The Prince of Wales has laid flowers on the graves of British and Irish soldiers who died 100 years ago storming the beaches at the start of the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.
He was joined by Prince Harry and the President of Ireland Michael Higgins at “V” Beach, close to the tip of the Turkish Peninsula, at a cemetery which is half the size of a football pitch but contains the bodies of almost 700 men.
In late evening spring sunshine, with birds tweeting and the smell of spring flowers in the air, the poignant visit came as the culmination of a day of remembrance.
The calm, low-key visit to V Beach where Royal Dublin and Royal Munster Fusiliers led the way, and who were so badly caught in enemy fire that the sea turned red, was a contrast to the pomp of the international service joined by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia.
Earlier, the princes met descendants of British and Irish Gallipoli veterans on board the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark, anchored in the middle of the Dardanelles straits which were the cause of the battle in 1915.
The idea to knock the Ottomans out of the war and open a sea route to Russia was Winston Churchill’s but because of hopeless planning, hostile conditions and heroic defending, eight bloody months later the operation was halted, having cost 58,000 Allied lives.
Some 87,000 Turks died defending their home soil. The amphibious assault started at dawn on April 25 1915 as wave after wave of British and Irish, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops attacked heavily defended beaches, through barbed wire, and raced up cliffs through scrub.
Lyn Edmonds, whose grandfather Private Benjamin Hurt was a Royal Dublin Fusilier who fought at Gallipoli, has tried to increase knowledge of Britain and Ireland’s contribution to the campaign.
She was moved to see the efforts on Friday to recognise the sacrifices made.
“I still think we have a long way to go to dispel a lot of the myths,” she said.
“But to be here with the princes, on HMS Bulwark, with the First Sea Lord, is amazing, it feels unreal.”
Charles joined the Turkish president at the huge Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial, which commemorates thousands of local men who were buried in unmarked graves.
The Prince gave a speech, praising the heroism and humanity shown by soldiers from both sides a century ago.
He said: “All those who fought at Gallipoli, whether landing on or defending its shores, hailed from so many different nations and peoples, from an almost infinite variety of backgrounds and walks of life. And, whilst their origins were diverse, they were all thrust into a very different world than they would have ever known or imagined before.
“Indeed, in 1915, both sides were united by challenges that neither could escape - the devastating firepower of modern warfare, the ghastly diseases that added to the death tolls, the devastating summer heat which brought plagues of insects, and in winter, just before the battle ended, the biting cold that many wrote was worse than the shelling itself.”
Later, at V Beach, the Prince of Wales laid white carnations on some of the graves, as did Mr Higgins.
The Royal party listened attentively to Commonwealth War Graves Commission historian Dr Glyn Prysor who showed them round the immaculately-kept site, which is just by the beach.
Afterwards, he said: “The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers suffered really heavy losses coming ashore here.
“One observer said the sea was awash with blood and the cemetery is right where the soldiers buried their fallen comrades in the aftermath of those landings.
“It is very poignant and evocative and you can really imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers coming ashore here.”
The princes will join a dawn service to mark Anzac Day on Saturday.
Meanwhile, police have urged those attending Anzac Day commemorations and the London Marathon on Saturday and Sunday to “remain vigilant and alert”.
Scotland Yard carried out a review of security arrangements for events planned today in the UK to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign after an alleged plot to carry out an attack at a parade in Melbourne, Australia. Although no specific threat against British events has been identified, police are urging the public to remain on alert.