In March 1979 Cathie and I travelled by bus from Athens to Istanbul. Why we wanted to go to Istanbul I can't remember. Maybe it was a way to delay our inevitable return to Australia and the end of our carefree travelling days. We had come to Athens from a two week sojourn to Egypt, which we did not enjoy at all at the time because of fleas and other things.
All I remember of the bus trip to Istanbul was waiting at the border post. Two of the passengers, a father and son, were returning to Turkey after a long time living in Australia. When they got to the border the father was removed from the passenger list and never seen again - at least not by us. The rumour was that he was deemed overdue for his military service and promptly arrested so he couldn't dodge it again. When Cathie and I lined up to have our bags checked by Customs, the border guard said "Have you got any drugs?" But I thought he said "Have you got any drax?" Drax was the colloquial shorthand for the Greek currency (drachma). So I replied, cheerfully, "Yes, I've got some here", as I reached into my pocket. Cathie looked on, aghast. When I pulled out the coins the border guard must have decided that he had a real idiot here, because he waved me on with an air of disgust.
From the border into Turkey I recall seeing tanks lined up on hilltops, their barrels pointing towards Greece, apparently at the ready. The two countries had been at war over Cyprus only a few years before. You can't take too many chances, you know.
In Istanbul we checked into the Kent Hotel, which turned out not to be a hotel for westerners, as we were the only non-easterners there. It was cheap enough and clean enough, though. One morning we woke up to the sound of machine-gun fire across the street. Apparently bank-robbing was a favourite past-time of anti-government terrorist groups, which was why we saw armed guards at every bank.
In Istanbul we went to most of the tourist sites that Tony Wright talks about in his book - the Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque. We walked down to the Galata Bridge and watched the fishermen load and unload their boats. We used to buy delicious bread across the street outside the University when it was still fresh first thing in the morning. And we went to the covered bazaar, bought Turkish Delight (which didn't look anything like the Cadbury's sort at home), and gazed across the Bosphorus towards Asia.
I got an invitation to teach English at the University of Istanbul, which sounded dodgy to me, but probably wasn't (everyone was learning English). And we met a carpet salesman who talked us into going in his car (a Fiat - everybody had a Fiat) from the centre of town way out over the massive suspension bridge that officially joins Europe and Asia, to his family's carpet factory. We bought a small prayer rug, which to this day has lain on the floor of our bedroom at every house we have lived in since.
I mention all this because Tony Wright's book is a travelogue of Istanbul as much as it is "a walk on the Gallipoli peninsula". He covered more ground, in a shorter time, than we did, but essentially the journeys were similar.
Why we didn't turn right at Istanbul I don't know. At the end of the 70s Anzac Day was commemorated, but not as universally as it is now. In my family the memories of World War Two were still very raw. Mum had lost her only brother in New Guinea and no-one ever went to any Anzac dawn services that I can recall. Politically Mum was left of centre and took a dim view of anyone who tried to glorify war. She was strongly against the Vietnam War as well, and generally took an anti-British, anti-American, and anti-Menzies view of most things. She still watched "I Love Lucy" every night though.
Even amongst the young, independent, el-cheapo travellers of the late 70s (amongst whom we included ourselves) going to Gallipoli was not considered a "sacred duty" as Wright infers it was for the el-cheapo Aussies and Kiwis who feature in his story twenty years later. How and why this change in attitude took place is an interesting sub-plot to Wright's book.
Nevertheless, the focus of Wright's book is the events surrounding the commemoration of Anzac Day at Anzac Cove in Turkey, and the attitudes of the (mostly) young Australians and New Zealanders who had journeyed there from distant places for the occasion.
There was lots of drinking as well as contemplating, as you would expect with any group of young Aussies. The locals had their own events to commemorate as well as a ready source of tourist dollars to extract from eager wallets.
The events themselves, at Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and (for the Kiwis) Chunuk Bair are described with a sense of comraderie and respect. It is clear that the Turkish and Australian Governments have invested considerable resources in ensuring that the site reflects its history, and caters adequately to the thousands of visitors who descend on it annually. Wright also does a good job in emphasising how unwanted was the hero status that was heaped upon the troops.
A good read, as well as a good practical guide to taking the trip yourself.