Changing Planet

Remembering Gallipoli I: ANZAC Day 2011

Rt. Hon. Kim Beazley, Australia's Ambassador to the United States, reading an elegy at ANZAC Day at the National Cathedral, Washington, DC (Photo by the author)
LEFT. Ink drawing of the north facade of the National Cathedral with the College of Preachers seen in the foreground. RIGHT. Photograph of the south facade seen from the gazebo in the Bishop's Rose Garden. (Drawing and photo by the author)

An integral part of Anzac Day Services in Australia and New Zealand during the past nine decades has been a reading of the elegy inspired by the sonnet, “For the Fallen,” by the Oxford educated Laurence Binyon (1869-1943):

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Sailing north through the Dardanelles, the straits that separate the Asian side of Turkey from the European, one can make out on the starboard side (right) the ruins of Troy, made famous in Homer’s Odyssey. On the port side (left) stand prominent monuments of the Turks, the French, and the British, each honoring an unknown soldier lost in the Gallipoli Campaign.

A group portrait of the Australian 11th (Western Australia) Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade posing in front of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, dated 10 January 1915, during a break from training in Egypt. The battalion was among the first to land at ANZAC Bay.
Pair of bullets that had intersected in the air, found on a field in Gallipoli six decades after the battle. The bullet are preserved at the Naval Museum in Canakkale. (Photo by the author)

The land is literally pockmarked with numberless trenches. It is here that hundreds of thousands of troops — Turkish and Allied — faced each other in 1915. The preponderant numbers on the Allied side comprised the Australian and New Zealand troops, mobilized into the “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps,” or “ANZAC.” When it was all over, a half million young men, approximately evenly divided between the two sides, had been wounded or killed. The smoke of battle — bullets and cannon shells — turned the sky opaque at midday.

Perhaps because of the shared misery, the two sides came to respect each other to the point where, it is said, a daily coffee and smoke break would take place, allowing the soldiers to climb out of their bunkers in relative safety. But when they returned, if as much as a hand showed, it would be shot off. No doubt, this was rare. Indeed, another story has it that Turkish soldiers threw small boxes of hand-rolled cigarettes from their trenches to the soldiers occupying enemy trenches. The ANZAC soldiers threw tins of their food in exchange. The Turks opened and tasted the canned food, then threw them back.

Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, originally masterminded the scheme to sail up the Dardanelles, take control of Istanbul, and then strike at Germany from its “soft underbelly.” The campaign failed and resulted in Churchill losing his job.

Melville Bell Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society and editor of National Geographic Magazine from 1957 to 1969, on grassy cratered slopes of Gallipoli. (NGS stock photo by Joe Scherschel.)


In 1930, fourteen years after the cessation of hostilities in the Gallipoli campaign, the President of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, had received a letter from mothers of the fallen ANZACS, requesting permission to visit the graves of their sons. Ataturk sat down and penned a deeply comforting letter to the women:

“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. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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. — Kemal Ataturk.”

Ataturk’s poignant message is inscribed in the Turkish Memorial to the Unknown Soldier in Gallipoli, and inscribed also at the Ataturk Memorials in Canberra, Australia and in Wellington, New Zealand. It is no wonder that in distant Australia and New Zealand, there is still a sense of kinship for Atatürk and the Turks — enemies, but fellow witnesses to the unspeakable horrors of trench warfare — and, conversely, a resentment of the British politicians who sent a generation of their young men to fight and die in a land half-a-world away. For the Turks, the Australians, and the New Zealanders, Gallipoli would forever be regarded as the moment when they gained their national identities.

Bulent Atalay, a scientist, artist and author, has been described by NPR, PBS and the Washington Post as a “Modern Renaissance Man.” He is the author of two successful books on the intersection of art, science and mathematics, with Leonardo, the pre-eminent Renaissance man, serving as the foil. His best selling book, "Math and the Mona Lisa," (Smithsonian Books, 2004) has appeared in 13 languages. Professor Atalay's academic background is in theoretical physics. He travels around the world lecturing at academic institutions and on cruise ships on the "A-subjects," art, archaeology, astrophysics, atomic physics and Ataturk, confessing that he knows much less about the "B-subjects," business, banking, biology and botany... He is the President of the Ataturk Society of America (ASA), dedicated to promoting Ataturk's ideals of science and reason over dogma and superstition, of a secular state with full equality of genders. For more details click on Bulent Atalay
  • Elizabeth Atalay (

    Beautifully written, Ataturk’s letter brings tears to my eyes, thanks for educating us!

  • Jeannine Harvey

    Beautiful! Poignant words that resonate today as they did 70 years ago.

  • David, I like very much the stock photo from NGS files showing Melville Bell Grosvenor, with Anzac Bay seen behind him. I was introduced to Mr. Grosvenor last fall by Penny Dackis in the NGS Cafeteria.

    Regarding the photo of the conjoined pair of bullets, I took it in 1990 in the Naval Museum in Çanakkale. The bullets had been discovered 6-7 decades after the Gallipoli campaign came to an end. Taking the approximate speed of a WWI rifle bullet as 1000 m/sec, and the length of a bullet as 3 cm, it would not be difficult to compute the infinitesimal probability of such an event. It is much much less than the probability of an accident that took place in Cleveland in 1895. There were only two cars in the entire city, and they managed to collide. They were much larger, and moving much slower. Bulent

  • Penelope Dackis

    Such an interesting and relevant account. I will share with my daughter who is leaving for Turkey next week.

  • Lisa Wu

    What a wonderful blog to stumble upon. The photography is beautiful but the written commentary enhances each photograph. It is the kind of narrative that can only come from deep knowledge and personal history. Thank you Dr. Atalay for providing such insight.

  • Bob Cassanova

    You bring to life these fascinating tidbits of history. I’m eager to see your upcoming book. Hope it contains many of your wonderful photographs. Keep the vision!!

  • Lisa DP

    Thank you for this beautifully written piece. It is so poignant, an eloquent elegy for our fallen young men, almost as beautiful as those famous words of Ataturk. And as you say, through all that bloodshed, it marked the birth of our nations. I am very moved that former enemies can honour one another in such a special way. As an Australian, visiting Anzac Cove has been one of the most moving experiences in my life, I will never forget that senseless waste of young life. Thank you for this tribute to our countries, it will stay with me for a long time.

  • Peter Wall

    Dear Bulent,
    What a wonderful moment you’ve captured in the Cathedral. Like Lisa, I recognised Kim Beazley immediately. He is a much loved and respected man, perhaps too gentle a man for political life. He is much more suited to the gentle art of diplomacy and fellowship.

    It was impossible to read your poignant and heartfelt note without the tears rolling down my cheeks. Each time I read Ataturk’s letter to the mother’s of our fallen sons it reminds me of the unbreakable bond between our two countries that will remain forever.

    I love your photograph, it is simply, wonderful.

    Thank you for posting this image, you do us all proud.

    All my best wishes

  • Nergis Sursal

    Bulent Atalay has written a candid account of Anzac day, and one of the fiercest battles of the 20th century, Gallipoli, that changed the history of a nation and of the world. The leader of the Turks, Kemal Ataturk, culminating it with a quote for peace amongst the nations.

  • Mark Krohmer

    Is the pencil sketch of the catheral for sale? I love it.

  • Musti Akyol

    I agree with Peter Wall’s comment. I would nominate him to be the permanent president of the United Nation, if that were ever possible. The man saw all manner of war, won so many battles, and saw so much of the youth — allied and enemy — destroyed. His pronouncements on war and peace represent timeless messages to the world: “Unless a nation faces peril, waging war is murder,” and “Peace at home, peace in the world!” To this day no other leader has ever written as gracious and generous a letter as the one you have cited to the mothers of enemy soldiers. In the United States, we are still waiting for a similar statement to the Iraqi mothers from George Bush, or from from Al-Kaide’s leaders to the American mothers of those killed in 9/11. The Turks are so extraordinarily fortunate that they had him. How sad it is for the world, that there has never been another Ataturk!

  • Murat Yigitbas

    Hi Bulent Atalay
    Thanks for your nice blog. I want to share a Canakkale folk music.
    with all due respect.
    Murat Yigitbas
    Youtube “Çanakkale Türküsü-Çanakkale İçin Çal”

  • babra duckworth


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