The little side-wheeler - she had been built in Glasgow in 1892, and done duty as
ferry-boat until the war began - was supposed to sail at four, but night shut down
and she still
lay at the wharf in Stamboul. We contrived to get some black bread, hard-boiled
and helva from one of the little hole-in-the-wall shops near by, watched Pera and
roofs turn to puiple, and the purple to gray and black, until Constantinople was
but a string of
lights across Galata Bridge, and a lamp here and there on the hills. Then, toward
lights doused and life-belts strung along the rail - for English submarines were
in the Marmora
- we churned quietly round the comer of Stamboul and into the cool sea.
Turkish Ferries Near the Dardanelles
All night we went chunking southward - it is well over a hundred miles from Constantinople to the upper entrance to the straits - and shook ourselves out of our blankets and the cinders into another of those blue-and-gold mornings which belong to this part of the world. You must imagine it behind all this strange fighting at the Dardanelles - sunshine and blue water, a glare which makes the Westerner squint; moons that shine like those in the tropics. One cannot send a photograph of it home any more than I could photograph the view from my hotel window here on Pera Hill of Stamboul and the Golden Horn. You would have the silhouette, but you could not see the sunshine blazing on white mosques and minarets, the white mosques blazing against terra-cotta roofs and dusty green cedars and cypresses, the cypresses lifting dark and pensive shafts against the blue - all that splendid, exquisite radiance which bursts through one's window shutters every morning and makes it seem enough to look and a waste of time to try to think.
It is the air the gods and heroes used to breathe; they fought and played, indeed, over these very waters and wind-swept hills. Leander swam the Dardanelles close to where the Irresistible and Bouvet were sunk; the wind that blew in our faces that morning was the same that rippled the drapery of the Winged Victory. As we went chunking southward with our beans and cigarettes, we could see the snows of Olympus - the Mysian Olympus, at any rate, if not the one where Jove, the cloud-compelling, used to live, and white-armed Juno, and Pallas, Blue- Eyed Maid. If only our passports had taken us to Troy we could have looked down the plains of Ilium to the English and French ships, and Australian and French colonials fighting up the hillside across the bay. We got tea from the galley, and -with bread and helva (an insinuating combination of sugar and oil of sesame, which tastes of peanuts and is at once a candy and a sort of substitute for butter or meat) made out a breakfast.
A Turkish soldier, the only other occupant of the deck, surveyed these preparations impassively; then, taking off his boots, climbed on a settee and stood there in his big bare feet, with folded hands, facing, as he thought, toward Mecca. The boat was headed southwest, and he looked to starboard, so that he faced, as a matter of fact, nearly due west. He had knelt and touched his forehead twice to the bench, and was going on with the Mussulman prayer when the captain, a rather elegant young man who had served in the navy, murmured something as he passed. The soldier looked round thoughtfully; without embarrassment, surprise, or hurry stepped from the settee, pointed it toward the Asiatic shore, and, stepping up again, resumed his devotions.
German U-Boat & Turkish Patrol Boat at the Dardanelles
The Marmora narrowed, we passed Gallipoli on the European side, ... and on into the Dardanelles proper and the zone of war. It was some forty miles down this salt-water river (four miles wide at its widest, and between the forts of Chanak Kale and Kilid Bahr, near its lower end, a fraction over a mile) from the Marmora gateway to the Aegean. On the left were Lapsaki and the green hills of Asia, cultivated to their very tops; on the right Europe and the brown hills of the peninsula, now filled with guns and horses and men.
Over there, up that narrow strip of Europe, running down between the Dardanelles and the Aegean, the Allies had been trying for weeks to force their way to Constantinople. They had begun in February, you will recall, when they bombarded the forts at the outer entrance to the Dardanelles - Sedd ul Bahron the European side, at the tip of the peninsula, and Kum Kale, across the bay on the Asiatic shore.. These forts occupy somewhat the relation to Constantinople that Sandy Hook does to New York, although much farther away - they face, that is to say, the open sea, and the guns of the fleet, heavier than those of the old forts, could stand off at a safe distance and demolish them.
When the ships pushed on up the strait toward Kilid Bahr and Chanak Kale - somewhat like trying to run the Narrows at New York - there was a different story. They were now within range of shore batteries and there were anchored mines and mines sent down on the tide. On March 18 the Irresistible, Ocean, and Bouvet were sunk, and it began to be apparent that the Dardanelles could not be forced without the help of a powerful land force. So in April landing parties were sent ashore: at Kum Kale and Sedd ul Bahr, at Kaba Tepe and Art Burnu, some twelve or fourteen miles farther north on the Aegean side of the peninsula, and at another point a few miles farther up. At Sedd ul Bahr and along the beach between Kaba Tepe and Art Bumu the Allies made their landing good, dug themselves in, and, reinforced by the fire of the ships, began a trench warfare not unlike that which has dragged on in the west.
French Battleship FNS Bouvet Goes Under the Wave
Under these conditions the fighting had been going on for weeks, the English and French holding their ground at Sedd ul Bahr and Ari Burnu, but getting no nearer Constantinople. And as we went chunking down the strait that night and into Ak-Bash in the dark, two new forces were coming in. The next day a German submarine - come all the way round through the Mediterranean - was to sink the Triumph and the Majestic, while another American correspondent, who had intended to come with us but took the transport Nagara instead, saw the head of an English submarine poke through the Marmora. A blond young man in overalls and white jersey climbed out of the conning-tower. "Will you give us time to get off?" cried the American, the only one on board who could speak English.
"Yes," said the young man, "and be damned quick about it." Ten minutes later, from the boats into which they had tumbled, the passengers saw a cloud of yellow smoke, and the Nagara simply disintegrated and sank, and with her the heavy siege-gun she was taking to the Dardanelles.
Pleasantly unaware of what might as well have happened to the bread and beans, we drew up to a hill-side speckled with lights, a wharf, and a hospital boat smelling of iodoform, through a cabin window of which a doctor was peacefully eating dinner. Boxes and sacks were piled near the wharf, and from over behind the hills, with startling nearness, came the nervous Crack . . . crack . . . crack-crack-crack! of rifle and machine-gun fire.
We went to sleep to the tune of it, moved a few miles down the coast in the night, and crawled out into a world of dusty brown - brown hillsides and camels and soldiers and sacks of wheat piled on the flat, immersed in an amber dawn. This was the destination of the side-wheeler, and by sunup we were loaded into a mah6ne with a horse, several goats, three or four passengers, and four barefooted boatmen, who pushed us over the strait to Chanak Kale.
We were now at the narrowest part of the Dardanelles, behind us, on the European side, the old round tower of Kilid Bahr and Medjidie Fort, in front Fort Hamidie, and on the horizon to the south, where the strait opened into the sea, the tiny silhouettes of several of the Allies' ships. Chanak was smashed like the towns in west Belgium, and, but for the garrison and the Turkish and German commandants tucked away in the trees, all but deserted, except by flies and half- starved cats. These unhappy creatures, left behind in the flight, were everywhere, and in front of the bake shop they crowded in literal scores - gaunt, mangy, clawed and battered from constant fights. It was hot, there was little to eat, and after hours of wrangling it appeared that our precious scratches of Turkish took us to the Gallipoli instead of the Asiatic side.
Visitors at the Turkish Forts
We landed at the same place at which we had touched in the dark two nights before - busy and blazing now in the afternoon sun, with gangs of stevedores shuffling to and from the ships at the brand-new wharfs, Turkish officers galloping about on their thick-necked, bobtailed, fiery little stallions, and the dusty flat, half a mile across, perhaps, between its encircling hills, crowded with ox and horse carts, camel trains, and piles of ammunition-boxes and sacks of food.
The admiral and his aid were greeted by a smart young German officer with a monocle, and galloped off into the hills, while we fell into the hospitable hands of another German, a civilian volunteer in red fez and the blue and brass buttons of the merchant marine, cast here by the chance of war. He was a Hamburg-American captain, lately sailing between Buenos Aires and Hamburg, and before that on an Atlas Line boat between the Caribbean and New York. He talked English and seemed more than half American, indeed, and when he spoke of the old Chelsea Hotel, just across the street from the Y. M. C. A. gymnasium in which I had played hand- ball, we were almost back in Twenty-third Street. He took us up to his tent on the hill, overlooking the men and stores, and, he explained, reasonably safe from the aeroplanes which flew over several times a day. Over his cigarettes and tea and bottled beer we talked of war and the world.
It was the captain's delicate and arduous duty to impose his tight German habits of work and ship-shapeness on camel drivers, stevedores, and officials used to the looser, more leisurely methods of the East.
He could not speak Turkish, was helpless without his interpreter, at best a civilian among soldiers - men have got Iron Crosses for easier jobs than that! He talked of the news - great news for his side - of the Triumph, and, opening his navy list, made a pencil mark.
"She's off!" he said. The book was full of marks. In methodical sailor fashion he had been crossing them off since the war began: British and German - Blucher, Scharnhorst, Irresistible, Goliath, and the rest - millions of dollars and hundreds of men at a stroke.
" Where's it going to end ? " he demanded. "There's seven hundred good men gone, maybe - how many did the Triumph carry ? And we think it's good news! If a man should invent something that would kill a hundred thousand men at once, he'd be a great man. . . . Now, what is that ? "
German Commander Liman von Sanders
It was our first duty to present ourselves to the commandant of the peninsular forces, Field- Marshal Liman von Sanders - Liman Pasha, as he is generally called in Turkey - and the captain found a carriage, presently, and sent us away with a soldier guard. Our carriage was a talika, one of those little gondola-like covered wagons common in the country. There is a seat for the driver; the occupants lie on the floor and adjust themselves as best they can to the bumpings of the hilly roads.
The country reminded one of parts of our own West - brown hills, with sparse pines and scrub- oaks, meadows ablaze with scarlet poppies, and over all blue sky, sunshine, and the breeze from the near-by sea. We passed camel trains, mule trains, horses, and tents masked with brush. Here evidently were the men we had seen marching day after day through the Constantinople streets - marching away to war in the silent Eastern fashion, without a waving handkerchief, a girl to say good-by to, or a cheer. Here they were and yet here they weren't, for the brush and tangled hills swallowed them up as thoroughly as armies are swallowed up in the villages of Belgium and France.
We passed even these signs of war and came into pines and open meadows - we might have been driving to somebody's trout preserve. The wagon stopped near a sign tacked to a tree, and we walked down a winding path into a thicket of pines. There were tents set in the bank and covered with boughs, and out of one came a tall, square-jawed German officer, buttoning his coat. He waved aside our passports with the air of one not concerned with such details, asked if we spoke German - or perhaps we would prefer French? - and, motioning down the path to a sort of summer-house with a table and chairs, told an orderly to bring tea.
Local Citizens & Turkish Soldiers - Gallipoli Peninsula
The English and French could not force the Dardanelles; no more could they advance on land, and now that the submarines had arrived, the fleet, which had been bothersome, would be taken care of. He spoke with becoming sorrow of the behavior of Italy, and did not mar this charming little fete champetre with any remarks about American shipments of arms. The ex-banker from Davenport also spoke of the Italians, and with a rather disconcerting vigor, considering that they were recent allies. The young aide-de-camp whom we had seen at the wharf declared that the Turkish soldier was the best in the world. It was a very different army from that which had been defeated in the Balkan War, and the endurance and tenacity of the individual soldier were beyond anything he had ever seen. A man would see a dozen of his comrades killed alongside him by a high-explosive shell and only shrug his shoulders and. say that now, at any rate, they were all in paradise.
One continually hears similar comments, and there can be no doubt of the Turkish soldier's bravery, and his unusual ability to endure hardship. No one who has wrangled with a minor Turkish official, and experienced the impassive resistance he is able to interpose to anything he doesn't want to do, will underestimate what this quality might become, translated into the rugged physique and impassivity of the common soldier.
Westerners have heard so long of the Sick Man of Europe and his imminent decease that they are likely to associate political with physical weakness, and think that the pale, brooding, official type, familiar in photographs, is the every-day Turk. As a matter of fact, the every-day Turk is tough-bodied and tough-spirited, used to hard living and hard work. The soldiers you see swinging up Pera Hill or in from a practice march, dust-covered and sweating, and sending out through the dusty cedars a wailing sort of chant as they come - these are as splendid-looking fellows as you will see in any army in Europe.
They are dressed in businesslike fashion in dust-colored woollen tunics and snug breeches with puttees, and wear a rather rakish-looking folded cap - a sort of conventionalized turban not unlike the soldier hats children make by folding newspapers. This protects the eyes and the back of the neck from the sun. They are strong and well made, with broad, high cheek-bones, a black mustache generally, and hawk eyes. Some look as the Tartar warriors who swept over eastern Europe must have looked; some, with their good-natured faces and vigorous compactness, remind one of Japanese infantrymen.
During the early fighting on the peninsula the wounded came up to Constantinople, after days on the way, in wagons, perhaps, over horrible roads, in commandeered ferry-boats and freighters, yet one scarcely heard a sound, a murmur of complaint. Gray and gaunt, with the mud of the trenches still on them, they would be helped into ambulances and driven off to the hospitals, silent themselves and through crowds as silent as those which had watched them march away a few weeks before.
From that little oasis in the pines we drove with a pass, signed by the field-marshal himself, taking us to the heights above Ari Burnu, to a point near the south front, a hill in the centre of the peninsula, from which we could see both the Dardanelles and the Aegean, and to a camp beneath it, where we were to spend the night.
It was dark when our wagon lurched into this camp, and a full hour passed before the baffled Turks could convince themselves that our pass and we were all that they should be, and put us into a tent. Nevertheless, an orderly poked his head in good-naturedly enough at seven next morning with tea and goat's cheese and brown bread, and our captain host, a rather wildish- looking young man from the Asiatic interior, came to say he had telephoned for permission to take us to the heights above Kaba Tepe and Ari Burnu.
The camp was the office, so to speak, of the division commander, with his clerks, telephone operator, commissary machinery, and so on, the commander himself living at the immediate front. It was like scores of other camps hidden away in the hills - brush-covered tents dug into the hillsides, looking like rather faded summer-houses; arbor-like horse-sheds, covered with branches, hidden in ravines; every wagon, gun, or piece of material that might offer a target to an aeroplane covered with brush. They were even painting gray horses that morning with a brown dye. A big 38-centimeter unexploded shell, dropped into a near-by village by the Queen Elizabeth, and with difficulty pushed up on end now by a dozen men, was shown us, and presently we climbed into the carriage with the captain, and went rocking over the rough road toward the Aegean.
German Gun Battery Firing at Gallipoli
Up one of the hot little valleys we climbed, left the carriage, and, walking up a trail, cut into the bank, past men and horses hidden away like bandits, and came at last to the top and several tents dug into the rim of the hill. It was the headquarters of Essad Pasha, defender of Janina in the last war, and division commander in this sector of the front. He received us in his tent beside a table littered with maps and papers - a grizzled, good-natured soldier, who addressed us in German, and might indeed have passed for a German. He apologized for the cramped quarters, explaining that they were likely at any time to be bombarded, and had to live in what was practically a trench, and then at once, in the Turkish fashion, appeared an orderly with tiny cups of sweet coffee.
Things were quiet at the moment, he said. There was nothing but the desultory crack-crack of snipers, coming from one knew not just where, the every-day voice of the trenches - possibly the enemy were dismayed by the loss of the Triumph. He had seen it all, he said, from this very spot - a sight one was not likely to see more than once in a lifetime. The great ship had rolled over like a stricken whale. Her torpedo-nets were out, and as she turned over these nets closed down on the men struggling in the water, and swept them under. He, too, expressed entire confidence in the Turk's ability to stop any farther advance and, calling an aid, sent us to the periscope, which poked its two eyes through a screen of pine branches a few yards away, and looked over the parapet and down on the first-line trenches and the sea.
We were high above the Aegean and opposite the island of Imbros, which lifted its hazy blue on the western horizon, and was used as a base by part of the fleet. To the south rose the promontory of Kaba Tepe, cleared of the enemy now, our Turkish major said, and, stretching northward from it past us and Ari Burnu, the curving rim of beach held by the English.
More than a month had passed since the landing, and the heavy fighting of the next few days, in which the Australians and New Zealanders, under a hail of shrapnel churning up the water between ships and shore, succeeded in getting a foothold; a month and more had passed, and, though they still held their ground, apparently they could do no more. The yellow line of their first trench twisted along the rim of the hill below us, perhaps a quarter of a mile away, and directly behind it lay the blue sea. How much elbow-room they might have between their trenches and the water one could not tell, so completely foreshortened was the space between. Cliffs rise from a narrow strip of foreshore here, however, and apparently they had pushed just over the cliff rim - the first hill above the sea. Their tents, stores and landing-places were out of sight.
Directly in front of the English trenches were the first-line Turkish trenches, in some places not more than fifteen or twenty feet away, so close, indeed, that when there was fighting they must have fought with revolvers, hand-grenades, shovels, anything they could lay their hands on. At the moment it was quiet but for the constant Crack . . . crack-crack! of snipers.
We could look down on the backs and heads of the Turkish soldiers; except for a wisp of smoke rising here and there from some hidden camp cook-stove, there was not a sign of life in the English trenches. Snipers were attending to that. Even here, in the second-line trenches on top of the second hill, no one was allowed to show his head, and it was all the more curious to see a squad of Turkish soldiers digging away below as calmly as so many market-gardeners in a potato-field. They were running another trench behind the several that already lined the slope, and must have been hidden by a rise of ground, though looking down from above they seemed to be out in the open.
The position of the English did not seem enviable. They had trenches directly in front of them, and several hundred feet above them a second line (from which we were looking) dominating the whole neighborhood. The first-line Turkish trenches were too close to their own to be bombarded from the ships, so that that preliminary advantage was cut off; the second-line defenses, in the twisting gullies over the hill, could stand bombardment about as well as could trenches anywhere - and behind them was the water. They were very literally between the devil and the deep sea.
With the periscope we worked from Kaba Tepe on the left clear across the ground in front of us to the north. Over in the west, by hazy Imbros, were five or six ships; there was another fleet in the north to- ward the Gulf of Saros, and little black beetles of destroyers crawled here and there across the blue sea floor. The major took us into his tent for cigarettes and another thimbleful of the coffee. He, too, had been educated in Germany, spoke German and French, and with his quick, bright eyes and soft smile, would easily have passed for a Frenchman or Italian.
They had just had a seven hours' armistice to bury the dead and bring in the wounded, some of whom had been lying between the trenches for a week. The English had proposed the armistice; an officer had come out from each side, and they had had a long pow-wow and drawn up a written agreement with meticulous care lest there should be a misunderstanding or danger of breaking the truce. Everything, the major said, had been most good-natured and correct. The English had sent a "diplomat" in addition to their military delegate, a civilian whom he had known well in Constantinople. It was altogether quaint and interesting, meeting and talking with this man, with whom he might, so to speak, have been playing bridge the night before - "Sehr nett! Sehr nett!" he said. With his soft smile.
While he was waiting to receive the English delegate, five shrapnel-shells had been fired at him, he said; but he understood that it was a mistake and made no protest, and during the truce a wounded Turk had refused to take the water an English officer had tried to give him, firing at the Englishman instead. A little fanatical, perhaps, but then - and again the major smiled in his charming way - "a little fanaticism in one's soldiers is a good thing!"
Turkish Reenforcements Arrive at Gallipoli
This was about midway in the peninsula, and, facing south from the summit, we looked down over the twisting hills, pockmarked with holes from shells and aeroplane bombs, to the Marmora on the left, and on the right to the Aegean and hazy Imbros, and, in front, almost to the end of the peninsula. The sun was down in the west, and in its track a cruiser steamed a mile or two out from the coast, while from under Ari Burnu, where we had been that morning, a transport put out, rather recklessly it seemed, and went straight across the open water. From the south and west there was the continual Br-r-umr-m . . . br-r-um-m! of big guns, and over Kaba Tepe way we could see shells bursting. We sat there for an hour or so, waiting for one of the little specks out on the blue sea floor to fire or sink, and then, as nothing happened, returned to camp.
An orderly brought us supper that night - mutton, bread and cheese, haricots, stewed fruit, and coffee - and we dined on a little table outside the tent, with the twilight turning to moonlight and the sheep-bells tinkling against the opposite hill. Soldiers were carrying their suppers from the cook tent - not at all the bread-and-cigarette diet with which one is always being told the hardy Turk is content. He may be content, but whenever I saw him eating he had meat and rice, and often stewed fresh beans or fruit - certainly better food than most Turkish peasants or artisans are accustomed to at home.
I sat outside watching the moon rise and listening to the distant Crack . . . crack-crack! of rifle and machine-gun fire from over Ari Bumu way. Evidently they were fighting in the trenches we had seen that morning. The orderly who had served us, withdrawn a little way, was standing like a statue in the dusk, hands folded in front of him, saying his last prayer of the evening. Beyond, from a bush-covered tent, came the jingle of a telephone and 'the singsong voice of the young Turkish operator relaying messages in German - "Ja ! ... Ja ! ... Kaba Tepe ... Ousedom Pasha . . . Morgen frith . . . Hier Multepe! . . . Ja! . . . Ja!"
And to this and the distant rattle of battle we went to sleep.
Thanks to indefatigable period magazine collector and contributor Tony Langley for both the text and and images used in this article.
The Great War in a Different Light
Michael E. Hanlon regarding content,
or to Mike Iavarone regarding form and function.
Original artwork & copy; © 1998-2003, The Great War Society