The painting Hell Here Now shows the Turkish landscape at Gallipoli occupied by ANZAC troops in 1915. The painting includes quotes from the Gallipoli diary of Alfred Cameron, which is held in the Turnbull Library, and a quote from a Turkish solider Ismail Haaki. Like many young men Alfred Cameron could not wait to get away to war. His only worry was that the show would be over before he got there.
Alfred Cameron was working on his uncle’s farm at Culverden in North Canterbury when war was declared. He began his daily diary on the 13th August 1914 with the words, ‘Enlisted for first New Zealand Expeditionary Force to European War.’
On the 16th of October ten troop transports and their naval escorts steamed out of Wellington Harbour past a landscape that looked strangely like Gallipoli. Alfred Cameron was on board the Tahiti.
On the first of December Cameron sailed through the Suez Canal. He wrote in his diary about seeing camels for the first time.
The New Zealand troops disembarked at Alexandria and moved to a camp in the desert near Cairo.
On Christmas day 1914 Cameron described a trip to the Pyramids.
In early May Cameron writes, ‘Great news, off to the Dardanelles on Sunday.’ This was a four-day journey on the steam ship Grantully Castle.
Cameron kept his diary for three weeks on Gallipoli. The last words he wrote at the end of May were, ‘Dam the place no good writing any more.’
In July Alfred Cameron was wounded and evacuated to a hospital in Cairo. He returned to New Zealand and became a farmer near Cricklewood in South Canterbury.
When I was working on this show Slava Fainitski from Orchestra Wellington had the next door studio. He suggested a musical interpretation of the paintings so we got together with Catherine Mckay on piano, and Brenton Veitch on the Cello, Slava on violin and with Robin Kerr reading from Cameron’s diary performed at Pataka over ANZAC weekend.
This performance featured Alfred Hill’s recently rediscovered Trio in A Minor to show the imperial optimism of the New Zealand that Alfred Cameron was leaving and the sombre Faure Elegy representing Cameron’s despair at the loss of his friends in what the historian Chris Pugsley called, ‘the stark reality of a group of amateur citizen soldiers facing wars reality for the first time. And there was nothing glorious about it. It was mistake, blunder, muddle, death and disease.’
You can listen to an interview by Ava Radich on the Concert Programme with Bob Kerr and pianist Catherine Mckay about this visual and musical collaboration here.
The quotation along the top of the painting Hell Here Now is from the Turkish officer Ismail Hakki, expressing his anger at being made to “kill each other without reason”.
Here, Bulent Atalay, the grandson of Ismail Hakki, writes about his grandfather.
I have been through the Gallipoli Straits by the sea, as well as on both storied shores many times. Most memorable to me is a visit in 1967, when my new bride and I, accompanied by my mother and father, drove down the Gallipoli Peninsula from Istanbul. It was on our lengthy drive that my father, General Kemal Atalay, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Turkey, first told us the story of his own father, and the family’s connection to Atatürk, né Mustafa Kemal (there were no last names in Turkey until 1934, when Atatürk introduced legislation for everyone to generate family names).
My grandfather, Ismail Hakki, was born in Thessalonica in the same year (1881) and on the same street where Atatürk was born. They were childhood buddies, and they fought together in the trenches of Gallipoli during eight months of 1915. A photograph was taken of my grandfather’s battalion during a break in the action. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the ANZACS, my grandfather briefly traveled to Edirne (Roman Adrionople) on assignment, and while there, on January 1, 1916, had a photograph taken of himself. He inscribed on the back of the photograph, “To my dear aunt, I survived eight months of action in Gallipoli. I will soon leave for the Eastern Front, there to face the Arabs and their “recalcitrant English leader” (Lawrence of Arabia).
Just before leaving for the Eastern Front, he briefly visited the small town of Biga, located to the east of Çanakkale and Troy, there to see his young family, ensconced in the town since shortly before the war began. There were his wife and three young children, two years apart in age – the oldest, a daughter; the middle, a son; and the youngest, another son — my father, “Mustafa Kemal”— named after Ismail Hakki’s childhood friend, and in accord with his friend’s wishes. He died in action in 1916.
A few years after the cessation of hostilities, after the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, and the election of Atatürk as the first President of the nation, an aide showed up with a letter, “We received a plea from the mothers of Australian and New Zealanders killed in Gallipoli. They are asking for permission to visit the graves of their sons.”
Atatürk muses, “What do I tell these people?” The aide responds, “Tell them, as you would any foreigner who makes an incursion into our land, ‘we will break off their legs!’”
Ataturk, smiling to his aide, responds, “I can’t do that.” He sits down and composes his own message for the families of the fallen Aussies and Kiwis:
“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 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.” — Kemal Atatürk
Atatürk’s poignant message is inscribed in the Turkish Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Gallipoli, and it is inscribed on the Atatürk Memorial in Wellington. It is no wonder that in New Zealand, there is still a sense of kinship for Atatürk and the Turks — one time enemies, but fellow witnesses to the unspeakable horrors of trench warfare — and, conversely, a resentment of the British politicians who sent a generation of their young men to fight and die in a land half-a-world away. For the Turks, the New Zealanders and the Australians, Gallipoli would forever be regarded as the moment when they gained their national identities.
By Bulent Atalay, PhD, Professor of Physics.