Walking Hallowed Ground

By Pamela Toler

Over the years, I’ve walked through many a historical battleground, from the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (just outside the town where I grew up) to the Battle of Hastings. My Own True Love will tell you that I tear up at every battlefield I visit. Or at least get a lump in my throat. (I’m an equal opportunity history nerd.)

But there is no doubt which battlefield hit me the hardest: Gallipoli.

Fought at the Dardanelle Straits, where Turkey has one foot in Europe, the Gallipoli campaign of World War I was the first major amphibious operation in modern warfare. The British and French hoped to drive Turkey out of the war and gain control of the warm water ports of the Black Sea. The campaign started out as a slapdash naval expedition in which the big powers expected to blow Turkey out of the water–so to speak. It turned into the grimmest of trench warfare. Trenches were close enough together that soldiers could toss a live grenade back and forth across the lines several times before it exploded in a horrible parody of the childhood game of Hot Potato. Water was so scarce on the European side that they tanked it in from Egypt. ( That’s a long water run. Look at a map.)

The campaign was a military stalemate paid for by heavy losses on both sides, but it was a formative event for three modern nations: Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. Today ANZAC Day is a national holiday in both Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the landing of Australian and New Zealand forces. The Gallipoli National Historic Park is a pilgrimage site for all three countries.

My Own True Love and I traveled to Gallipoli from Istanbul in a tour bus. Many of our fellow travelers that day were New Zealanders and Australians whose father/uncle/grandfather/great-grandfather had fought at Gallipoli. Our tour guide was a retired Turkish naval captain for whom Gallipoli was a lifelong passion. The museum was heart-breaking. You could walk the trenches in the battlefield. The memorial honored the soldiers from both sides. The combination was magical.

But the thing I remember most clearly is the end of the day. Every tour of the Gallipoli National Historic Park ends in front of a statue of the oldest Turkish survivor of the battle and his young granddaughter, who holds a bouquet of rosemary for remembrance. He is said to have told his granddaughter that every man who died at Gallipoli is part of Turkey now and should be honored. Visitors add rosemary springs to the granddaughter’s bouquet from bushes that surrounded the memorial. Because My Own True Love held the highest military rank of anyone on our bus, Captain Ali invited me to step forward to add a spring of rosemary to the bouquet on behalf of our group. Did I get all teary? You bet.

Remembrance is, ultimately, why we visit battlefields. Remembrance of those who died and those who survived, of causes lost and causes won, of the reasons we go to war, of greed, honor, bravery and shame. Remembrance of the world we have lost on the road to today.

What battlefield visits made an impact on you?


  1. Belle says

    Iprer/Ypres in Belgium. A beautiful place now, it was a place of such loss and horror. Even the non-history minded among us were silenced.

  2. Bardiac says

    Hiroshima, not so much a battlefield, but a war site. And the Little Bighorn National Monument, especially the American Indian sculpture.

  3. says

    Wonderful post — having just ‘experienced’ Gallipoli via Phillip Rock’s The Passing Bells this couldn’t be more timely. As for battlefield visits, I have to echo Bardiac’s recommendation for the Little Bighorn Nat’l Monument as well as some sites in France — not battlegrounds, specifically, but clearly impacted by WWI and/or WWII.

  4. Steve C says

    Vimy Ridge. Don’t really know why, but I always choke up thinking about it. It was the first WWI battlefield I visited and the memorial with its statue of the young grieving mother who sent her sons to support ‘the Old Country’ just hits a spot somehow. I have tears in my eyes typing this.

  5. WordCat says

    I started thinking, hmmm, do I know any battlefields that well? And the answer is yes; in fact, some have brought tears to my eyes, too, and I was surprised at the time by the emotions these sites brought up for me. I also have been to the battlefield near Pamela’s hometown. I was there on a hot day in bright sun, and I wondered how those poor young soldiers must have felt, sweltering in their uniforms, how it truly was a war of brother against brother. I wondered if my great-grandfather had been to that battlefield and how, as a young immigrant from Germany, it must have felt so strange. However, he never made it to a battleground — he came down with some kind of malady that put him in the hospital, and I don’t think he ever saw any active duty. Which, in the interest of perpetuating the family line, is probably a good thing!

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