Route 2: Sailing with the Ghosts of the Great War
Three-day cruise to the Battlefields, Cemeteries and Memorials of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli
Achilles in the Trench
I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die
I ask, and cannot answer,
If otherwise wish I.
Fair broke the day this morning
Against the Dardanelles;
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.
But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean sea,
Shrapnel and high explosive,
Shells and hells for me.
O hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?
Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese:
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.
Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knewest and I know not—
So much the happier I.
I will go back this morning
From Imbros over the sea;
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.
Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Gökçeada/Imbros, July 1915
More than a century ago, a terrible battle, one of the bloodiest of the Great War, shook the northeastern Aegean. A sea that was connecting people, cultures, ideas and religions became the theater of conflicting armies, battleships, airplanes and submarines. Thousands of young men from England to Asia and from Africa to the Ottoman Empire lost their lives and youth in the rocky shores of the Dardanelles. In this three-day cruise, we approach the places where the Battle of Gallipoli took place. Cemeteries, war memorials, monuments and military bases are still standing as silent witnesses of this bloody fight. While sailing, we are remembering the Ghosts of the Great War and we are pondering on the evil that men can do when things are getting out of control. This nautical route is a tribute to all those Turks, English, Australian, French, Senegalese and New Zealanders who breathed their last breath under the sun of the Aegean, while gazing at the deep blue sea.
On our way we meet an amazing navigator that mapped the coasts of America in the 16th century, some fierce Catalan mercenaries that dominated the region during the middle ages, a man who claimed that he was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, Achilles and the Trojan Horse and all the unknown soldiers of the Great War that died in the Battle of Gallipoli.
Dardanelles/Hellespontos/Çanakkale Boğazı (TR)
From our base, Surf Club Keros, in the island of Lemnos we are setting sail for the Dardanelles. We are passing by the island of , where in July 1915, a young British soldier wrote one of the most famous poems of the Great War. Patrick Shaw-Stewart while serving in the Royal Navy was enjoying practicing his ancient Greek with the locals. He will die two years later in 1917, but his poem Achilles in the Trench was written in Imbros while Patrick was staring at Troy, thinking of himself as a new “damned” Achilles, fighting for something that he was unsure if it was worth dying for.
The Dardanelles was known to ancient Greeks as Hellespontos. According to an ancient myth, Helle and her twin brother Phrixus, were hated by their terrible step-mother Ino. She organized a plot against them and demanded their sacrifice, but when the children were in front of the sacrificial altar something unpredictable happened…Nephele, a cloud nymph, who was also their real mother, sent a flying golden ram to rescue them. The children managed to escape, flying on the back of the ram, but when they were passing above the Dardanelles, Helle fell off the ram and drowned in the water. This why the Greeks named this narrow strait Hellespontos, literally meaning the sea of Helle.
The Dardanelles constitute one of the most strategic places in the Mediterranean and were always a very significant point for merchants and mongers, but also pirates and admirals too. It is the only way to enter the Sea of Marmara, the mythical route to Istanbul the so-called city of the world’s desire, the Bosphorus and finally the Black Sea.
This is what a young officer of the Royal Navy, who was -back then- the First Lord of the Admiralty, had in his mind when he proposed a naval attack against the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The British together with the French were lethal enemies of the Germans and the Austrian-Hungarians. When the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers it automatically became another hostile force for them. This young officer was Winston Churchill and his proposal would cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men from both sides, in a military operation that became widely known as the Gallipoli Campaign.
Seddülbahir / Cape Helles (TR)
Right proudly high over Dublin town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew
The Foggy Dew, Irish Ballad, 1916
Seddülbahir or Sedd el Bahr is a little fishing village located at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula. This was the landing zone for the Irish Battalions and other sections of the allied armies during their invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Above the village, a 17th century castle is still guarding the entrance of the Dardanelles. On the Gallipoli peninsula, there are 31 cemeteries of the British Commonwealth, one French and many memorials dedicated to the Allies of the Entente and to the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. We can visit the imposing Yahya Çavuş Memorial that was erected in 1962 to honor a sergeant who had displayed outstanding bravery during the British attack. Nearby stands the grandiose Helles Memorial, which is the main Commonwealth memorial for the whole Gallipoli Campaign. A thirty-meter high obelisk overlooking the sea dominates the surrounding area. On stone panels the names of over 20.000 soldiers are written that do not have a known grave. Mustafa Kemal, later Ataturk, the first president and founder of the Turkish Republic was distinguished at the Battle of Gallipoli as a colonel of the Ottoman Army.
It is the truth, as I have told you already, that the host was at Gallipoli and in other places; and, of the peninsula of Gallipoli, I wish you to know that it is the peninsula of the Kingdom of Macedonia of which Alexander was lord, and where he was born. And so Gallipoli is the capital on the seashore of the said Kingdom of Macedonia, as Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia on the seashore, and Lérida inland.
The Chronicle of Ramon Muntaner, 1325-1328
We are leaving behind Seddülbahir and heading to Gelibolu. While we are passing by the city of Çanakkale , we are admiring one of the most sensational fortresses of Turkey, the castle of Kilitbahir. Located on the European side of the Dardanelles, this massive castle was built by the triumphant conqueror of the Byzantine Empire, Sultan Murad II in 1463 together with the castle of Çanakkale to control effectively the narrowest point of the Dardanelles.