The Saddest, Most Beautiful Cemetery in the World

This article was originally published as six separate posts on Wish You Were Here. You can read them separately by clicking this link.


Late last year Heidi and I had a short break in Turkey and managed to spend a day at Gallipoli. It was a haunting experience filled with admiration for the soldiers of both sides who stepped up into a war they had no control over yet maintained their dignity and respect for each other, and a heavy sadness for the immense loss of life. Throughout this long post we will share information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and our images taken on the day, in the hope that we can convey to you the emotion of standing in the saddest, most beautiful cemetery in the world.

A good army of 50,000 men and sea power – that is the end of the Turkish menace. Winston Churchill, 1915

Ari Burnu

“Within days of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, both Australia and New Zealand began to raise forces to support the British Empire’s war effort. The first cohort sent to Europe was redirected to Egypt for initial training, arriving as early as December 1914. They were organised into a new formation: the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC. This included the 1st Australian Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division, incorporating the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Also attached to the corps were the 7th Brigade of Indian Mounted Artillery, and the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps. Placed under the command of General William Birdwood, the ANZAC Corps was assigned to take part in the Allied amphibious landings which would begin on 25 April 1915.” Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Beach at Ari Burnu

Beach at Ari Burnu

Standing on the beach at Ari Burnu where some 4,000 ANZAC troops came ashore on that first morning of the campaign was an eerie experience. In the relative silence of birdsong and lapping waves it was hard to picture the chaos of violence and death that once stained this unassuming little inlet. Our guide pointed out that in the darkness and confusion the ANZACs had come ashore at the wrong place. What should have been an easy run across flat fields was now an impossible landscape of deep gullies and high ridges.

“By nightfall over 16,000 troops were ashore, the beaches were full of wounded men, and those on the slopes were digging in. This area soon became known as ‘ANZAC’, and its features would be renamed by those living and fighting here: Shrapnel Valley, Plugges’s Plateau, Johnston’s Jolly, Happy Valley, Russell’s Top, the Nek, Walker’s Ridge, Lone Pine.” Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Target

Ari Burnu Cemetery was established within days of the first landing. Today there are 151 Australian soldiers, 35 New Zealand soldiers, 27 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 3 Indian soldiers and 37 unidentified bodies interred here.

The Cenotaph at Ari Burnu


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 the 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. – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1934.

Standing on the beach at ANZAC Cove you realise the hopelessness of the situation. Although the landscape in 1915 was devoid of trees (the majority of which had been cut down by local villagers over the years – mainly for firewood) it was still as steep and unforgiving as it is today. The lack of foliage may have facilitated troop movement for the ANZACs, but it also meant there was no cover from the Turkish resistance that was getting stronger every hour as reinforcements arrived. You can only wonder what was going through the mind of a young soldier as he clambered out of a leaky rowboat and started hurtling himself up a hill under fire from above.

Sphinx, Russell’s Top and Plugge’s Plateau in Black and White
Sphinx, Russell’s Top and Plugge’s Plateau today

“According to the article 2 of the Law on Administration of Provinces No. 5442 the Turkish Government has decided to name the coast that is located between the longitude 26 16 39 and the latitude 40 14 13 of the Gallipoli peninsula as ‘THE ANZAC COVE’ to the memory of those soldiers belonging to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who landed here on 25 April 1915 during the campaign of Dardanelles which constitutes one of the most glorious wars on our history and whic (sic) also has an important place in world history.” Plaque laid at ANZAC Cove April 17th 1985 – Image below.

The Allied objectives in 1915 were simple. Land at Gallipoli, capture Istanbul and provide a supply route to Russia. This would have opened another front against Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary. It wasn’t to be.

“From the beach, groups of men rushed up steep, scrub-covered slopes towards the high ground. At first the few Turkish defenders were pushed back. Isolated groups of Australians and New Zealanders fought their way to where they could see the Dardanelles. As the day progressed Turkish resistance strengthened. By nightfall none of the objectives had been reached. The commanders on the spot recommended withdrawal but were ordered instead to dig in and hold on.” Gallipoli Peninsula Peace Park.

ANZAC Cove Today
ANZAC Cove Today

The beach head at ANZAC Cove was 600 metres long, but only 20 metres wide meaning that there was not much space to launch a successful military campaign. Supplies could only come in at night and they had to be carried via donkey to the front line. Casualties had to be evacuated the same way. Thousands of men lived in dugouts during the 240 day campaign coping with oppressive heat, freezing cold, swarms of flies, bully beef, artillery shells and sniper fire, at all times surrounded by the stench of death.

You have got through the difficult business, now you dig, dig, dig, until you are safe. General Sir Ian Hamilton. British commander-in-chief, Gallipoli.

As the ANZACs dug in for dear life the British landed at Cape Helles and were met by fierce Turkish resistance who kept the British pinned down on the tip of the peninsula. On the 6th May a combined assault using ANZACs, French and British troops was planned but little progress was made for the next two days. On the 8th May the ANZACs were ordered to push forward towards the village of Krithia. Unfortunately the enemy had set their own lines and over 1,000 Australians and 800 New Zealanders were killed or wounded.

Sir, this is a sheer waste of good men. Joseph Gasparich, New Zealand soldier, Krithia, 8 May 1915.

ANZAC Commemorative Site
ANZAC Commemorative Site

On the 19th May the Turks mounted a counter attack. Wave after wave of Turkish soldiers slammed into the ANZAC trenches only to be met with such desperate and concentrated fire. At the conclusion of the battle 0ver 10,000 Turkish soldiers were wounded and approximately 3,000 lay dead. The ANZACs lost 160 dead and 468 wounded. Horribly, the dead Turks lay out on no mans land until the 24th May when a temporary truce was declared so that the bodies could be retrieved for burial.

The Sphinx
The Sphinx

“As the summer heat intensified, conditions on Gallipoli deteriorated. Primitive sanitation led to a plague of flies and the outbreak of disease. Thousands of men were evacuated suffering from dysentery, diarrhoea, and enteric fever…Men suffered particularly from lice in their clothing. Morale sank as the prospect of victory receded. Many came to feel they would never leave Gallipoli alive.” Gallipoli Peninsula Peace Park.

The stalemate remained for several months.

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