Gallipoli: A Turkish Road Trip

Dad always loved a road trip. From my perch in the back seat, unfettered by any seatbelt, I would see dad’s tanned neck, his neat, short gray hair, his steady hands, and bronzed muscular arm leaning casually out the window. He would often glance over at my mother, dozing in the passenger seat, emitting little purring noises, her sun hat on her lap, its blue grosgrain ribbon neatly crossed. During so many summer holidays, as we travelled to New Brunswick, across the Prairies to British Columbia and down to Ogunquit, Maine, I amused myself flipping through my books, puzzles and practicing magic tricks.

When I was 13, in 1968, Dad was posted to Ankara, as Canadian Military Attaché to Turkey and Iraq. Our Turkish road trips were very different. Dad now had a chauffeur, tiny fierce little Ahmed. Ahmed was barely 5 ft tall, in late middle age, clad in a beige uniform, with an impressive black moustache and a serious expression. He had been in the Turkish military service and still performed weekly in a janissary band, beating a drum and clashing on cymbals, wearing a red tunic, and cloth sash which housed his powder horn and sword, finished off with a tall Bork hat.

Ankara, our home for three years, was a dull modern capital and we travelled frequently: to Istanbul for shopping, culture and history; to explore the archeology of Ephesus and to marvel at the whirling dervishes in Konya.

In Istanbul, we dined at simple outdoor restaurants overlooking the Bosphorus River, the Hagia Sophia and the beautiful Dolmabaçe Palace. Dad always ordered the same thing: fresh fish served straight out of the oven on a brick, lemon dill soup and crème caramel. My mother and I loved the Grand Bazaar, the Kapali Çarsi or covered market, with its jewellery, spices and cool leather coats, bags and skirts.

I would while away the time on our 8-hour drive to Istanbul, counting the car wrecks along the dangerous highway. On average there would be at least six bad ones. We drove through endless fields of red poppies swaying in the wind, through medieval villages and fields with donkeys and farm labourers hard at work. Was it my imagination that the women were often at work while their men snoozed under an olive tree? Dad assured me that they enjoyed raki, or Turkish anise-flavoured alcohol, a little too much.

One trip stands out. Çanakkale! I believe we had lunch there. I loved the sound of Turkish works like hos geldiniz, (welcome) güle güle (see you later) or the best was yok, meaning no.

There is much about that day that is unclear in my memory. Dad asked Ahmed to pull over at a desolate place after lunch. Were there poppies? I don’t believe so, but they were all confused in my mind with the fields of Flanders made immortal by the poet John McRae and the swaying red flowers we had just driven through. I don’t recall if my mother was there, but she must have been. Was Ahmed dozing in the car?

What do I remember of my visit to the World War I killing fields of Gallipoli with my dad where 56,000 Allies died, 120,000 wounded, with at least a similar number from the Ottoman Empire? He is a few steps ahead to my left and we are like two lonely figures in a Jean-Paul Lemieux painting. He is staring out at the vast expanse of graves, at the cliff, at the beach. There is wind, flies, silence and a feeling of desolation.

This was long before I watched the brilliant Peter Weir film entitled Gallipoli, inspired by his visit to the battleground and discovery of a bottle of Eno on the beach. The film depicts young Australians who volunteered for what they thought was a noble cause, huddling in trenches and being senselessly led to “go over the top “to certain death at the hands of the Turks.

Dad and I stood there for what seemed to me an eternity. Dad was in another world. What was he thinking of? Was he in the shoes of those young soldiers mowed down in the prime of life? Or reflecting on his own war experiences in the Liri Valley of Italy during World War II, the liberation of Holland or the muddy slime of the Korean War?

I do not recall Ahmed’s reaction. He was always reserved and laconic. Had his father or uncle faced the British and Australians in this very place?

We climbed back in the car and continued our road trip and did not speak of this experience again. We must have gone on to Istanbul and enjoyed the views of the Bosphorus, the Topkapi Palace and the shopping in the Grand Bazaar. But it was Gallipoli that remained with me.


Gallipoli: A Turkish Road Trip

My dad and Ahmed, the tiny Turkish driver.

Carol Sutherland-Brown has settled in Ottawa, after some time living in Europe and the Middle East. She is enjoying her new-found passion: writing about those moments that mattered to her: a certain face, experience, sound, sensation. Even a smashing pair of shoes! Her aim is to tease out those rare, small moments, to honour, amuse and entertain those who care to read them. She writes to remember her family and her friends. She writes to remember herself.
One Response
  1. author

    Jim C. Otar4 months ago

    My grandfather, who I never met and was named after, was in his last year of the medical school (1914-1915) in Istanbul. My grandmother gave birth to my mother’s oldest sister on December 22, 1914. In January of 1915, my grandfather was abruptly designated a doctor, four months before his graduation, summoned to Gallipoli immediately to work as a doctor. My grandmother did not want him to go alone to the front-lines, so she went along with him, together with their 2 month old baby girl. They found a little, chicken-coup-like accommodation in Gallipoli, which she turned into a livable, pretty place. The Gallipoli war started couple of weeks later. This happy, funny, jovial man turned into a heavy-smoker, a sad young man. They pulled through thanks to her being there and this baby.

    Four years later, when the armistice of Mudros was signed, my mother was born. Her first name can be translated to English as “Good News”, in respect of this armistice. After them, they had three more baby girls. All my aunts (except the youngest who had childhood meningitis) grew up to be strong, well-educated women which I was totally blessed to know when growing up. My oldest aunt became a pediatrician, my mother studied economics, but then when she got married and and us three siblings, she stayed home. Another aunt became a pharmacist. My aunt Selma, who was the chief restoration architect of the Topkapi palace, used to joke about her older sisters: “My oldest sister brought the war, the second one brought peace. Luckily, we followed to grow up in peace.”

    You say in your story “Dad and I stood there for what seemed to me an eternity. Dad was in another world. What was he thinking of?” Allow me to make a wild guess. Many years later, about 25 years ago, when visiting Istanbul, my wonderful brother took my wife and I to Gallipoli. We visited the monuments and trenches. It is not possible to visit the trenches and not weep for the thousands of young people who lost their lives. For me, it was basically a 6-hour cry-fest, which I still experience some of its aftershocks to this day. I would suggest that your father was successful in hiding his tears, maybe he wanted to display strength to your mom and to you. I bet Ahmet was quietly crying too. I was not that brave, I could not hold.

    The least I can do is, buy a poppy at this time of the year.


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