GALLIPOLI, Turkey – Whenever he leaves the house, Kenan Ersoz hides the bayonet his father used to defend the crumbling Ottoman Empire against the British-led invasion of Gallipoli a century ago. The father saw it as a friend that kept him alive. The son keeps it as his most prized possession.
The campaign is no less present for descendants of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who played a leading role fighting for the other side.
John Carnell traveled from Sydney with his wife, Carol, and two children, Kate and Tom, to visit spots where his great-grandfather landed on the peninsula — and where he was mortally wounded months later. In the lottery to obtain tickets for the 100th anniversary commemoration this week, Carnell wanted his children to come more than he wanted to come himself.
"People only really die when the living stop talking about them," he said. "I can bang on about my ancestor for another 20 years or so. My children can do it for 50 and they can tell their grandchildren."
As world leaders gather Thursday and Friday with the descendants, the memories of one of the most harrowing campaigns of the 20th century have come surging back to life. The doomed Allied offensive to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean to Istanbul through the Dardanelles, and take the Ottomans out of the war, resulted in over 130,000 deaths on both sides. It came to be seen as a folly of British war planning.
The campaign's enduring poignancy may be that it forged national identities for countries on both sides.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk used his prominence as a commander at Gallipoli, known as Canakkale to the Turks, to vault into prominence, lead Turkey's War of Independence — and ultimately found the Turkish Republic. Similarly, the tragic fate of troops from Australia and New Zealand, who played a key role in the campaign, is said to have inspired an identity distinct from Britain. The anniversary of the start of the land campaign on April 25, known as ANZAC Day, after the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, is marked as a coming of age for both nations.
Carnell's great-grandfather, Francis George Carnell, was so eager he had to lie about his age. That was a common ploy for teenagers of the day. But Francis was 55 — and too old to enlist. He had already fought in wars in South Africa for the British. After being promoted to lance corporal in training, he landed at what is now known as Anzac cove among the early waves of soldiers.
On April 25, 1915, they were rowed in at dawn to narrow beaches with scant cover only to encounter rugged hills and scorching fire by well concealed Turkish defenders.
John Carnell knows little about what happened next, except that somehow his ancestor, despite his age, made it up the beach to fight in one of the iconic battles of the campaign. The fight for the Turkish position of "Lone Pine" — launched by Australian battalions — cost heavy losses on both sides. On Saturday, Australians will commemorate that battle following a dawn service at Anzac Cove, near a memorial with the names of dead soldiers, including. F.G. Carnell.
On Aug. 7, Francis George Carnell was wounded and evacuated to a hospital ship. He died on Aug. 10, according to John Carnell, and was buried at sea. He left behind a wife and one son, who had thirteen children.
That same summer, Mehmet Emin Ersoz — Kenan's father — was also gravely injured. The father talked little of the war, and Kenan thinks it was because he wanted to spare the children his suffering.
But there was no hiding it.
"We could see the ugly side of war on my father's body," he said. "His feet were full of wounds. There were callused pieces between his flesh and bones."
His father carried shrapnel in his head until he died in 1970. Kenan was told his father was wounded "when the grapes on the peninsula were ripe" — placing it in August or early September.
Mehmet Emin Ersoz was proud to keep his bayonet close-by until death. But he regretted having to carry the enemy's metal with him, too.
"That was the one thing that saddened him most," Kenan Ersoz said.
Ersoz said nothing good came from the battles except Turkey's defense: "War, as it has long been, consists of blood, gunpowder, pain, tears."
John Carnell sees a more positive message — one that comes from the onetime enemy.
On Australian flags embroidered with his ancestor's records, there's also a quote from Ataturk that pays tribute to the fallen from Australia and New Zealand:
"You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us," the eulogy reads. "They have become our sons as well."
Berza Simsek in Istanbul and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.
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