I was asked by Ninox to make a documentary that included New Zealand's last Gallipoli veterans. When David Baldock told me that Les Leach was 99 and Doug Dibley 100 I was daunted! They were charming old characters who as teenagers had raced to enlist, believing, like so many of them, that it was an adventure not to miss. They survived Gallipoli and lived with the horrors of war for the rest of their lives. I also filmed families whose relatives did not return, but who have kept alive their memories. The documentary that eventuated, Last of the Anzacs, is a moving film; during the making of it I wondered about the equivalent Turkish stories. And that's why I made Children of Gallipoli.
Through a Turkish film professor I began email correspondence with her students, who asked their grandparents for Gallipoli stories. I read about grandfathers kissing families farewell and walking for days to save the homeland from foreign invasion. In some villages all the men and most of the teenage boys left for the war effort. Some took one look at the carnage and walked home.
I went to Turkey to meet the email writers. In the end I chose a young Istanbul accountant, Serkan Kacmaz, whose grandfather is immortalised on the Gallipoli peninsula. He was Turkey's oldest war hero and a statue of him holding the hand of a small child stands at the Turkish cemetery. I was also interested in the story of Pinar Kurtdere, who grew up in a village on the peninsula. The Turkish Commander Kamal Ataturk stayed at the village as he planned to defend Chunuk Bair, the hill held briefly by the Wellington Regiment lead by Colonel William Malone.
From New Zealand I took Jane Pierard, Malone's great great granddaughter and John Waipara, whose grandfather Rota had survived Gallipoli and the trenches of France. The four young people met on a cold windswept Chunuk Bair. Pinar reminded us that the Allies were the invaders, trying to take over her homeland. She also said that when she's at home round Anzac Day, the hundreds of buses that swirl into their tiny village and wind over the hill to Anzac Cove make her feel that its another kind of invasion.
We had various dramas: I had an allergic reaction and ended up in hospital in Hong Kong on the way to Turkey. Then we had been given the wrong filming permit. As the police were ordering us off the peninsula the camera blew over, shattering the eyepiece. Director of photography Chris Terpstra did his best, with Michael Kerslake and I holding a monitor attached to the camera so he could see what he was shooting. And it was bitterly cold.
However the warmth of the families we met, and the camaraderie of the team made it a memorable film shoot. Children of Gallipoli screened on TV One and TRT, Turkish television. And for the third time it will screen to the masses sleeping out on the peninsula before the Dawn Service on Anzac Day in Turkey.
- Anna Cottrell has made many documentaries touching on war, including 35 bite-sized episodes of Great War Stories. She has also chronicled immigration, parenthood, and sports referees.
More than just another historical documentary about Gallipoli, Anna Cottrell's film Children of Gallipoli not only gives us a Turkish take on the battle, but views the event through intergenerational eyes. The four young people who feature in the film are all direct descendants of soldiers who fought at Gallipoli. Two are Turks, Serkan Kacmaz and Pinar Kurtdere; the others are New Zealanders, Jane Pierard and John Waipara.
Jane's great great grandfather Colonel William Malone was one of the Kiwi heroes of Gallipoli, responsible for capturing the summit of Chunuk Bair for a brief time in August 1915. With tragic irony, he was killed by fire from a British destroyer during this operation. Tough on the field, Malone was also a romantic, and his love letters to his wife from the battlefield are narrated here along with a selection of his diary entries. As a result of this film, Jane was invited by the wife of the Turkish Prime Minister to represent New Zealand as a peace ambassador at the Turkish equivalent of Anzac Day, in March 2008.
As was the case with Jane, the film shows John Waipara learning about his grandfather, Rota Waipara, from whānau members. Rota was one of 470 tangata whenua who volunteered to join the Māori Pioneers. He was wounded on the battle for Chunuk Bair. After his recovery, Rota was shipped off to fight in France, where he was injured once again and nursed back to health in England, before returning to New Zealand.
Serkan's grandfather was Huseyin Kacmaz. Living until the very ripe old age of 110, Huseyin was the oldest veteran of the Gallipoli campaign. The Kacmaz family name is a symbol of pride and patriotism in Turkey. A statue of Huseyin has been erected on the peninsula in his memory.
The fourth subject, Pinar Kurtdere, grew up on the Gallipoli peninsula, spending her time between her family village and the city of Çanakkale, where she works. Her great grandfather Huseyin was farming on the peninsula when war began, enlisting in 1915 to defend his land. He survived the war, returned to his farm, and later became a crusader for peace.
Much film footage of the war is included in the documentary, though the emphasis is on the stories of the four soldiers, usually related by their descendants. There's a strong sense of the importance of keeping these characters alive through the telling of their stories.
In a poignant scene near the end of the film, Jane, John, Serkan and Pinar meet at the Gallipoli memorial site, and all lay flowers on the monument. While they have little understanding of each other's language, it's clear that they appreciate the respect each of them has for their ancestors and their wartime experiences, no matter what side they fought on. ‘From now on our fight should be for peace and friendship' says Serkan Kacmaz.
Anna Cottrell had wanted to record the Turkish side of the Gallipoli story since 1998, when she made a documentary about New Zealand's last two Gallipoli veterans, The Last of the Anzacs. So much has been told of the Anzac experience, but she was curious about the opposing side of the battle — after all, the Turks lost thousands of their finest young men defending their homeland.
Children of Gallipoli has been screening regularly at Gallipoli before the dawn service, and strikes a particular chord with the crowds of young New Zealanders and Australians attending the ceremony.
- After helping organise the Out Takes Film Festival, Richard King went on to direct Sydney's Mardi Gras Film Festival from 1999 to 2003. In 2007 he programmed the NZ International Film Festival.