Edinburgh goes to Gallipoli

Fraser, 15, found this piece of barbed wire on the exact spot where so many of the soldiers from Edinburgh had been killed

Fraser, 15, found this piece of barbed wire on the exact spot where so many of the soldiers from Edinburgh had been killed. Photo: R. Clutterbuck

Students from two Edinburgh secondary schools have recently returned from Turkey after a battlefield trip to the Gallipoli peninsula. This was the second visit to the Gallipoli peninsula that the project has been able to organise and we were delighted to be able to take Scottish pupils. Thousands of Scottish soldiers went to Gallipoli and many never came back. The Scottish government has included the Gallipoli Campaign as a key part of its commemorations programme so it is fitting that we could take Edinburgh schools to the Peninsula this year. Indeed the schools have been partly subsidised by the government’s Battlefield Visits Programme and we understand are the only schools to go to Gallipoli within this scheme.

The pupils, aged 15-16 years, were from Portobello High School and Leith Academy. The Leith Academy pupils were selected as representatives of the Princes’ Trust XL group which was involved in the research into the backgrounds of the 216 Royal Scots casualties who were killed in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster. Their work which included a stencilled poppy trail, a stained glass poppy wreath and the planting of 215 saplings in the 1915 centenary wood (216th planted by HRH The Princess Royal) culminated in the official commemorations on 23rd  May 2015. Christine Boal, Leith Academy School Librarian, who accompanied the children said, ‘it was fantastic that they can round off the project by researching what happened to the members of 7th Battalion Royal Scots who went to fight in Gallipoli. On many levels it’s been life-changing for them.’

The students visited the Turkish Interpretation Centre at Gallipoli, which was designed to look like the Dardanelles Straits, with ships' funnels at the back

The students visited the Turkish Interpretation Centre at Gallipoli, which was designed to look like the Dardanelles Straits, with ships’ funnels at the back. Photo: R. Clutterbuck

The pupils prepared for their visit by working with School Librarians, Lauren Thow and Christine Boal.  They made the 2,000 mile journey, following in the footsteps of 250,000 British soldiers and sailors in 1915 and in particular those men from the 4th, 5th and 7th Battalions Royal Scots.  While on the visit they explored the battlefields on the rugged Aegean coast of Turkey and found the graves and memorials of some of the men from their area, including those whose names are listed on each school’s Roll of Honour.  The students made a trip to nearby Troy to think about the idea of myth-building, which is of course something that has happened at Gallipoli as well.

They also considered the Turkish attitude to Gallipoli, visiting the impressive Interpretation Centre and meeting pupils from the Çanakkale İbrahim Bodur Anatolian High School to exchange views on the campaign.  As one student put it, ‘it was really nice to see the cultural difference and meet people who are our age.  They were like us but they just lived a different life.’

Meeting students from Çanakkale Ibrahim Bodur Anatolian High School was a high point of the trip

Meeting students from Çanakkale Ibrahim Bodur Anatolian High School was a high point of the trip. Photo: R. Clutterbuck

Here are some words from the students themselves:

  • ‘It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s gone beyond my expectations’ (Fraser, 15 from Leith Academy).
  • Cameron, 15, from Portobello, was struck by the landscape: ‘it’s quite calm and peaceful, almost as if it’s constant respect’.
  • ‘We were walking along where the soldiers had their front line and I saw this thing inside the mud. It was a molar – a tooth – and it had a crack in the bottom of it.  It looked old’ (Thomas, 15, from Leith Academy).

Following the trip both schools will use the research and the trip to develop small exhibitions which they will offer to schools, public libraries and other locations in Scotland. The Portobello High School staff and students plan to extend the benefits of the project within the school by preparing presentations for use during Remembrance Week and by developing an extended ‘Gallipoli tutorial’ for all classes during that week. Leith Academy will hold a service on Remembrance Day and develop a Gallipoli resource for local primary schools. The Academy will also build on its earlier work related to Quintinshill, expanding the ‘poppy street tour’ and producing a film for use during school assemblies.

We will be adding photos, text, audio and video interviews to our Edinburgh page; check for more information over the coming weeks.