to Aussies everywhere.
LEST WE FORGET: Red poppies line the walls of Canberra’s War Memorial recording all the names of the dead in past wars.
Picture a remote tarred coastal road, a lone walker, a bushy hill to one side and a rough slope down to a stony beach pounded by relentless waves.
Welcome to Gallipoli, in faraway Turkey.
“[This] is the windswept beauty of Anzac Cove with Shrapnel Gully in the background,” explained Col Maybury, of Kurri Kurri, who’d sent me the photograph on the eve of this Monday’s Anzac Day commemorations.
“Such a tiny area. So many dead. Such savage close quarter fighting in a campaign that would shape both nations,” said Maybury, who took the picture back in 2006 on a visit to Anzac Cove.
“Dear Mike,” he wrote. “I was notified earlier this month on Facebook by [guide]Mustafa Askin that the café and restaurant at Hisarlik [near Troy]was empty.He’s had comments from all over the world. So, I wanted to tell of meeting with Mustafa and visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula.”
For Maybury’s connection with that distant fatal shore, like many other Australians, is a deeply personal and unsettling one.
“My uncle, Private Victor Emanuel Farr of the First Infantry Battalion, 1st AIF, served there and was presumably killed in action in Shrapnel Gully with other Anzacs on the day of landing, on April 25, 1915. His body was never found, ” Maybury said.
“He was only aged 20 years. He’d been a pit wheeler at Catherine Hill Bay Colliery. My grandmother, Mary Ann Drummond, was told in June 1915 her Victor was in an army hospital and it had to be presumed he was recovering from his wounds.
“But now we know he was dead all the time and it took her a year to find out,” he said.“My own mother knew little about her half brother’s death at Gallipoli. She was aged six years and it was not till I researched it did the awful story emerge.”
Maybury said he now had all the records of the battle his grandmother “fought with uncaring bureaucrats for information about her supposedly wounded son in hospital”.
And he thinks Victor Farr’s “mystery” loss is possibly not an uncommon story among many Anzac families.
For back in 2006 when Col Maybury and his wife Marcia came to Gallipoli, they visited Lone Pine Cemetery where 8700 Australian dead are listed.
Here one grave, that of Light Horse trooper G.R.Seager, revealed he died aged only 17 years old. As they examined the row after row of uniform white tombstones, they soon realised many soldiers had no known graves. All names, however, including the lost, were inscribed on the cenotaph’s marble walls.
Maybury believes his uncle was probably killed climbing Shrapnel Gully by the Turkish soldiers above.
Holding the heights was the astonishing Turkish colonel, later general, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who became the nation’s President. The turning point at Gallipoli was him being there as Turkish soldiers, their ammunition spent, began to flee the summit.Ataturk ordered the soldiers to stop, fix bayonets and lie down on the ground. When the Turkish soldiers lay down, the advancing Anzacs, hesitated, then lay down themselves, waiting. The ruse worked, the Anzac charge faltered and failed.
Soon, Turkish reinforcements arrived and Ataturk ordered suicidal attack after attack, determined to throw the invaders back down into the sea. Men died in fearful numbers. As bullets flew in every direction, Kemal Ataturk told his men: ‘I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die [so]other troops can take our place.’
The next day, on April 26, Kemal Ataturk attempted another counter attack but the British Royal Navy warship guns fired at the exposed cliffs and ridges. The heavy naval bombardment continuously hammered the cliff tops. The Turkish defenders were demoralised, but still held the heights.
Maybury learned that between April 25 and December 20, 1915, in an area 20kms by 8kms, some 86,000 Turkish soldiers were killed, compared to 8700 Aussies, 2700 New Zealanders and 27,000 British and Indian troops.
Col Maybury and wife Marcia came to Gallipoli on a cold, miserable March day in 2006. At a small museum they were pleased to meet some young Turkish soldiers.
“They came in respectfully. It was their nation’s heritage as it was ours. They were most proud to meet us and to pose for our camera,” he said.
“But we’d come to see Anzac Cove, just south of Ari Burnu. We walked hand in hand around to the narrow beach and steep hill of Anzac Cove, towards the entrance to Shrapnel Gully where my uncle had died so long ago,” Maybury said.
He imagined shells once screaming overhead, Turkish fire from above and the cruel death of his uncle, Pte V.E.Farr “perhaps blown apart by a British battleship shell, or immense Turkish fire.”
Later the couple went by ferry across the Dardanelles towards Hisarlik and Troy.
“It was an amazing day. Over there at the café we met…tour guide and author Mustafa Askin. I then bought eight copies of his Gallipoli book.
“Askin told the story of how one day at Gallipoli a Turkish soldier carrying water with his donkey suddenly found himself behind enemy lines,” Maybury said.
“When questioned, this quick-witted chappie said, ‘My commander sent you some water’. This welcome gift was accepted and the Turkish soldier sent back with saddle bags filled with food’.”
So, with vivid memories of Gallipoli from 2006, Col Maybury was saddened to recently learn the once busy Hisarlik tourist cafe where he met Mustafa Askin was now strangely closed.
“Communicating in another language is always difficult, but I believe the café is now empty, perhaps not permanently closed,” Maybury said.
“Why? I’m saddened to think they’re quite frightened there now by the possibility of some terrorist activity, even though it’s away from Anzac Cove,” he said.
Col Maybury reckons the final say should go the late Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish hero of Gallipoli and founder of modern Turkey.
Here are some of his healing words: “ Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives are now lying in the soil of a friendly country ….your sons are in peace . . . . they have become our sons as well.”