Today is always my favourite day of the trip. It is the day that I get to be part of the students' and teachers' first taste of the Gallipoli peninsula. It always reminds me of my first steps here and the enormous and profound effect it had on me. Until that time I had focused my studies on the later action on the Western Front. I never understood why a sideshow campaign with comparatively small losses could be so etched into our collective consciousness. Since that time I have always looked for ways that I can share the importance of this experience.
Today has been a day of contrasts. This morning we walked down one of the major boulevards in the old city, down towards the Hippodrome and beside the Blue Mosque and Haigia Sophia. A beautiful pink and orange sky accompanied us as well as our usual pack of local dogs. With the exception of our little band the streets were virtually empty, the only consistent presence was the Turkish street sweepers that we came across every 100 or so metres. We returned to where we walked after breakfast to start our day's activities and we encountered a sea of tourists.
Day two of this experience and we were lucky enough to visit some of the most amazing sites of Istanbul. One in particular, Chora Church Museum gives a particularly interesting window into the layered history of this city. The more time we spend looking into this city and its treasures the more I hope we can start painting a picture of the Turkish people for the students. These are a people with a much longer and in some respects, more complicated history than white Australia and it makes all the more interesting the shared experience of the men at Gallipoli.
For over a decade the Australian War Memorial has supported the Simpson Prize, the premier history based essay writing competition for Australian school students. In the 2014 centenary, the Simpson Prize has once again inspired students across the nation, and eight lucky winners, one from each state and territory, have today touched down in Istanbul for the start of their tour of Turkey and the Gallipoli battlefields. I have the honour of leading the group again this year and being their battlefield guide.
Private Cecil Anthony McAnulty was barely able to stand. Exhausted from the intense fighting of the previous two days, he used a brief period of respite to pen his experiences of the past few days to paper. Cecil had written in his diary every day since he had left Australia. When he had completely filled his first diary he began a second, writing on whatever scraps of paper he could find and often using the backs of envelopes sent from home. For many soldiers writing helped them make sense of what was happening.
Two days earlier, on the afternoon of 6 August 1915, Cecil had been one of the nearly two thousand men of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade to charge the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. He had waited anxiously as the Turkish shells exploded before them, the fumes suffocating and the shrapnel deadly. The whistle had blown three times and Cecil and the others had charged towards the formidable and entrenched Turkish line. He was in the thick of it now. In what he described as a trance, Cecil pushed through the heavy machine gun and rifle fire with shrapnel shells bursting around him. Having crossed the nearly one hundred metre wide gap to the Turkish lines he found himself in an extremely exposed position along with several other Australians. “This is only suicide, boys,” Cecil exclaimed to them. “I’m going to make a jump for it.” Cecil’s account of what happened next ends mid-sentence with the words: “I sprang to my feet in one jump…” There are no further entries after that.
What link does the Australian War Memorial have to George Clooney, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett?
In the Memorial’s National Collection is a Second World War medal group belonging to Aeneas John Lindsay McDonnell, born at Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1904. He enlisted for military service in Brisbane in May 1944. McDonnell had already served overseas with the Red Cross in Africa and the Middle East from April 1940 until November 1943, and enlisted with the AIF at the rank of lieutenant.
Bringing historic documents from the Australian War Memorial’s archive to all Australians
The first 150 collections of private records related to individuals who served in the First World War are now online and hold a wealth of stories. In the centenary year of the First World War, the Memorial has launched one of its major commemorative projects to make available the rare historic personal records of Australians who served.
What is it?
Examine this object and tell us what you think it is in the comments. (Hint: It was found at Shrapnel Gully, Gallipoli, in 1918.)
We will post the answer and the full story next week!