In our latest Gallipoli: The scale of our war exhibition blog, Historical Director Dr Christopher Pugsley recalls uncovering relics from the battlefield.
I have walked the Anzac battlefields of Gallipoli many times. The first was in December 1980 and then again in 1983. It was not until 1990 that I travelled there for the third time, but from 2000 on, during my time as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I have made a further 15 or so visits, learning something new each time.
In 1983 we filmed the Television New Zealand documentary, Gallipoli the New Zealand Story, narrated by Sir Leonard Thornton. The area was still under military control and apart from the occasional backpackers there were few visitors, none of them Turkish. We were always conscious from the bones and relics covered landscape that this was a battlefield. We always filmed on the spot where it happened, and if there was any doubt about location we used to half-jokingly say that the boys who lay there would always tell us when we were in the right place, as they would leave a sign in the form of a relic, a bullet riddled water bottle or a rusting bayonet, and in that sense, give us a quiet tap on the shoulder.
In 2006 I guided a commercial tour to the peninsula, travelling alone on a week’s reconnaissance of the battlefield. I then returning to Istanbul to pick up the tour group for an eight-day tour, fare-welling them at Istanbul international airport and welcoming my 27-year old son David, for his first visit to Turkey. We travelled by train to Ankara, visited Ataturk’s Mausoleum and museum, took a bus down to Cappadocia for a few days exploration of the underground monasteries and cities, before heading by bus for Konya and then onto Seljuk and Ephesus. We moved onto Eceabat, the small ferry port across the Straits from Canakkale, and spent the next five days walking the battlefields. We started in the south at Cape Helles, taking the local buses down to the landing beaches, walking from beach to beach and then trekking inland to the village of Krithia looking at the sites along the way, before thumbing a lift back to our hotel.
The next day, friends dropped us off at Fisherman’s Hut, north of Anzac Cove. David and I trekked up over No. 2 Outpost, onto Old No. 3 Outpost and up onto Table Top and then up Rhododendron Ridge following the route taken by the New Zealanders in the night advance on 6/7 August 1915. The Apex which is where the Wellingtons consolidated on the morning 7 August is marked by the collapsed underground tunnels on the track.
It was here that the Wellington Infantry Battalion started their attack before dawn on the morning 8 August. We walked up the firebreak track past the still identifiable Turkish trench on the Pinnacle, held by the remnants of the Auckland Battalion after their failed attack on 7 August. We then moved down into the saddle and then up onto Chunuk Bair, exploring Lieutenant Colonel Malone’s Wellington’s trenches on the seaward slopes before exploring the crest and monuments on Chunuk Bair commemorating where this epic battle was fought from 8 to 10 August 1915.
It was a hot August day and we sipped iced tea in the shade of the trees as we talked about the likely position of the Wellington Infantry trenches on the crest of the hill, and how the battle was fought.
We then walked down the road that led down the ridge towards the Anzac perimeter.
As we crossed over Battleship Hill, I was telling David that this was about as far as Captain Tulloch’s party of Australian soldiers from the 11th and 12th Battalions got on that first morning, 25 April 1915, before they were pushed back by the advancing soldiers of Kemal’s 57th Regiment. As I was talking, something caught my eye in the scrub on the clay bank on the seaward side of the road. I bent down and picked it up and found I was holding a 1914 Australian shilling, bearing the features of King George V.
As I wrote in my diary that evening it was ‘blackened and dented, but obviously from the campaign and possibly from the first day.’ Indeed the only time Australian soldiers ever stood on this spot was on the morning of 25 April 1915. No other Anzac soldiers would fight on this piece of ground at any other time in the campaign. I noted in my diary that it could have been carried and misplaced by a Turkish soldier who looted it from a dead Australian or more likely lost from the pocket of an Australian soldier who was lying here facing up the ridge towards the high ground of Chunuk Bair.
Looking at the dent in the side of the shilling, he may have been shot and killed somewhere near where I found it? There were nothing else on the ground, only this Australian king’s shilling in the scrub. We will never know exactly how it got there, but I was very conscious of how precious a relic it was and wondered at the story it would tell, if it could talk. At the time I looked around and realised how close the leading Australians got to the crest of Chunuk Bair and mused about what could have happened had they been better supported?
We continued our walk down over Baby 700 and along the Anzac front line exploring as we went until after a long exhausting but satisfying day we reached the museum at Gaba Tepe and caught the local bus back to Eceabat. That night I emailed Dr Peter Stanley at the Australian War Memorial telling him of the find. I gave the shilling to David as a memento of a particularly special day when one of the boys reminded us of where they fought and how far they got.
Find out more about the exhibition (opening this Saturday) and come meet the team making it at www.gallipoli.tepapa.govt.nz