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100 years later, SBS journalist Ismail Kayhan traced the families of the two men who fought so fiercely against each other on that first Anzac day - and spoke with their descendants in Turkey and Australia.
Ismail Kayhan - SBS Radio Turkish

22 Apr 2015 - 10:19 PM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2015 - 10:07 AM

Gallipoli, April 25, 1915, early morning. The first Anzac troops had been on land for around four hours. Casualties were already high. Australian Captain Charles Leer and his men had just landed at Anzac Cove. Facing the Australian advance, Turkish Captain Halis Bey [HAH-liss bay] moved his men into position at Third Ridge, near Lone Pine.

Historias John Gillam.

By day's end, Captain Charles Leer was dead, fallen in the final fierce fighting against the Ottoman forces. Turkish Captain Halis Bey was alive - but had been shot three times by Australian snipers.

"We started to climb. When we got very close to the summit of Mortar Ridge we saw blonde people, at close range, silently and stealthily approaching us." The diaries of 20 year-old Second Lieutenant Mucip Kemalyeri [moo-chip KEM-ahl-yeh-ree] of the Ottoman army describe what unfolded that day.

Put in command after Halis Bey was wounded, Mucip Kemalyeri was ordered to a rocky outcrop above Anzac Cove, called by the Australians "Mortar Ridge". "There were lots of them. They were endless. My eyes opened wide."

The Australians also wanted Mortar Ridge. Charles Leer's men and the Turkish forces under Halis Bey were on a collision course. Retired Brigadier and author Chris Roberts says the fight for Mortar Ridge was fierce.

"Leer's Company advanced over Plugge's Plateau then into Monash Valley. They moved up Monash Valley until they reached the fork of the valley, just at the foot of Pope's Hill. And as they came up onto Mortar Ridge and reached the crest of it, they came across some Turkish soldiers and a fire fight erupted. Now those Turkish soldiers were the elements of the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Regiment and the Captain Halis."

Before even getting to Mortar Ridge, Charles Leer had already lost many men. In his memoirs, 26 year old Lieutenant Robert Cowey, from Wollongong, noted how few men were left. 

"Captain Leer brought up men who extended our line towards Baby 700. I asked him for covering fire while No. 9 Platoon raced the Turks for possession of Mortar Ridge, but the request was not granted."

On the Turkish side, Halis Bey's men were taking their own defensive position on Mortar Ridge, under Mucip  Kemalyeri's command.

"There were two companies closest. I was very excited. My heart was pumping. At that moment my trumpeter couldn't cope with the excitement and suddenly aimed his rifle at them. I grabbed the barrel and stopped him from firing. With this move I saved a person that he could easily have killed. I had a more brutal surprise in store for them."

Historian Chris Roberts describes the battle strategy and movements in this interview:

Lieutenant Cowey adds the Australian perspective.

"The Turks finally occupied Mortar Ridge, and commenced a deadly fire upon us, from there as well as from the east of Baby 700. Many of our men were killed. The wounded, as well as some others towards Baby 700 commenced retiring. Captain Leer ordered them back to the line, but the majority retired."

"At the end of an hour's fighting Captain Leer was shot through the neck and chest, and died almost immediately. While in command Leer had displayed the utmost disregard for his own safety, and shown the greatest coolness. He was a fine example to his men."

Having secured the advantage, Halis Bey ordered Mucip Kemalyeri to "not give an inch" promising he would send reinforcements as soon as possible. Mucip Kemalyeri asked for more ammunition - and waited. 

"There was no sign of reinforcements. But the enemy was moving. Our infantry fire didn't fill our ears any more. I could see in their eyes that defending our position wouldn't take us anywhere but disaster. What could I do? There was no decision I could make.  And a miracle happened. That very moment, we sensed movements to our right side behind us.  It was the 57th Regiment.

The English who had surrounded us were retreating to a lower position without watching their back. When we crossed the wide ridge we had fought upon for hours we saw that the enemy had paid a hefty price for this battle. Hundreds of English sons were lying on our homeland soil with their eyes shut forever, wrapped in bloody clothes. Their shaved faces were likeable which made us feel not only vengefulness but also mercy."

Charles Leer was lying among them. Halis Bey had left the front and was being treated for three gunshot wounds sustained in the battle.

Before leaving, his Captain Leer's wife had predicted his death.

Remaining in Gallipoli until after the Anzacs were evacuated, he later became colonel and commander of the 27th regiment, retiring in 1925 after the Turkish War of Independence. He went on to become a civil engineer and built Turkey's first cement road. 

Fluent in four languages, Halis Bey loved to write, paint, and draw maps. He translated "The Paris Commune" into Turkish and was working on a translation of Herodotus when he died of pneumonia in 1933.

His Turkish grandson, Serdar Ataksor, remembers him: "Halis Bey spoke French well. He studied French when he was in his last year of primary school. In his memoir he wrote that women in the neighborhood teased his mum that her son would become an infidel."

Over the years, his family has published his writings, held exhibitions on his legacy, built a memorial library and dedicated a forest to his memory on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Phillip Perram says his great-grandfather, Charles Leer, is remembered in many of the communities in which he served, either as a soldier or a teacher.

"The memorials at Watsons Bay School, Croydon School, Vaucluse Public School and Williamstown Public School, together with the astonishing bravery of Quartermaster-Sergeant Dargen and Private Aubrey Farmer bear testament to his leadership, mentoring, teaching and training abilities and the loyalty and respect that he engendered.  I do hope that his character, courage and bravery are "inherited" in some small way by my children and my children's children."

Captain Halis' grandson Serdar Ataksor says he would like to meet Leer's descendants. 

"I think I would feel he is part of myself. It would be very emotional for me.  I would love  Captain Leer's descendants to come here and we could visit Leer's graveyard together and commemorate him. He was a great hero too. He lost his life here. Australians and New Zealanders have become part of us. That is my feeling."

Charles Leer's son, Phillip Perram, would also like to meet Halis' family.

"It would be of great interest to meet Serdar Ataksor, the opportunity to expand my knowledge of Charles Leer, an appreciation of Captain Halis Bey's world and gain an understanding of Gallipoli peninsula. It is my opinion that our respective families are the poorer for the loss of great leaders like Captain Leer and Captain (Halis) Bey." 

Perram speaks proudly of the memorials that remember his grandfather.


Complete audio reports

SBS Radio Turkish radio feature - 7 minutes (in English) HERE

SBS Radio Turkish radio feature - 12 minutes (in English) HERE

SBS Radio Turkish radio feature - 27 minutes (in Turkish) HERE


The complete story: documents, audios, animations, videos in a special online feature, by Ismail Kayhan. CLICK HERE