April 2, 2023

From Australia with Love –

through a story

of Gallipoli


By Sermen Erdogan,

I  read an  article a little while back  by  Chris Elliott in the Cyprusscene.com website entitled “RBL, Kyrenia Branch: Çanakkale – Gallipoli“.  This got me interested in putting this story together.  Also thanks to Chris Elliott for his  encouragement and help in bringing you this story.

I have been to Çanakkale and Gelibolu – Gallipoli twice. The last one was for the Dawn Ceremony on 25th of April 31 Anzac Cemetary seen from the beach2010. Gallipoli is simply an amazing place  as I got to walk around the well known sites that so much has been written about I felt very emotional. I have read several books on the Gallipoli or Canakkale wars that have been written by both Australian and Turkish authors, amazingly there is no animosity in their stories. It is said to be the war out of which friendship and respect for each other was born.

When I first arrived in Australia from Cyprus I witnessed the commemoration and watched it on television on the 25th of April in 1972. I was fascinated that they were talking about a war that happened in Turkey in 1915  with Australians and New Zealanders as part of the allied forces. In the history books in the Turkish language this war is simply known as “Canakkale Savasi” (Canakkale War) and there are very sad songs about the loss of life during this war on both sides of the conflict.  One particular song’s verse reverberates in my mind since my primary school days up to today :


Çanakkale içinde vurdular beni

Çanakkale içinde aynalı çarşı,
Ana ben gidiyom düşmana karşı,
Off, gençliğim eyvah!

Çanakkale içinde bir uzun selvi
Kimimiz nişanlı, kimimiz evli,
Off, gençliğim eyvah!

Çanakkale içinde vurdular beni
Ölmeden mezara koydular beni,
Off, gençliğim eyvah!

They Shot me in Canakkale

Canakkale has a market with mirrors,
Mother, I am going to meet the enemy,
Oh, have pity for my youth,

A tall cypress in Canakkale,
Some of us engaged, some  married,
Oh, have pity for my youth.

They shot me in Canakkale,
They buried me , still alive,
Oh, have pity for my youth ”

To hear the haunting words and see the images from Çanakkale, please play the video below.

The Gallipoli war has a lot of importance in Australia and admiration for the Turkish soldiers and Turkish people. Every year on the 25th of April which is the day of landing of the Australian and New Zealand  Army Corps (ANZAC) is commemorated as ANZAC day and  the Turkish community as The words of Ata Turkthe Turkish Returned Veterans Association contingent have been given permission to take part in a half day march to the ANZAC Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne which was built specifically after the 1st World  War for the fallen soldiers and commemorations of The Gallipoli wars and other wars Australia has been part of.

Both Turkish and Australian flags are carried and the part of Ataturk’s message (below)  about the “Fallen Johnnies lying together with Mehmets have become our sons” is on a poster that is carried by the Australian Turkish community  that attracts a lot of attention. It is a very exhilarating and emotional march. Also the Dawn service in Gallipoli is broadcasted live on TV year in year out in Australia.

Every year Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s words are broadcasted and read in the ANZAC ceremonies. The message was sent by Ataturk in 1934 to be passed on to those people whose sons had fallen in Gallipoli two decades before.

He said:

“Those heroes who have shed their blood and lost their lives,
You are now laying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in Peace. There is no difference between
Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
In this country of ours.
You the mothers, who send their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears ;Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are at peace. After losing their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well,”

Another interesting development in the 1980s was the re-naming of the  Suvla Cove in Gallipoli as ANZAC Cove and a park in central Canberra, the capital of Australia, as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Park as a gesture of friendship between Turkey and Australia.

Many films and series have been made to commemorate this war in Australia the latest being a six part series in preparation for the hundredth year of commemoration in the next year in 2015. A dear friend of mine  from Cyprus, Mete Teoman is also acting as a Turkish commandant in these series. So I am awaiting eagerly for the series to start next year that Mete is involved in.

In 1980 I was the Chairman of the newly formed Melbourne Turkish Youth Association (MTYA) which was supported by the Cyprus Turkish Club (formed in 1956 in Melbourne) then in 394 Victoria Street, Richmond in Melbourne. My interest in the ANZAC day grew even greater when I discovered that the Cyprus Turkish Club used to put a wreath at ANZAC shrine of Remembrance in Melbournethe shrine as a sign of respect in the 1950s but stopped doing this after 1963 for one reason or another. I saw no reason for MTYA not  writing to Returned Servicemen League of Australian and seek permission to join the march from Swanston Street (main thoroughfare of Melbourne) through to continuation into St. Kilda  Road and onto the Anzac Shrine. We got a quick response to our letter from the RSL saying they will welcome us on the 25th of April at the Anzac Shrine and to line as the Guard of Honour to see all the marchers of Returned Servicemen as Guests of Honour  on the steps of the Anzac Shrine. I was ecstatic that the RSL  were so welcoming. The RSL also added that they wanted us to give interviews to the TV channels and meet up with the returned servicemen from Gallipoli and that they will be honoured to have us on the day.

We as Young Turks representing the Turkish community living in Australia arrived early in the morning and ushered to the Guard of Honour area and were escorted to lay a wreath that had a caption “In memory for all those that have fallen in Canakkale and Gallipoli RIP” . We were interviewed and asked questions by the media. One question was ‘How do you feel living in Australia as Turks?’ ! Which I will answer later!

Then we met some very old diggers (Australian version of soldier) who had been to Gallipoli and were “lucky to return back home” they said. “We would have fought like the Turks did if someone invaded our country” and praised our group for making the effort to attend the commemoration with “Goodonya guys nice meetin with you fellas”. It was an emotional meeting I must say as some of the diggers were Sermen Erdogan with Saffet Yildirim before  the March down St Kilda Rd.very friendly and spent time with us talking about the ceasefire and how they met with their first  Turkish soldier and became friends burying the dead in No Man’s Land in Chunuk Bayir and Lone Pine.  They gave tins of bully beef and chocolate  in exchange for oranges and Ottoman coins from the Turkish soldiers and they exchanged metal army  buttons or the coins with each other as souvenirs. As they separated at 4pm when they were done, some embraced each other.  Some diggers said after they returned back into their trenches they did not want to fire on the Turkish soldiers any longer. But their British commandants saw to it that they renewed the fighting !

The truce that is mentioned above was called for the 24th of May for the burial of the dead. After heavy fighting on the 19th May (this is where Mete Teoman’s part is in the series). This meeting of ANZACS and Turkish soldiers  brought the realisation of the Australians and New Zealanders that Turks as soldiers,  had precisely the qualities that they most admired  in themselves  and other troops.  It is perhaps after this encounter that the Turkish soldier referred to as ” Abdul the Turk” was changed to “Johnnie the Turk”.

Lone Pine especially has a special story as there is a Lone Pine tree at every ANZAC shrine in the capitals of the states of Australia. A returned digger is said to have brought back a seed from the Lone Pine from Gallipoli and planted it. The seed that was brought back from Gallipoli was then grown and the seeds from that tree were used to Simpson Kirpatric and his Turkish Donkeygrow other pine saplings and planted at every shrine. Likewise an acorn of an oak tree was brought back from Turkey and likewise planted and distributed around Australia commemorating the Gallipoli war. Until 1916 there were no pine trees growing in Australia as it is not a native tree to Australia. In the past pine timber for buildings was imported from Europe.

Another synonymous Gallipoli story is Simpson and his donkey. The Donkey is said to be a Turkish donkey that was brought from the island of Samos and is a donkey that is a lot smaller and shorter compared to the Cyprus donkey or the mules that Australians brought from Australia and Egypt. This donkey was used by Simpson to bring down the wounded without being seen by the Turkish soldiers and shot at. Unfortunately Simpson was shot on one of these trips and he is commemorated with a statue with his donkey at the Anzac shrine in Melbourne.

Gallipoli has penetrated into the Australian psyche as a war that made Australians believe in themselves as Australians for the first time. This penetrated into the culture and into the Australian songs. One that is very popular in Australia goes something like this:

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
And when I was a young man I carried a pack,
And I live free life of a rover,
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my matilda all over,
Then in 1915 the country said:’ Son.
it’s time you stopped roving, there’s work to be done’.
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun,
And they sent me away to the war.


And the band played Waltzing Matilda”
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And ’midst all the tears, the flag waving cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli.
How well I remember that terrible day,
How the blood stained the sand and the water,
And how in that hell that they called Suvla bay
We were butchered like lambs to the slaughter ;
Johnnie Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well,
He rained us with bullets and showered us with shells,
And in ten minutes flat he’d blown us to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.


But the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’,
When we stopped to bury the slain,
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

Eric Bogle

Nazim Hikmet,  Turkey’s most popular poet of social standing,  wrote ‘Human Landscape from my Country’ in the 1940s that talks about the futility of war. This historical saga goes for 17,000 lines but I will only use the part relating to Gallipoli and Australians:

Human Landscape From My Country,

(In the corridor of a train a veteran of the defence of the Gallipoli Peninsula tells his story  – a selection from a great saga:)

…’ I was wounded in eight places on,
The night of 6 May *
We were fighting the English**
Their trenches so close
Their grenades reaching our trenches
And ours theirs.
We rose to attack
I was hit before taking three steps …
After a while,
I lifted my head and looked up:
Stars in the sky.
Our unit has moved back.
Trenches of English ** firing continuously
Bullets passing,
Over my head
I started crawl back…
The fallen martyrs touch me,
Actually I am touching them…
Some with blood in their mouth,
Some face down,
Some on their knees,
Some with guns in their hands…
I prayed to Allah
“if you are going to kill me”
It should be so,
With a gun in my hand…
Facing the enemy.

*6th of May in Islamic calendar describing the events of 19th May in the western calendar.

** Presumably the ANZACS who were often referred to as English

What was it like to be in Çanakkale on that dreadful occasion when the guns started firing. perhaps this video will give you some idea of what the Turkish and Allied troops had to try desperately to LIVE with.

Every year there is a pilgrimage to Anzac cove  on the 25th of April tens of thousands of Australians converge to watch the joined service at dawn with Australians, New Zealanders and Turkish contingents. Later an Australian and Turkish ceremony takes place in Lone Pine and Anafartalar respectively. Being the 100th anniversary this year a ballot has been organised to pick  those who can attend the 2015 commemorations in Canakkale as the space in the ceremony areas could only hold a certain number of people in ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli due to the nature of its terrain and the ceremony areas. Unfortunately I have not been lucky to win a place, however, those that did not win the ballot can attend week long programs and commemorations in Australia for the 100th year of this war.

The Australian Turkish community has been given permission to erect a statue depicting the friendship between Australians and Turkish people in the Anzac Shrine 64 Kilitbahir monument a Turkish soldier helps an Anzac soldiergrounds for the 100th commemorations……

A lot of the old diggers contacted the Turkish returned service men and broke the barriers after the war and journeyed back to Gallipoli. Lesley Anne Hawthorne in an article “Why Johnny the Turk?” wrote “Those that have done so found Anzac graves well cared for  a situation that is said to be without precedent between the opposing forces of two sides once locked in bitter conflict. How many nations have tended their invaders’ graves”. Hawthorn continues ”After conflicts, hatred stays with nations for generations. But it was not so with Gallipoli. It has never been so with Turkish and Australian peoples.”

Cyprus should learn a lesson from the story of Gallipoli and the bitterness felt by both Cypriot communities.  My answer to the question asked by a journalist.  I say Live and let live. That’s how I feel living in Australia.

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