In a totally new venture, after visiting the Battlefields and War Cemeteries in France and Belgium for the past nineteen years annually, the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch recently visited Istanbul, Turkey on the first leg of their journey to their base in Canakkale for their tour of the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli peninsula.
The group’s intention for the visit was to remember those from this island who gave their lives and visit the graves and memorials of as many as possible.
On Friday 5th, the first morning of their visit the group paid a cultural visit to the ancient site of Troy and received a fascinating insight into this period of history from their guide for the week, Erkal.
After lunch, in what would be a daily occurrence the group left their hotel for the first visit to the Gallipoli peninsula by the ferry crossing from Canakkale to Kilitbahir and then by coach to the battlefields and cemeteries.
In the first War Graves cemetery, “Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial” the members visited the grave of Pte H Robinson 2nd Australian Infantry Force (born in Stewartstown) and on the memorial the name of Pte SJ McFarlane 13th Australian Infantry who came from Orritor.
A service was held at the Memorial, conducted by Walter Mullan, Cookstown, the Exhortation was pronounced by Sam Laughlin, Cookstown, and as our Piper, Gerry McClean, Bushmills, played a hymn and lament, Syd Pollock, Portrush laid a poppy cross.
The next visit with a local connection was the cemetery known as “Quinn’s Post”. This cemetery is situated at the top of a hill that during the landings in April 1915 was given this name in honour of the bravery of Major Hugh Quinn of the 15th Battalion Australian Infantry.
Major Quinn’s father and mother had moved to Brisbane, Australia from their home in Pomeroy where his father John was a merchant and his uncle Francis was a local publican.
The Ataturk Turkish War Memorial and cemetery was next stop for the group before going on to visit Walker’s Ridge and the Nek, from where they had an overall view of the Anzac Cove where the troops landed in April 1915.
A memorial to the New Zealand forces at Chunuk Bair and the impressive bronze memorial statue to Lt Col Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who stood with his men to repel the allied attacks on the 8th/9th August 1915 was the last visit for the day, on this introduction to the Gallipoli campaign.
An early start on Saturday for another interesting day began at the Turkish Fort, Kilitbahir, overlooking the entrance to the Dardanelles. Here the group learned of the naval operation by the allies as a forerunner to the landings.
In a show of strength the Royal Navy several times ventured into the Dardanelles and would then turn around and return to the open sea. After watching this, the Turks placed underwater mines in the path used and on the 18th March 1915 a French warship and two Royal navy ships were sunk as they travelled this same route!
The massive” Canakkale Martyr’s Memorial” and park which overlooks Morto Bay to the south and east over the Dardanelles, was the venue for the second visit of the day.
Looking out across the bay the members could see one of their destinations for later in the day, the “Helles Memorial” situated on the southernmost tip of the Gallipoli peninsula which bears the names of over 21000 Australian , British and Indian soldiers who have no known grave.
“V Beach Cemetery” was next where one of the graves visited was that of Captain George M Dunlop, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a nephew of Mr J B Gunning Moore of Coolnafranky, Cookstown.
It was then on to the “Helles Memorial” where a service and wreath laying took place. Walter Mullan spoke from the scriptures, assisted by Peter Hawkins, (Lille), followed by Dr Foster Kelly, (Magherafelt) who gave an Irish Blessing. Raymond Hyslop, (Larne) pronounced the Exhortation and as our Piper played a lament Brian Tohill, (Magherafelt) laid a wreath for all the Irish soldiers who died in Gallipoli. Members placed poppy crosses at the memorial wall for local soldiers whose names are engraved on this memorial.
At the ferry port the group saw the amazing life size reconstruction of a battle known as “ Bomb Ridge Case” depicting how close the opposing sides were to each other, and learned of the desperate fight for survival that faced the Australian and Turkish troops.
After the ferry crossing on Sunday morning the group visited the “Lancashire Landing Cemetery” where again local soldiers had poppy crosses placed at their final resting places by people in the group. Heavy rain then appeared and as the group made their way to the next cemetery the rain turned to a torrential downpour.
The grave of Pte J Morgan Royal Dublin Fusiliers, from Cookstown and some others were visited in “Pink Farm Cemetery” before our guide decided to have an early lunch at our pre booked hotel.
After lunch, and with heavy rain still falling it was decided to return to our hotel in Canakkale. On return the skies cleared and members were able to sunbath or go swimming in the hotel pool, and some had a swim in the Dardanelles!
Monday the last full day on the peninsula saw the group travel up the western edge towards Anzac Cove. It was in this area that the 29th Brigade of the 10th (Irish) Division landed in August 1915 after being taken away from the division by senior commanders.
This took the members through Kabatepe and on to their first cemetery visits of the day, “Beach Cemetery” for Pte McFynn, Australian Army Service Corps and “Shrapnel Valley Cemetery”, for Major Hugh Quinn, Australian Infantry. The little “Ari Burnu” cemetery on the edge of the beach which contains the graves of soldiers from New Zealand was also visited. Next was the memorial erected by the Turkish government near the waters edge which contains this epitaph from the first President of the Turks , Mustafa Kemal.
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives:
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
Here is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us,
Where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent your sons from far away countries,
Wipe away your tears;
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well
“Green Hill Cemetery” is located between Chocolate Hill, Green |Hill and Scimitar Hill, objectives of the 10th (Irish) Division in the August landings. Also in the distance they could see the Kiretch Tepe Sirt where in a battle to capture the ridge which ended on the 15th August (Lady’s Day) the division had been decimated. One of the officers said afterwards “…the 10th division had been shattered, the work of a year had been destroyed in a week!”
In this cemetery the group held a service of remembrance to honour the dead of the Division with Walter Mullan leading the group with words from the scriptures and prayer, assisted by John Scott (Dundonald) and Dr Foster Kelly giving an Irish Blessing. Brian Tohill read a poem that comrades of his Uncle Harry had composed after he was killed in action at Suvla Bay.
John McCutcheon (Moneymore) pronounced the Exhortation and a wreath was laid on behalf of the group by Glenda McCormick (Bushmills) escorted by Jennifer Mullan (Cookstown) and Una McKenna (Dungannon).
While in this cemetery the group met with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission regional supervisor, David Bennett. David was glad to see such a large group visiting the Peninsula and had our group photographed for going onto the commission’s Twitter page!
The members then travelled the short journey to the coast where they overlooked Suvla Bay, the landing zone for the 10th (Irish) Division on the 6th August 1915. The final cemetery visit of the tour was to “Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery”. Here various soldier’s graves were visited and poppy crosses placed. In a final act of remembrance on the Gallipoli battlefields, Walter Mullan again led the group with scripture and prayers. Jackie Donnelly (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation, followed by David Murray (Cookstown) saying the Kohima Epitaph. A poppy wreath was then laid by George Davis (Enniskillen) on behalf of all on the tour.
An early start on Tuesday morning was required to enable the group to catch the 8.00am ferry on the first leg of the journey to Istanbul where they would be staying for the last two nights of the trip. After lunch the group went on a cultural tour in this busy city. The main visits of the afternoon were the famous Blue Mosque, begun in 1609 and still in everyday use, and the Hagia Sophia Museum , stated to be the most important Byzantine structure and one of the world’s greatest monuments.
The last full day of the tour began with a shopping trip to the world famous Grand Bazaar which has 61 streets and over 3000 shops all under cover! Members were able to sample local cooking as they had lunch before moving on to their next visit.
The group crossed over suspension bridge on the Bosphorus River to go into the Asiatic side of Istanbul for their final visit which was to the Haidar Pasha Cemetery and Memorial.
There are servicemen and military family members buried and remembered in this place from the Crimean war , the First World War and the Second World War.
In our last service, again led by Walter Mullan speaking from the gospel, Billy Dowie pronounced the Exhortation and William Keatly ( Magherafelt) laid a poppy cross for the group as our Piper played a hymn and a lament. In this cemetery are buried almost 6000 soldiers from the Crimean War, mostly from sickness. It was here that Florence Nightingale established the first organised military hospital in modern history! A bronze plaque to her memory is on the plinth of the Crimean War Memorial obelisk. The plaque unveiled on “Empire Day” 1954 reads;
“To Florence Nightingale, whose work near this cemetery a century ago relieved much human suffering and laid the foundations for the Nursing profession.”
Here Dr Foster Kelly escorted by Dorothy Wright (Larne) and Ruth Gordon (Cookstown) placed a poppy cross for all the Nurses who served. The group retuned to their hotel for a short break and then left for a private cruise on the Bosphorus River. During the 90 minute cruise they were entertained by their piper Gerry McClean who played a selection of tunes. The day was rounded off with a traditional meal at a local fish restaurant. The group returned home on Thursday evening.
The branch will resume the new season on Thursday night, 25th September, in the Royal British Legion Burn Rd, at 8.00 pm.
The AGM will take place followed by the announcement of the programme for the incoming year
Membership is £10.00 and everyone is welcome. Names and deposits of £150.00 will be taken for the 2015 tour of the Somme and Normandy.
As the branch is now in it’s 20th year there will be an Anniversary Dinner Dance on the Friday 28th November in Killymoon Golf Club, again names can be taken for this event.