Gallipoli – Coming Home

By John Stuart.

John Stuart has kindly permitted us to share his poignant piece ‘Coming Home‘ with you all. We’re proud and privileged to publish these very evocative words on the eve of the 98th anniversary. John is  Australian writer living in Hong Kong. ‘Coming Home‘ home already been broadcast in Australia and will be presented during the Centenary activities at the Turkish Embassy in Canberra.

COMING HOME

[i] At the going down of the sun

On a cruise ship to Gallipoli

Some knew or thought they knew
why they were going, others knew that
they needed to know why.
Anzac.
What it is, what it means,
that strange, tantalising, intangible,
Anzac.
Such a strong word,
rich and resonating
it stands alone, distinctive,
unchallenged, unalterable,
an affirmation of itself,
whatever that is.

The Learned Doctor knew
that he was very knowledgeable,
as he spoke to the assembled,
confident and assertive in explanations,
debunking myths and expectations.
On April 25th 1915,
yes, there were navigation problems,
yes, they landed at the wrong site,
but in some ways this was an advantage,
it was lightly defended,
and there were not that many initial casualties,
given that 27,000 landed on the first day.
And it was primarily a British engagement,
part of a Naval campaign, warships were used
throughout for artillery support.

Then, continuing,
he spoke of that name, Anzac,
and how quickly the myths were grasped
by a nation in search of itself.
Within six months postcards were issued,
and the word itself was registered,
so that it could not be debased
by individuals or commercial interests.

And he read excerpts from letters and diaries,
poignant in their simplicity
and faith in King and Country,
the rightness of cause, the nobility of the sacrifice,
acceptance.
The Learned Doctor who understood,
that he did not understand.

[ii] and in the morning

On the Gallipoli peninsula
at North Beach
for the Dawn Service

The air is still, the night cold,
the site is exposed in the glare of floodlights,
and littered with sleeping bags,
bodies lumped untidily in rows.
Some occasional movement among the young,
snatches of conversation,
a smattering of accents, some French.
Buses are arriving in a continual stream,
more and more backpackers and others
of various nationalities,
an occasional serviceman obviously medalled,
some Turkish people of mixed ages,
Australians and New Zealanders
with the distinctive air of the Anzac,
the casual gait, the laconic speech.
There is pride, a little uncertainty,
with flags and mascots abounding.
Everything stops
for the arrival of the official contingent,
even more people and paraphernalia,
cameras, floodlights, order and control,
the build-up continues as the stage is set.
Let the show begin!

Feeling uneasy, unsettled, leaving.
Wandering down the road towards Anzac Cove,
intercepted by a Turkish soldier, suspicious.
He calls me over,
I explain the need to be alone,
gesticulating towards the lights and action.
He seems puzzled,
It’s your decision, he says warningly.

At the Cove, empty
Stumbling in the semi darkness,
pebbles crunching underneath.
There is a battered old row boat there,
angled across, tied to the shore.
It belongs.
I make a seat out of flotsam,
settling in against a rocky outcrop,
gazing at the sea
floating there in the moonlight.
Anzac Day, 25th April, now here,
at Anzac Cove, the seaside lapping,
slowly, gently, gently.
Rhythms,
so long ago this happened,
what does it mean?
So strange, so sad, so silent,
So, empty…
The darkness is slowly lifting,
in the dawn, going,
greyness, drifting.

Wandering back along the shore, past the boat, clearing now.
Continuing walking,
scrambling around the Point,
the landscape forming in the half light,
returning along North Beach,
to the Service.
Catching the last strains
of Abide With Me,
and stopping, standing still,
for The Last Post.
A woman starts throwing flowers
into the sea.
Clear the pathway! someone yells.
Authority here.
I obey and step aside,
for the official party,
returning to their official cars,
their henchmen following,
then mingling with the crowd,
aimlessly wondering what that was,
and what now will be.

[iii] we will remember them

At the site

Off the beaten pathways,
clambouring through gullies,
occasionally thick scrub, and along the ridgecaps,
sheer falls, dangerous.
Following lost tracks,
some petering out, retreating,
the ground uneven, rising and falling
where trenches once were.
They lived and died here,
such a primitive raw landscape,
what a waste!
They were young then, they are so young now.
Exploring ravines and climbing ridges
with others so young,
who do not know, and want to know, all of this.
Ceremonies in the distance in the larger cemeteries,
ongoing generations paying their respect
more formally, following a tradition
which has its own meaning.

Later,
at Walkers Ridge,
looking out

An open expanse of sea and sky
turquoise and pale blue,
the breeze caressing,
calming in this wilderness,
wild matted vegetation,
bare brown cliff faces, exposed,
ridges, ribs, tapering down to the coast,
a scattering of small exquisite cemeteries,
patches of green with small dots of marble.

Standing out at North Beach,
a large cleared area with three flagpoles,
the road curving into the distance,
buses moving slowly, stopping,
trivial purposeless motion in this open space,
meaningless and insignificant,
in all of that, that is here.

[iv] Lest we forget

Wisdom, wonder and mystery,
The Iliad, The Odyssey,
the Parthenon and Socrates,
in all of this is history,
from the Trojan wars to now.
Greece becoming imbued with Rome,
conquest, control of all the known,
in the legions of Augustus, Imperial glory,
the Empire collapsing, an ongoing story,
but the East continuing for 1000 years,
till Constantinople is captured, endless tears,
the Ottoman Turks reigned supreme,
facing the Aussies, young and green.

From a plaque at Gallipoli

No students graduated in 1921
from the faculty of Medicine
at the University of Istanbul.
Those students who should have
become doctors in that year
joined the 2nd Division,
and on the night of 18/19 May 1915
wrote one of the unbelievable legends,
by sacrificing their lives, all of them,
to defend the sacred soil of their homeland,
against the Anzacs.
We respectfully commemorate
our dear martyrs.
Rest in Peace.

Kemal Atuturk ‘I do not order you to attack,
I order you to die.’
18 May 1915 Every three minutes there was another wave,
and as they waited,
they composed themselves,
by contemplating or reading the Koran.
What else could they do,
behind them were machine guns,
they had no choice.

There were 10,000 casualties in one day
in an area a little larger than a sports field.
And so they died,
the fathers and sons of a generation,
the peasants from the provinces,
and from the Faculty of Medicine
at the University of Istanbul,
the class of 1915.

And all for nothing, all in vain,
just a stalemate of living pain,
but from this death there was a birth,
legends, myths, Anzac, Ataturk.

Ataturk, Gallipoli, a blessed curse,
remaining undefeated as things got worse,
promotion and power, a vision to create,
from medieval shackles, a modern state,
fathering a nation, the power of his will,
enriching, enlightening, enduring still -
adopting the Latin alphabet and Western calendar,
introducing surnames and equality for women, establishing a secular constitution, universal education.
And beyond this vision, a further dream…

‘Here in this country of ours,
you the mothers, who sent their sons
to faraway countries, wipe away your tears,
your sons are now lying in our bosom and at peace,
after having lost their lives on this land.
They have become our sons as well.’
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 1934.

At a provincial port,
on the Turkish coast

What are you writing?
asked the young waiter,
alert, alive.
So you are Anzac, from Australia?
he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said hesitantly.
But what is this Anzac?
‘They were Australians fighting here,
a long time ago,’ I said quietly,
‘that’s why we come back here.’
I like that, he said,
and I like that word Anzac,
it sounds good, exciting,
it is special.
I don’t understand, he added.
‘Neither do I,’ I said,
looking into his eyes,
deep, dark, glistening,
losing self,
and knowing, then,
that at that moment,
we knew.

 

By John Stuart

 

Posted in Festivals and Events, Guest Bloggers | Tagged ,

2 Responses to Gallipoli – Coming Home

  1. MARIANA GRINBLAT says:

    the above comments are beautifully written. tx for them, MG

  2. Laurel Sutherland says:

    Having once chosen to be at Gallipoli for Anzac Day, I say thank you for expressing the multitude of feelings associated with the place and its history. Climbing there in hot sun gave a surreal edge….
    I love that the word Anzac includes Australians and New Zealanders in the Army Corps.
    Do not forget it is a combined contribution which brings unique qualities of which we can all be proud.

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