The tragedy of the Gallipoli campaign was felt across the world, and not least in the small town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders. By the time the fighting had subsided in 1916, Hawick and the surrounding area had suffered 132 dead, 84 of them in one day alone.
That infamous date was July 12, 1915. Most of the young men from Hawick were territorials with the 1/4th Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. That day the KOSB had received orders to attack and occupy three enemy trenches at Achi Baba Nullah (also known as Kanlı Dere, or Bloody Valley). The first two targets were achieved, and the Batallion moved on to the third, only to find that no such trench existed – just a shallow ditch. Some of the men, assumimng the third trench must still be ahead of them, continued to advance – and walked directly into enemy fire; others, believing they had passed the trench, turned back. Mistaken for advancing Turkish troops, these were killed by friendly fire.
In memory of the special connection between Hawick and Gallipoli, Cornucopia and the Turkish Consulate General in Edinburgh last month organised a special screening of Tolga Örnek’s masterful documentary Gallipoli (Gelibolu) at the Heart of Hawick cinema. Drawn from diaries, letters, photographs and period footage, the film follows the lives of British, Anzac and Turkish soldiers, portraying the bravery and suffering on both sides.
The English version, narrated by Jeremy Irons, was screened to a packed house, which included Consul General Semih Lütfu Turgut and Consul Uğur Yılmaz. In his introduction, the Consul General quoted Atatürk’s moving 1934 address to the mothers of all those who fell at Gallipoli:
‘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 the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side.
Here in this country of ours, you, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away 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.’
Derick Tait from the Hawick Callants Club, a group that commemorates the disasterous campaign each year with the laying of a wreath, expressed a similar sentiment: ‘One Turkish officer we met on our visit [to Turkey] put it very succinctly – the grandsons of our enemies are now our friends. We have to recognise that history cannot be unlived, but we also have to recognise that it need not be lived again.’
There was a respectful silence from the audience at the end of the screening – a sobering reminder of our common humanity.
A felt banner created by pupils of Hawick High School commemorates Hawick’s contribution to the Gallipoli campaign. It bears the date '12.07.1915', the day on which 84 of the town's sons died
Other efforts to commemorate Hawick’s contribution to the Gallipoli campaign include the Gallipoli Centenary Textile Project. Co-ordinated jointly by Borders Textile Towerhouse and the Hawick Museum, the project saw pupils at Hawick High School create two felt banners movingly illustrating the battle. In appreciation of this work, pupils from the school were invited to Birmingham in March 2016 to speak at a national schools' conference memorialising the campaign.
Hawick is the only town with its own plaque at the Helles memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and donations received at the screening went towards its maintenance.