Visit to Gallipoli battlefields: July 2015
In 1915 the poet Rupert Brooke set out as part of the expeditionary force to Gallipoli "filled with confident and glorious hopes, never having been quite so happy in my life." Brooke never made it to the peninsula, but many men did and sadly paid the ultimate sacrifice for an ill thought out and disastrously planned campaign.
Over 130 men from the Hawick area, enlisted principally in the 1/4th KOSB, lost their lives in the campaign, 84 of them in one day alone on the attack at the Achi Baba nullah on 12th July. "Glorious hopes" were never more cruelly dashed.
Hawick Callants Club have commemorated the events of 12th July since 1916, and in 1965 organised and part-funded a return trip to Gallipoli by comrades to mark the 50th anniversary. In this, the centenary year, it was felt that in addition to the annual remembrance in the town, the opportunity should be taken to visit the peninsula and pay homage both to those who did not return and those who did.
Accordingly a party of 20 club members, wives, and friends led by President Frank Scott and including local war historian Derek Robertson made a 9 day visit to the battlefields to coincide with the centenary remembrance. Principal guide for the trip was Imperial War Museum historian, Peter Hart, an acknowledged authority and author on the Gallipoli campaign.
While the events of 12th July 1915 were uppermost in the minds of the party, it was important to understand those events within the whole concept of Gallipoli, and visits were made to the various landing beaches and theatres of fighting which involved Australian, New Zealand, French, and other British troops. As a result, place names like Achi-Baba, Suvla Bay, and Cape Helles gained identity and meaning.
First impressions of Gallipoli are that narrow beaches and the open low lying land offer no protection to any would–be invader. The higher ground is particularly inhospitable – a combination of hills, cliffs, ridges, and escarpments covered in a mixture of scrub, thorn, bush, gorse and thistle, much of it at head height. As the various locations were visited, it was easy to understand how names such as Shrapnel Gully, Bloody Angle, and Scimitar Hill had come into being.
July 12th was a particularly poignant occasion for the party, which was joined on the day by Hawick Archaeological Society President Iain Scott together with his family and brother Douglas from Vancouver. It started at Parsons Road where the 1/4th KOSB had commenced their attack at Achi Baba nullah. Hawick RFC President Ross Cameron had brought with him a rugby ball which was dedicated to the 5 'Greens' players who had lost their lives, and this was kicked into no-man's land by former "Green" Keith Cunningham, whose great-uncle had been killed in the action.
Remembrance crosses were placed and verses of Teribus and Hail to the Banner sung, before the party made its way to the Helles memorial for a commemoration ceremony.
Ian Landles delivered an oration speaking of "all the brave men whose names are chiselled on this memorial. They weren't just pawns in a big military chess game; they were real flesh and blood people - fathers, sons, brothers, sweethearts wi' lives and loves, wi' jobs and homes, wi' freends, wi' hobbies and interests just like oorsels. Born into a completely different age, they joined up wi' their pals for a big adventure, never expectin' to be sent overseas, only here, fer frae hame and kith and kin, to have their lives suddenly taken in horrific fashion.'
The oration included a song written by Davey Scott from Duns and tributes to individuals, after which Club President Frank Scott laid a wreath dedicated to "the gallant few who fought and suffered loss." A wreath was also laid on behalf of the Archaeological Society by President Iain Scott, before Derick Tait recited Binyon's lines and a lament was played by Alan Brydon, who also sang a new song he had written to mark the occasion.
While the commemoration at Helles was the main focus of the visit, the known graves of Hawick soldiers on the peninsula, of which there are only 11, were not forgotten. All were visited and had remembrance crosses laid at them by members of the party.
Perhaps the most unexpected occurrence during the visit came moments after President Scott had laid a wreath of remembrance at the Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial when it was visited by officer cadets of the Turkish forces. Despite language difficulties, the purpose of the visit was explained, greetings were exchanged, hands were shaken, selfies taken, and pipes were played. This chance meeting ended with the words of a Turkish officer - 'The grandsons of our enemies are now our friends.'
There could not be a more fitting expression of reconciliation.