Inside Story

Letters from a pilgrimage

In April 1965 Ken Inglis travelled to Gallipoli with 300 Anzac pilgrims and filed seven reports along the way for the Canberra Times. Here he introduces two of those despatches

Ken Inglis 24 April 2015 4787 words

Smooth waters: Anzacs going ashore in a Karadeniz lifeboat at dawn on 25 April 1965. Ken Inglis

In 1965 the Returned Services League, or RSL, and its New Zealand equivalent sponsored a three-week cruise around the Mediterranean, visiting sites of significance in Anzac memory and culminating in a landing at Anzac Cove on the fiftieth anniversary of the first one. Some 300 pilgrims signed up. A few were World War II veterans whom the tour planners enabled to visit sites of their own experience, and there were also some former nurses and some wives. More than half the men in the party had served at Gallipoli. Most were in their seventies.

Australia’s experience and memory of the first world war had become my central interest as a historian. Going on the pilgrimage would let me talk at leisure with a large group of veterans and be with them as they returned, most of them for the first time, to old battlefields and the resting places of comrades. Kindly colleagues swapped teaching duties to let me be away for long enough.

That left only the problem of money. The whole tour – Qantas flights to and from Athens, a berth on the Turkish liner Karadeniz, coaches and hotels ashore – would cost £650. Most of the pilgrims had their expenses covered by RSL sub-branches and associated clubs. Half my fare was paid by the Australian National University, my employer, and half by the Canberra Times, whose editor, John Pringle, agreed to have me represent his paper and send back stories. In the event the Sydney Morning Herald also used some of them. By airmail I despatched stories and photographs of life aboard and time ashore in Athens, Valletta, Cairo and Beirut, and on 25 April I reported by cable from Gelibolu, as the Turks named the town inside the Dardanelles where we anchored mid-morning after our dawn landing at Anzac.

Becoming a journalist had been my only boyhood ambition (formed after reading Isobel Ann Shead’s novels Sandy, about a lad who became a newspaper reporter, and Mike, about another who became a radio man). I enjoyed part-time journalism, especially for the fortnightly magazine Nation. I was enraptured now to be carrying a press card authorising me to send cables via London to Sydney. I was pleased to be going as a journalist for another reason: I thought that the old soldiers might speak more freely to a reporter than to an academic. I doubt whether that was right. Certainly they talked willingly to me and to Norman MacSwan, the thoroughly professional newspaperman who was on board for Australian Associated Press; but I think most of them would have been just as open with any man, or woman, who showed a serious curiosity about their memories, thoughts and feelings. They gave me plenty to write about.

On the night of 24–25 April, among men now – as on that night in 1915 – steaming from Lemnos towards Anzac Cove, I enjoyed a sample of the generosity that made Pringle so respected by people who worked with him: a cable to the ship, complimenting me on the items sent so far and wishing me well for Anzac Day.

The historian, however, got the better of the amateur reporter on that morning. After the dawn meeting on the beach between Anzac pilgrims and Turkish hosts I could have got a lift with MacSwan across the peninsula to reach Gelibolu in good time to file a story for the next day’s paper. Instead I went back to the ship in a Turkish lifeboat, getting a splinter in my ankle after a rotten seat broke as I stepped on it, and having men who had gone ashore fifty years earlier in the face of enemy shells and bullets being tenderly solicitous about my scratch. I wanted to hear what they said about the landing as we sailed around Cape Helles and up to Gelibolu (and I wanted time to compose my report, unsure that I was up to doing it on the run as MacSwan was).

By the time my typewritten words were tapped from the Gelibolu cable office to London and thence to Canberra and Sydney it was just too late for the Canberra Times of 26 April. The paper carried MacSwan’s report, as all other papers did, and used mine on the 27th. Later that week the Canberra Times published a seventh piece I had written on the way home, with photographs taken at Anzac Cove and Gelibolu.

The following are the fifth and sixth of Ken Inglis’s despatches for the Canberra Times. An e-book featuring all seven articles can be downloaded here.

Stepping ashore tomorrow on Australia’s “holy land”

Canberra Times, 24 April 1965

As the sun rises tomorrow over the Dardanelles, some of the men who landed at Gallipoli fifty years ago will go ashore again, and for two days they will walk among the graves of men who landed beside them. To make this landing they have flown to Athens, joined the Turkish ship Karadeniz chartered by the RSL, and cruised around the eastern Mediterranean for nearly three weeks. Now they are approaching the climax of their pilgrimage. This time the Turks will welcome them.

Exact arrangements for the landing will not be settled until just before it is due. This is partly a matter of weather and water conditions. If the sea is rough, or if a current is running like the one which took the Australians to the wrong part of the beach in 1915, none of the party may land at Anzac Cove at all. The leaders realise that men who survived last time might endanger their lives this time in getting from the ship to small boats and thence to the shore. Instead, the Karadeniz may go around Cape Helles and put people ashore in the calmer waters inside.

There are other problems in the way of the landing. The Turkish authorities, running no risk with transient foreigners (a few of whom left hotel bills unpaid in Athens), insisted on having all transport costs paid in advance before they would discuss details; and it was not practicable to extract this money from passengers before Beirut.

Who should land? And in what order? These questions have profound implications for many pilgrims, and they have been asked often in the weeks before the landing. The official leader of the pilgrimage, Sir Raymond Huish, was not a Gallipoli man. Should he therefore stay on board, at least until the Gallipoli men have preceded him to the beach? Scott Fitzgerald says that in an egalitarian democracy, the only real aristocracy is made up of citizen soldiers. There is no doubt that many Anzacs, encouraged by what their fellow citizens have been saying about them for fifty years, do consider themselves an elite within an elite. They formed in Australia the Gallipoli Legion of Anzacs and in New Zealand the Gallipoli Association, having their own badges and sometimes marching in a body of their own on Anzac Day. One leader of the New Zealand contingent, who wears the crescent and star of the Gallipoli Association, says that the Returned Soldiers’ Association in New Zealand tends to regard the Gallipoli body as needlessly divisive; but this man wears the Gallipoli badge.

Some Gallipoli men are still resentful that they were never issued with an official medal to mark their distinction. Others are cooler about it. One survivor, who wears a tie woven in the colours of the ribbon intended for a Gallipoli medal which the British government never issued, is inclined to think that no formal emblem of recognition could ever be adequate to identify the elite. “A man who got out with a blighty the first day,” he said, “would have the same as a man who stayed all through.” Another Gallipoli man argues that on this pilgrimage, Anzacs should wear something on their blazer pockets to identify them.

Some think of early enlistment, shown by a low serial number, as evidence that a man was one of the best. “He had a three-figure number” is an old Digger’s way of saying, “He offered himself for the war earlier than most others.” Among New Zealanders, whose ranks in the later stages of the war were composed of volunteers and conscripts fighting together, this preoccupation with the time of enlistment is less noticeable. The Australians, of course, were never reinforced by conscripts, because the voters narrowly rejected [wartime prime minister] W. M. Hughes’s proposals for conscription. It is almost certain that most frontline troops voted “No” in the conscription referenda, and some pilgrims are vehement about why they did so. “Make those blokes come?” says one. “What good would they be?” The spirit of such questions divided a whole generation and is even now a force in our national life. Anzac Day after Anzac Day, the man who stayed home has had to endure being told that the empire was saved and the nation was made by the other men, the returned soldiers.

The sense of difference between Gallipoli men and other returned soldiers is of course amiable compared with the sense of division between the returned man and the lifelong civilian. It is nevertheless real. Some Gallipoli men think that all who were here before should land in a body some time before anybody else. That is unlikely to happen. If the plans for landing exclude any Gallipoli men, one or two of them may have to be held down: one has threatened already that if need be he will dog-paddle ashore.

The habit of pilgrimage to Gallipoli is well established, and would have been indulged more freely over the years but for the sheer difficulty of getting to these barren shores. The largest body of men were the 600 from all parts of the Empire who left from England in 1936. It is symbolic of the decline of imperial sentiment in England that the party landing tomorrow comes only from outposts of the old Empire (apart from one Londoner who joined the Anzacs at Athens). There was to be a British contingent of pilgrims, too; but the plan fell through because not enough could be found to fill a ship.

Among the men and women sailing towards Gallipoli today are several for whom this is a second act of pilgrimage. Some came in 1960, organised by a travel agency and led by Mr William Yeo. Some came in 1955 led by Sir George Holland. A few have made their way as individuals, sometimes with the aid of the Anzac Troy Travel Agency. (This firm’s name is said to have made Mr Sidney Nolan wince when he began to explore the ancient and modern mythology of the region. It was founded by the son of a Turk who worked for the Imperial War Graves Commission.) This year’s party of 316 is by far the largest ever to come from Australia and New Zealand. It is the first to be organised officially by the RSL.

When the leaders of the League first resolved nearly two years ago to arrange the pilgrimage they hoped not only that it would attract old soldiers but also that it would help to keep the Anzac tradition alive among Australians at large. As the national secretary of the RSL, Mr A.G. Keys, put it, “We believe the events at Gallipoli should be impressed on the imaginations of young Australians so that they will know the sacrifices others have made to keep our country free and independent. A pilgrimage would help achieve that result.”

The Turks, as Moslems who turn towards Mecca, understand well the habit of pilgrimage. “Exhort all men to make the pilgrimage,” Mohammed told his followers, “They will come to you on foot and on the backs of swift camels from every distant quarter.” Pilgrims come to Mecca from places almost as remote as Australia, most notably Indonesia.

There are nevertheless aspects of the Anzac pilgrimage which might puzzle the Turks. They are surprised, it is said, that we should celebrate a defeat. While we remember 25 April as the great day, Turkish memories turn to Gallipoli on 18 March, the day in 1915 when Turkish guns turned back ships from the mightiest navy in history. Nor do the Turks understand easily why their old enemy should have constructed cemeteries with such loving care all over the peninsula. “Does man think we shall never put his bones together again?” asks Mohammed in the name of Allah. And since the Bible, like the Koran, affirms that God will raise the dead to eternal life, is it not enough to erect, as the Turks have done, a single monument to the dead warriors, without setting human beings to the task of putting the bones in thousands of separate graves each with its own memorial tablet?

The Turks might well wonder about the relation between the Christian religion and the ceremonies of Anzac. Home in Australia there has long been friction between RSL leaders and the Christian clergy about what is appropriate to be said and done on Anzac Day. Newspapers from home tell the pilgrims that thanks to the Rev. Alan Walker and Sir William Yeo, this issue has exploded yet again. Here on the pilgrimage are two clergymen who used to be chaplains; but neither has been pastorally involved in any of the ritual visits to cemeteries and other memorials to the dead in Greece, Malta, Libya, Egypt, the Lebanon and Turkey. Clergymen have twice officiated at these ceremonies: once in Tobruk, when the RAF arranged things and provided their own padre; and in Cairo, when the Provost of the Anglican Cathedral took part on the initiative of the Australian Ambassador. Otherwise Sir Raymond Huish, the leader chosen by the RSL, has led his countrymen through the RSL’s own ritual of commemoration, which uses language drawn not from the Bible but from Laurence Binyon and Rudyard Kipling.

“They shall grow not old…” says the leader after he has laid a wreath; and when he reaches the words, “We will remember them,” the informal congregation repeats his words. “Lest we forget,” says the leader, and again the men and women standing among the graves say together, “Lest we forget.”

The avoiding of Biblical language is as significant as Sir William Yeo’s declaration, earlier this month, that Anzac Day is bigger than churches. The conversation of some pilgrims suggests that they are more readily comforted, when they think of their dead mates, by language of the sort Pericles used over dead warriors of Athens than by words normally used by clergymen. “They gave their lives,” said Pericles, who also campaigned on Gallipoli. “For their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchres – not the sepulchre in which their bodies are laid, but where their glory remains eternal in men’s minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or to action.”

It may be only a token party that will leave the ship before dawn and land on the beach from small boats. It is certain that many of the pilgrims, including the women, will be put ashore at the village of Gelibolu, near the Istanbul end of the peninsula, and taken by bus thirty-five miles or so to the battlefields.

Formal ceremonies will be conducted tomorrow at some of the cemeteries in the Anzac Cove area. On Monday the pilgrims will be free to pay the private homage which for so many of them has been the great reason for coming. Officers from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under Colonel Ted Griffin will help them to find individual graves. They will lay wreaths bought from the British Legion Poppy Factory. They will squint through camera sights and shoot. What they will think and feel, nobody else will know. They will be performing a ritual which one of their mates foresaw in a poem which was written just after the evacuation and published in a volume called The Anzac Pilgrim’s Progress.

Say, those dead of yours and mine
Make this barren shore a shrine;
All these graves – they’ll draw us back;
And for ever in our track,
Down the years to come, will pace
Pilgrims of our Anzac race:
God, while this old earth shall stand,
Where but here’s our Holy Land.

For the pilgrims on the Karadeniz, Gallipoli is indeed Australia’s holy land. How far, on this Anzac Day, they are representative of their countrymen at home, is perhaps easier to judge in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra than in the pilgrim ship.

Anzacs play to Turkish rules on their return

Canberra Times, 27 April 1965

GALLIPOLI, Sunday, 25 April. It is 5.20 am as seventy old men in blazers walk fifty yards uphill from an improvised jetty to where a cluster of thirty other old men wait for them. Some visitors peer about in the pale light trying to recognise the landscape once terribly familiar. Some look simply shy. One wears a uniform fifty years old. The rest, as requested by their leader Sir Raymond Huish, wear no medals or decorations; this is a peaceful visit.

The weather is almost uncannily as in 1915. Now, as then, Anzacs sailed from Lemnos late on a glorious Saturday afternoon and next morning went ashore at Anzac in calm water.

Last time, there was silence in the boats except for the lapping of oars; this time much talk. This time, unlike the last, there is a moon which, as lifeboats neared the beach, shone behind the ridge everyone recognised as the Sphinx. “There’s old Gaba Tepe.” “No, it’s Achi Baba.” Slowly, the pilgrims realise they are landing not at Anzac Cove itself but around the corner to the north. The black creased cliff straight ahead, they realise, is Walker’s Ridge. Near to the top of the Sphinx they are now, from which a Turk sniped and reported by carrier pigeon movements of the British armada. To the right they see Rest Gully where church parades were held and where the legendary Simpson came down to the beach with his donkey.

Memories differ about topographical details.

“Oh it’s hard,” says one. “This is the thrill of my life,” says another.

A third makes a kookaburra call.

Ahead of them on the walk uphill to old enemies, a score of cameramen jostle and exhort. Men in suits from Istanbul stand by. Old women in shawls sit and watch. Some of those young Australian hitchhikers, who turn up all over the world in parkas and jeans, are here. Last weekend, two of them were in Jerusalem and one in Genoa. They are making a kind of pilgrimage to see pilgrims. One girl giggling with excitement is the daughter of a man who landed with these old men.

The men now ashore were all among thousands who landed on the first day. The rest of the pilgrims, nearly 300, will not reach Anzac until buses bring them from Port Gelibolu, inside the Dardanelles, this afternoon.

There was boat room for only seventy, so “first dayers” alone were allowed to land at dawn. Their claims to have landed on the first day were checked closely to prevent ring-ins. Their physical fitness was considered. Some were displeased, or at least unresponsive, when it was suggested they were not robust enough for the landing now. But all have made it happily down the gangway and up to the jetty and will return safely. The only casualty is a Turkish Army film man who steps off the jetty, camera and all, and is hooked out. Like the first landing, this one is not going quite as planned by the visitors. Their leaders want old Anzacs and old Turks to form single lines facing at the water’s edge. But General Selisik, leader of the Turkish party, prefers to keep his veterans clustered up hill and this time the Anzacs must play by Turkish rules.

The groups meet in cheerful confusion. Hands are shaken, and lapel badges and cigarettes are given to the hosts. Cameramen unfamiliar with the Anzac temperament, call “Kiss each other.” A bent old Turk with a white beard, cloth cap, and missing leg stands grinning alone until cameramen stop him and surround him with Australians. Other cameramen and reporters, having divided veterans into smaller groups, mop them up. The leaders exchange gifts, and compliments. From the RSL and RSA, a silver platter is given to the Turkish war veterans inscribed “In tribute to brave opponents now valued friends.” General Selisik says through an interpreter that the Anzacs are a noble enemy. “May their souls rest in peace. We always cherish them on this soil so dear to us.”

A representative of the Turkish Invalid Veterans Association hands Sir Raymond Huish binoculars taken by a Turk at Anzac Cove in a case bearing initials ALYV. The General embraces Huish and Bert Cooksley, the NZ leader. At 5.55 am Sir Raymond Huish calls “All aboard, please.” It takes a while because cameramen oppose the evacuation. An old Turk says to an Anzac, through an interpreter, “I hope you live to see the hundredth anniversary.”

“Please walk,” say cameramen and old Anzacs walk down to the lifeboats. Pressmen round up stragglers. Turks give them three cheers as the pilgrims pull away; the Anzacs respond with cheers and a ragged “Waltzing Matilda.” As the lifeboats near the ship it is 6.30 am and the sun is climbing over the bleak ridge known for a few months, fifty years ago, as Russell’s Top.

The pilgrim ship Karadeniz moves off to enter the Hellespont. At Cape Helles the ship stops while a wreath is dropped in the water which on 25 April 1915 ran red with blood.


Alf and Wacka, the old Anzacs of Alan Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year, could almost certainly have come on this pilgrimage if they wished, for men with war records like theirs were sponsored by RSL sub-branches and given grants out of the £20,000 put up by the federal government. They would have found plenty of mates aboard, for this is a comradely party; but many of the pilgrims are quite unlike Alf and Wacka in character and achievement.

What do the pilgrims have in common? Not counting the minority of World War II men and the women, they share three things: they come from the Antipodes; they fought in World War I; they are old.

Within each of the Australian and New Zealand parties, the bonds of comradeship are strong. The bonds are not, perhaps, quite as strong between the two parties as the word ANZAC would suggest. Among those who fought in the single Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, many men do feel a sense of trans-Tasman community. But after Gallipoli, the men from the two nations fought separately for the most part; and fifty years later, on this ship, the two parties are tending to remain distinct.

This is especially true of the two groups of leaders, between whom there has been some friction; and the sense of separation has been enhanced by the fact that so many New Zealanders are travelling on the lowest deck. Some of them have alleged that the Australians assigned “D” deck to their Kiwi cousins. This has been strenuously and publicly denied by the leader of the pilgrimage, Sir Raymond Huish. It is nevertheless an unfortunate symbol of the relation between big Australia and little New Zealand that many of the New Zealanders should be at the bottom.

When the Australians and New Zealanders meet, as they do in the drinking saloons and the lounges, they talk often of their common ordeal. Throughout the journey, indeed, whether Australian is talking to Australian or to New Zealander, probably the most frequent subject of conversation has been the fighting in Gallipoli or France or the desert. Sometimes they amplify each other’s knowledge of what happened. Sometimes they dispute; and when they do C.E.W. Bean’s account in the volumes of the Australian official history is given high authority as a settler of arguments, rather as a dictionary is consulted by people disagreeing about the meaning of a word. (Some remember, too, Bean’s bravery in pursuit of the events he was to write about. “The super-hero of the AIF,” one highly decorated man on board calls Dr Bean.) Sometimes men simply testify, in words that have inevitably taken on a ritual character after fifty years of repetition. “I was there on the first day and I didn’t get to sleep for five days and four nights,” says one man again and again; and nobody who has not endured as much has any right to think him a bore.

Nearly all of them, even the fastidious, embellish their recollections, and their conversation at large, with language policemen call indecent in court but use off duty. The mixing of Australians from all walks of life in the ranks of the services has undoubtedly helped to spread the habit of profanity into reaches of the society where it had been unfamiliar; and for some old soldiers who enjoy the company of other old soldiers it is a kind of tribal language.

These men are Australians or New Zealanders, and they fought in the war. But they are old men, too; and that tends as much to divide as to unite them, since nobody enjoys being reminded of his own old age by the frailty of his contemporaries. “I’ve never felt as old as I do now,” remarks a man who was eighteen last time he saw Gallipoli, “travelling with all these old men.”

“It’s a bugger of a thing to be gittin’ old,” says another man as he lifts himself out of bed. Some of them talk crossly or comically about the infirmities of other old men.

Beyond their nationality, war experience and age, it is impossible to generalise about the pilgrims other than to say that their diversity is great.

Mr Lew Roberts of Wentworthville, New South Wales, has never left Australia except as a soldier in 1914 and again in 1940; for the rest of his life, until retirement in 1956, he worked with the PMG [Postmaster-General’s Department] as a linesman. Mr Max Vickers, of Tusmore, South Australia, is on his twentieth overseas journey. He has been chairman of the Onkaparinga District Council and a member of the War Service Land Settlement Committee and the Commonwealth Apple and Pear Board. On overseas visits he has carried letters of introduction from his close friend Sir Thomas Playford.

Mr Barney Turner, who is doorman-steward at the RSL Club in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, is as earthily Australian as C.J. Dennis’s Ginger Mick. Mr Hector McWhae, of Melbourne, who was visiting Constantinople with his family when World War I began and was back at Gallipoli less than nine months later, is so cosmopolitan that one could easily mistake his nationality.

Some pilgrims have so little money that they could never have paid for the trip themselves. One pilgrim, well known in Victoria as an owner of hotel properties, is whispered to be a millionaire.

Mr R. Milner, of Narrabri, New South Wales, is going straight home after Gallipoli. Mr H. Codd, of Bombala, New South Wales, is going to Israel and England and eventually to Belgrade, where he will attend an international conference on local government.

Mr A.H. Edmonds, of Hunter’s Hill, New South Wales, who landed at Gallipoli on the first day and left on the last, has read widely in the history of the campaign and published articles on it. Some men on board know little more now about the campaign than they knew when they were in it.

Colonel W.H. James, of Mayfield, New South Wales, was chosen at the end of the war to be a photographer with the Australian Historical Mission, which returned to Gallipoli under C.E.W. Bean. Later he discovered that he had been chosen because he was a teetotaller. He is one still. Other men on board have enjoyed the booze all their lives, though none can take too much of it these days.

Two of the men on board who fought for king and country are republicans.

One man, who talks little to any other veteran on the ship, refuses to wear his medals. He sees the campaign as a massacre of the innocents by murderously negligent planners, and he leaves his medals off as a protest. He wears the RSL badge in memory of the dead, but he does not march on Anzac Day. Why is he going back? “For a spiritual reason. I want to look at those boys and say, ‘I’m looking at you. You are not neglected.’” •