135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers
In the very early hours of the 23 May, 15 soldiers from Ewell based 135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers made their way to Luton airport for the trip to Istanbul. Having been briefed on the visit, it wasn’t long before somebody got found out for not paying attention to the finer points of the joining instructions.
When boarding the flight, 14 of the 15 got on ok, but I didn’t. Packing lightly isn’t something that comes easily to me so I ended up shelling out £40 to Easyjet as my bag needed to go in the hold, due to its weight and size. What I wasn’t expecting was that this charge would mean that Easyjet didn’t do anything with it, as it turned out they wanted me to take it to the plane – what was the charge for again?
After a 4 hour flight we arrived in Turkey, all wide eyed to what we were about to experience. The trip to the hotel was achieved by boarding almost all forms of public transport, starting with a bus trip then a boat ride and ending with a tram journey.
On arrival at the hotel everyone seemed keen to get a shower and fresh clothes, but this was delayed when the hotel manager could only inform us that our booking was cancelled and we had no rooms. After many phone calls and haggling we managed to get a hotel in a neighbouring street, which actually seemed better than the original.
I had pretty much learnt that Turkish people are quite friendly people who are big on hospitality and making there guests welcome. It was also very evident about their national pride, as most of the Turkish flags are big enough to be seen for miles.
We also made sure the trip was packed with cultural visits to various places of interest within Istanbul. Sgt Walshe being the tour guide was a bonus, as it made visits to the Hagia Sophia and the city walls come to life……The man is a walking encyclopaedia!
We were also all tasked in teams of three with answering questions related to the Gallipoli conflict a few weeks before the trip, this was to encourage us to study more about the history and the understand the purpose of the trip. Many of the presentations were very well put together, and each team took it in turns to present theirs throughout the visit.
On the last full day of the trip we made the long journey from Istanbul to Gallipoli, which was only interrupted by the mini bus having a cam belt snap. Once the trip resumed we could look forward to seeing all the beaches that the Allied Forces landed. Here we saw the difficult terrain the Allied forces had to fight on, and were better able to appreciate why the landings had resulted in such huge casualties and the ultimate failure of the campaign.
I for one hadn’t realised the task ANZAC forces had in taking the cove. Having seen the film of the event, and now actual visiting it I could now fully understand why they struggled to move forward. The Turkish forces had tactical supremacy as they occupied the high ground. I had also learnt from the trip that allied forces may have actually been successful if the British had continued to make ground and keep momentum, of which they didn’t.
At the British forces memorial WO2 Hunt was able to locate the name of a family member who fell all those years ago. Whilst it was interesting to see all the different Regiments and units that no longer exist, it did remind us of the huge loss of life that was a result of the failed mission of taking the Gallipoli peninsula.
The visit to one of the beaches that British forces landed on turned out to be quite an experience. Craters still exist in the soil along with pieces of shrapnel, and bullet cases. I even found some pottery but was quickly told that it wasn’t that old and I was just picking up rubbish.
Having seen the film about Gallipoli I now know that visiting is a lot more beneficial to learning about history. It gives a sense you were there, and also the conditions the men were in. Hopefully we can all learn something from the mistakes made all those years ago.
Battlefield tours have a huge role to play in education. Sometimes a book or film isn’t enough, seeing the very place and understanding the reasons for the outcome can become more apparent from a visit. I would recommend anyone to attend a battlefield tour, not just to learn, but also to pay our respects to those who fell.
LCpl Will Dawe
For more information on 135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers please visist http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/135independentgeographicsquadronre.aspx