At around 2am on 25 April 1915, Lieutenant Colonel Mehmet Sefik, the commanding officer of the 27th regiment based at Ariburnu (Anzac Cove) in Gallipoli, noted:
At 2 am the moon was still shining. The patrols on duty from my reserve platoon were Idris from Biga and Cennil from Gallipoli. They reported having sighted many enemy ships in the open sea. I got up and looked through my binoculars. I saw, straight in front of us but rather a long way off, a large number of ships the size of which could not be distinguished. It was not clear whether or not they were moving.
I reported immediately to the battalion commander, Major Izmet, first by telephone, then by written report. He said to me: “There is no cause for alarm. At most, the landing will be at Gaba Tepe” – and told me to continue watching these ships. I went to a new observation point and kept watching. This time I saw them as a great mass which, I decided, seemed to be moving straight towards us. In the customary manner, I went to the phone to inform divisional headquarters. That was about 2.30 am I got through to the second in command, Lieutenant Nori, and told him of it. He replied, “Hold the line. I will inform the Chief of Staff”. He came back a little later and said, “How many of these ships are warships and how many transports?” I replied, “It is impossible to distinguish them in the dark but the quantity of ships is very large.” With that the conversation closed.
A little while later, the moon sank below the horizon and the ships became invisible in the dark. The reserve platoon was alerted and ordered to stand by. I watched and waited.
At dawn, Lieutenant Colonel Sefik remembers:
In a little while, the sound of gunfire broke out. I saw a machine gun firing from a small boat in front of Ari Burnu. Some of the shots were passing over us. I immediately ordered the platoon to occupy the trenches on the high ridge which dominated Ari Burnu and sent only two sections under Sergeant Ahmed to the trenches on the central ridge overlooking the beach. At the same time, I wrote a report to the battalion commander stating that the enemy was about to begin landing and I was going to a position on the far side with a reserve platoon. I ordered the withdrawal by telephone and set off immediately. On the way, we came under fire from the ships.
The battle was well and truly underway.
Sefik demanded the news travel to Mustafa Kemal, the commander of the 19th Division of the 57th regiment, who were based at Bigali.
Sensing the significance of the landing, that it was no mere diversionary attack, Kemal set out at once at the head of the regiment with a map in his hand. “Mustafa Kemal,”said Zeki Bey, one of Kemal’s officers, “didn’t know where Ari Burnu was; on the little maps we then had it was not marked by name”.
Mustafa Kemal was marching to his destiny. Aged 34, he had been sidelined by the rising political leaders of Turkey, the ‘Young Turks’, before 1915. The Gallipoli campaign would make Kemal probably the best-known commander on the spot.
Years of war and revolution, however, lay ahead, from which he would emerge as Turkey’s greatest leader of the 20th century and be given the name ‘Atatürk’, ‘Father of the Turks’. His house in Bigali, the ‘Atatürk Evi’, has been turned into a museum.
So while Bigali might be a ‘seedy’ old village, it was from this dot on the map that Colonel Mustafa Kemal set out with his soldiers to do battle with the Anzacs on the morning of 25 April 1915.