As we drove around and around the Gallipoli peninsular, our Turkish driver took us back, for the umpteenth time, to Anzac Cove, the site of the first Australian landings a hundred years ago today – and the most popular destination for (almost exclusively) Australian tourists to the site. But I was researching the very often overlooked stories of British soldiers in the campaign (see also my previous post), in particular men from the Royal Gloucester Hussars, who had been cut down almost as soon as they came ashore at Suvla Bay in August 1915. I could see our kind driver and his young wife, who had come along with us from Istanbul for the trip, were close to tears in frustration; they did not want to let us down but, equally, had no idea what British memorial we might be talking about. It was hardly surprising. Today, as we commemorate the centenary Anzac Day, Australians and New Zealanders around the world will be honouring their 11,000 compatriots who died at Gallipoli, one of the bloodiest campaigns of the First World War in which around 58,000 Allied soldiers in all lost their lives. Any pilgrimage to the Anzac cemeteries in Turkey, now part of a coming-of-age for many young Australians, is a moving and sobering experience, as is a visit to the beautiful gardens commemorating the 85,000 Turkish dead. But the 35,000 British dead, as we were discovering, are largely forgotten.
Back at Anzac, I explained, with a little white lie, that we were looking for family members, and had come a long way to pay our respects, so could we please try one last time? Passing a lane we hadn’t seen before, we swung down it, and kept going even as its crumbling surface began to fall away until, again on the edge of despair, we were suddenly rewarded with the sight of a perfectly kept garden of remembrance. At last this was the British ‘cemetery’ of Green Hill (its headstones stones serve only as markers as most of the bodies of the dead have never been recovered), forgotten by visitors but still lovingly tended by Turkish gardeners from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Here, as we wandered around the garden and its tiny flat headstones, so quiet and still it seemed like we were the first ever to pay our respects, I found so many of the names that had by now become familiar from the old letters, war diaries and village war memorials I had discovered back home in England: Wilfred Barton, Sergeant Tom Honey, Major Gething. Later their stories became interwoven in the poetry collection The Word for Sorrow (Salt, 2009/2013) I was there to research. And so my lie became reality: these men were now like family, and we their chief mourners.
Among the Graves: Green Hill, Gallipoli
By a broken sign down an unmarked track,
just wide enough for horse and cart to pass,
there is a hushed grove for hollow graves.
An open-air cathedral arched by pine,
four fattened cedars as sacrificial altar,
memorial slabs lined round in pews;
a stub of stones, milk teeth, broken through
for the half-formed fighting men they sowed.
Thy Glory Shall Not Be Blotted Out
claims Tom Honey’s mossed inscription.
Remembered with Honour insists Gething’s.
For Wilf Barton Thy Will be Done –
off-the-peg words from those who never came,
pattern-book blooms, chrysanthemums, aster,
perennial guardians for bone-bare tombs;
two thousand five hundred and eighty-nine
long-broken bodies that have never been found.
Back by the gate, a lone stork takes flight,
marbled butterflies brush past, ‘half-mourners’,
insistent, impatient to shed black for white.
I wish now I’d spoken out, roll-called the names,
taken one small thing, at least, home to Gloucs:
rosemary sprig to dry, daisy or phlox to press
between calamitas. hurt. and healed. consanatus.