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A century on: Anzac soldier’s handkerchief located in tiny Turkish village

A blood-stained handkerchief belonging to an Anzac soldier who died at Gallipoli in 1915, laid for 101 years, unbeknownst to his family, in a chest belonging to a Turkish family less than 100km away from the battlefield.

Now, SBS Turkish, in conjunction with the NZ Herald, have helped that family uncover their common link with the family on the opposite side of the world. The two families are now set to reunite in person at Gallipoli on Anzac Day 2017.

  • Podcast audio in Turkish. 
  • Podcast transcript in English here. 

Two families, one handkerchief
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The bloody handkerchief has brought the Öz family in Turkey, who have had it in their possession for the last 100 years, and the New Zealand family of ANZAC soldier George Thomas Uren, onto the same page of history.

So, will the Turkish family return the handkerchief to its original owners?

It’s not so simple as that – as it also holds significance for them. It is in fact soaked with the blood of their grandfather Yusuf, a Turkish soldier who also died at Gallipoli in 1915.

"Brother Ahmet, my dear, why would a handkerchief bleed?

Not a tooth, not a nail, why would a handkerchief bleed?"

- By Edip Cansever, well known Turkish poet. Translated by Rukiye Uçar.

A Turkish family's heirloom
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Nazmi Öz explains the significance of the handkerchief to his own family, and how they came to keep it for generations.

“We have been keeping the handkerchief for generations.”

“I was born in Hacı Pehlivan village near Biga,” Nazmi Öz, the current keeper of the handkerchief, tells SBS Turkish.

“My father, Yusuf, gave this bloody handkerchief to me, before he died in 2014. It’s a memento from his father who was martyred in Gallipoli.”

“’This is a memento from your grandfather,’ he said when he realised that his days were numbered.”

Nazmi Öz says, “Now I am the guardian of the handkerchief.”

“My grandfather had a friend from Koruoba [a neighbouring village] when he was in the military," says Öz. "When my grandfather died, Murat Ali, my grandfather’s friend cleaned his bloody face with this handkerchief.”

Later, realising the significance of the memento, Öz says, “he brought it to my grandfather’s family.”

Öz explains how the handkerchief then grew to be of great significance to the family, passed down for generations.

“Murat Ali brought the handkerchief to my grandmother. She gave it to my father. We have been keeping the handkerchief for generations.

“My father showed the handkerchief to other people various times. It wasn’t our secret or anything. It’s a relic with martyr’s blood.”

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A chance discovery in a Turkish village
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Last year Ömer Arslan, a school administrator and an amateur historian, visited the Turkish village of Hacı Pehlivan - less than 100 km, as the crow flies, from the infamous battlefield of Gallipoli.

A map showing the proximity of Haci Pehliva to Gallipoli

Arslan was interviewing local Turkish soldiers who fought in Gallipoli and their families in the village for a project that he was working on to mark the centenary.

“I live in Çanakkale [another Turkish town] and I work for a school as an administrator,” Ömer Arslan tells SBS Turkish, explaining his humble background.

“I am very interested in the human stories of the Çanakkale War.”

In Australia, this is what we know as the Gallipoli Campaign.

A villager approached Arslan. “I have a handkerchief with the blood of my grandfather who was martyred at Gallipoli” he said.

Ömer asked him if he could see the handkerchief. Nazmi Öz took him to his home.

When Ömer saw the handkerchief he broke the news: “This is not your grandfather’s handkerchief, this belonged to his enemy.”

“This is not your grandfather’s handkerchief, this belonged to his enemy.”

“Up until that moment Nazmi thought the handkerchief belonged to his grandfather, Yusuf," says Arslan.

"We didn’t know the words on it," says Öz."Ömer read them."

"He told us that this originally belonged to an Anzac soldier. We didn’t know it belonged to a New Zealand soldier. We never thought the handkerchief belonged to someone else."

A New Zealand family's surprise
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On the other side of the world, SBS Turkish, in conjunction with the New Zealand Herald, contacted Darilyn Uren-Perry, descendant of the NZ soldier, George Thomas Uren to tell her of the connection.

“I live in Invercargill, New Zealand, which is right of the bottom of the South Island. George Thomas Uren was my great, great uncle,” explains Darilyn Uren-Perry.

“When I heard about the handkerchief, I was so excited.”

"I just wondered what it’s been doing for the last hundred and one years.”

“When I was told that the blood on the handkerchief wasn’t George’s, but that was the Turkish soldier’s, I thought it kind of represents everything we’ve ever heard about Gallipoli.”

The handkerchief also bore a touching personal memento of her forebear’s history.

“When we saw it and saw that it had ‘from mother’ on it, what struck me is that would have been my great-great grandmother who embroidered that, and possibly even made the handkerchief.”

“The fact that it says the 2nd of April 1915 - and we couldn’t quite read the date, but that was his 28th birthday - the 2nd of April 1915."

“He left New Zealand in October 1914 so my assumption is that his mother made that and sent it to him and sent it to him, possibly when he was in Egypt waiting to go to Turkey.

Coincidentally, Darilyn’s son, Stephen, was in year nine at high school in 2015 - not long before the discovery was made and took on the handkerchief as a personal research project.

“The students held a social studies fair and it was the Centenary of Gallipoli so a lot of the children were doing research on Gallipoli,” explains Uren-Perry.

As part of this, Stephen visited the local memorial pillar at Clyde featuring the names the soldiers who had died.

“Stephen had been up to have a look at the Cenotaph and he saw 'C. Uren' instead of 'G Uren.'"

“He spoke to the teacher and he spent a lot of time doing a project for the social studies fair, he also worked with the Central Otago District Council and they altered the 'C' on the Cenotaph to become a 'G'.

“It was really good for him at such a young age to be learning his connection to Gallipoli,” Darilyn says.

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The Turkish solider: Yusuf Öz’s story
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“My grandfather’s name was Yusuf, the same as my father's,” says Nazmi Öz. “He was martyred when he was in the war in Gallipoli.”

Yusuf and Murat Ali knew each other before war broke out.

“My grandfather fought with his friend [Ali]. The friend was from a neighbouring village, Koruoba, just three kilometres from our village.”

The pair went to war together and looked out for one other.

When Yusuf was wounded at Gallipoli, Murat Ali put the handkerchief on Yusuf’s wound to stop the bleeding. Yusuf died on 26 May 1915.

“We don’t know exactly how my grandfather died,” says Öz. “We have had this handkerchief for 100 years.”

Murat Ali was released from military service in 1916. Before returning to his village, Koruoba, he went back to Hacı Pehlivan village, found Yusuf’s family and broke the news that Yusuf died in Gallipoli the previous year. He gave the bloody handkerchief to Yusuf’s wife and told her the blood was her husband's.

Murat Ali’s grandson İsmail Hakkı, doesn’t know how his grandfather managed to keep the handkerchief that he had used to wipe the blood off his dying friend’s face.

The historian who uncovered the link, Ömer Arslan, explains, “Uren’s handkerchief was most likely taken from him as a war trophy, which was common then.”

The Kiwi soldier: George Thomas Uren's story
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George Thomas Uren was born in Clyde, in Central Otago New Zealand. His parents migrated from Cornwall in England and went to Central Otago because it was a gold mining area.

"The first time I ever heard of him I was about 11 or 12," says Uren-Perry. "My mother was recording a family death into our family bible and while she was doing it she said, ‘We lost one on the Dardanelles.'"

“But I had never heard of the Dardanelles,” she explains."I had heard of Gallipoli."

“So I didn’t think much of it until I was quiet bit older when I thought, ‘hang on, the Dardanelles? That’s Gallipoli!’”

Gold mining was dying out in Otago at the time Uren’s parents arrived there but they were still dredging the rivers and his father worked as a miner in the rivers. George Thomas was the second youngest of five siblings. He was educated at Clyde Primary School and spent most of this life in Clyde.

He worked as a printer with the Dunston Times, the local newspaper. He also volunteered with the Clyde Volunteer Fire Brigade. He was reportedly an athlete and cricket player.

He wasn’t married when he was volunteered at the outbreak of World War I. He was 27 when he went away, which in those days was quite old to be unmarried and not have children.

He was the only one in his family to volunteer at the outbreak of World War I.

“For all Australians and New Zealanders having an ANZAC in the family tree is pretty awesome,” says his great grand-niece Uren-Perry.

He was in the 14th Otago Regiment which were the first regiment to go to over the top at Baby 700 in Gallipoli. He was killed there amid the assault of May 2nd, 1915.

A possible reunion?
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“It’s very hard to say yes to returning the handkerchief to the Uren family,” says Nazmi Öz. It has our grandfather’s blood on it. It’s hard. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“It has our grandfather’s blood on it. It would be better if we keep it I think. I want to pass it on to my kids.”

Öz explains that while it is difficult for him to part with the family memento, he is still happy to share a history with the family on the other side of the world – as they are, quite literally, bonded by blood.

“I feel like the families are connected already in some way.”

“If the Anzac soldier's family comes here they will be welcome,” says Nazmi Öz. “We would welcome them with love and respect.”

“If they came to Gallipoli, we would meet with them at the battlefield. We would love to hug them.”

“If they came to Gallipoli next year for Anzac Day, or whenever they want, we would go and meet with them. We would take the handkerchief with us too.”

Despite living so close by, Öz says, "I’ve never been to an Anzac ceremony in Gallipoli. I have never met with ANZACs or their families. It’s a shame isn’t it? But I will go of course.

“That would be wonderful to meet with them.”

“We would love to hug them.”

Uren-Perry feels the same: “I would love to meet with the Oz family,” she says.

“I feel like the families are connected already in some way."

New Zealanders in Gallipoli in 1915
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Turkish solider Yusuf Öz’s death coincided with a bloody battle known to Anzacs as "The Assault on Baby 700”.

Failed May 2 Assault on Baby 700

The hill known to Anzacs as "Baby 700” is located on the Gallipoli peninsula, near Anzac Cove. From the first landing at Gallipoli it became the site of fierce battles.

A week after the landing, on May 2, the New Zealand Brigade, commanded by Colonel Francis Johnston and the Australian 4th Brigade under Colonel John Monash received an order to capture Baby 700, at all costs.

The assault started after dark with heavy bombardment on Turkish trenches on Baby 700 by land-based artillery and naval guns. The assault started at 7pm. The Otago Battalion joined the assault at 8.45 pm.

262 men - about half the Otago Infantry Battalion - were killed, wounded or went missing in the failed attack.

One of the survivors, Private Peter Thompson of the Otago Infantry Battalion said: “My regiment was literally cut to pieces, and although we charged several times, we were unable to gain any ground under such a terrible fire”

24 May Armistice

British military diplomat Aubrey Herbert and Ottoman senior army officer Mustafa Kemal Atatürk agreed to call an eight-hour truce at Gallipoli on 24 May 2015 (two days before Öz’s death) so both sides could recover and bury their dead.

On that day at Baby 700, the Turks buried the fallen AnzacS left behind after the assault.

New Zealand’s death toll

Among the dead in Gallipoli were 2779 New Zealanders, about a sixth of all New Zealand soldiers who had landed on the peninsula.

 

Story produced by Ismail Kayhan of SBS Turkish in conjunction with the NZ Herald. Edited by Genevieve Dwyer. Family photos supplied by Darilyn Uren-Perry, Ayhan Kutlu and Ömer Arslan with permission of the Öz family.

UPDATE: The reunion is set to happen
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UPDATE - 2nd February 2016:

Darilyn Uren-Perry, the great grand-niece of the ANZAC soldier has told SBS she will now be travelling to Turkey for ANZAC day to meet with the Oz family. After SBS published this story last month, she posted the following on her Facebook page:

"I love the unity Gallipoli has brought to Australia, New Zealand and Turkey - it is our shared history and our shared tragedy. Yusef Oz and George Uren were the same - they were both average men who loved their country and did what they thought was right and paid with their lives. We are also grateful to Murat Ali for his part in perhaps giving George a burial in those terrible conditions and for playing his part in ensuring this handkerchief survived. He probably could never have imagined it surviving over 100 years and bringing together families in this way."

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The reunion finally happened in April 2017. Click here to watch SBS Turkish video.