Gallipoli ghost mystery solved

A couple of days ago, New Zealand’s online news site Stuff published a photo by one of their photographers taken at dusk, in a cemetery on Gallipoli.

It’s a haunting image – apparently literally. Someone’s sitting on a seat in the distance, and beside them – in just one frame – is the apparent shadow, half-obscured by a flower which the shadow matches in dimension and shape, of a ghostly soldier. I can’t show you the photo, but I can refer you to it – here:

My take? Well, the spectral image could be someone from New Zealand’s tight and viciously exclusive military-historical in-crowd, at Gallipoli on a junket that, like their salaries, I’m funding through my taxes. But realistically it’s more likely to be that with a 2.5 second exposure you’ll get visual artefacts around the flowers on a CCD sensor – and that’s pretty much what the photo shows. No mystery there.

My photo of soldiers' graves at Tyne Cot, Flanders.
My photo of sokdiers’ graves at Tyne Cot cemetery, near Ypres.

To me, though, the image underscores the importance of remembrance. A century ago, young men from across the world died – they died in strange lands, they died often without being found. They were casualties of what happened when the dark side of human nature was given form by the power of industry – warfare on an unprecedented scale, warfare industrialised, warfare given hideous intensity by the ingenuity of nineteenth century invention.

The world we know and love today would not exist, as it does, without the sacrifices of these young men; and they exist today not because there are ghosts, but because we remember them.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014




6 thoughts on “Gallipoli ghost mystery solved

  1. It seems impossible not to notice the similarity of the shadow and the flower???? I think you would agree I am open-minded when it comes to any dimension…. I have found there are times when a seeming glimpse into a world different from our usual physical one provides a clarity on the reality of living. As you so eloquently state, this photo is about remembering the world in which we once lived so that the world in which we live reflects more than mere hope for all. And, thanks for the link to the photo/story as well.

    1. It’s a neat photo for so many reasons. Gallipoli has become very much integral with NZ’s self-image – the centenary of the battles, next year, has drawn so much attention that Internal Affairs are running a lottery to permit Kiwis to make the pilgrimage to the battle sites on the Gallipoli coast. There will be more people there than there were combatants in April 1915! My wife and I have long since decided to avoid such at all cost – and go there in the off-season (like, August, when the most important battle took place).

      I guess one lesson that does come out of the photo is that, while this one obviously has an explanation, the universe is nonetheless – as J B S Haldane put it – probably stranger in other ways than we imagine. Indeed, stranger than we CAN imagine. This doesn’t mean that every last piece of mystic woo-woo so far imagined must be true, but it does mean that we’ll probably get surprised with something we hadn;t thought of. And to me, that is quite wonderful – the realisation that the deeper scientific reality of the universe is going to be mysterious…and that it will unfold to us, almost certainly, in ways that engage with our imaginations.

  2. Had to chuckle at your initial theory on who the spectral figure might be! It really is a shame that some people can be so territorial about ‘their’ field. New Zealand is far too small a country for attitudes like that – we need to encourage more people to take an interest in the subject, not less.

    I’m torn about when to visit Gallipoli. I haven’t had the opportunity to go yet, but if/when I do it would be hard to decide which time of year. Like you, I think August seems a good time to visit, a quieter time of year which also marks some key anniversaries. However, my ggg uncle was killed the day of the landing and so for that reason ANZAC day does have a special significance for my family. I do hope I have the opportunity to visit one day.

    1. You’re right – definitely the more the merrier! Everybody has something to add – and should be encouraged to do so. Alas, the military crowd think otherwise… and I got very tired of having my books relentlessly bad-mouthed in the media by the same predictable handful. It would have been tolerable had even one of them had the guts to introduce themselves to me, but noooo….

      On the plus side, history is a huge field – lots else to investigate, and you know what I’ve got coming up (insert Evil Laugh at this point…)

      Getting to the actual site where your relation was killed, on that day, would be a very special way of remembering. But it’s that problem of getting there through the crowds.

  3. Alas, I’m afraid I have to side with KM Huber above — despite the “no conclusive explanation” phrase in the article you link to, that’s all the more reason not to go all “woo-woo.” (Nice phrase, that.) The overall match of the “shadow” to the flower is just too close.

    Still — there’s such a thing as Jung’s meaningful coincidence, made all the more meaningful by the importance of remembrance.

    We remember, that their sacrifice is not in vain. We remember, because if we don’t remind ourselves of the cost of war we may be all to willing to pay that profligate price once again.

    1. I agree – the article was a beat-up. The conclusive explanation has been hit on by me, you and Karen! But yes, it’s apt just now. New Zealand was very heavily involved in the two World Wars of the twentieth century – in WWI, half the young men in the country went off to fight, a total of about ten percent of the population at the time. At national level, 5.8 percent of our population became casualties in WWI, 1.6 percent of them dead. It’s a sobering thought. And that’s reflected elsewhere, too – I think Belgium took the heaviest loss in that war on a percentage basis.

      The question that;’s only just being to be asked is whether it was justified? The vision we have of WWI in particular is of senseless slaughter, lions led by donkeys to create a human tragedy of the largest scale, underscoring the folly of war. And that’s certainly a valid point. But was there also another dimension? Was it a necessary war? Nobody has much asked the counterfactual, which is what would have happened if the Central Powers had been able to carry on and the old European order hadn’t crumbled in 1917-19? Aside from concluding that the Bismarckian ‘Reich’ mentality would probably have brought the central powers into collision with western democratic powers, somewhere along the line, I haven’t put any real thought into that myself…yet…but it’s an intriguing and fairly new line of investigation. Of course such arguments cannot excuse the stupidity of war in the first place, still less take away the terrible tragedy of the loss. But exploring the ‘what ifs’ might reinforce the point – as you say – that those who died did not do so in vain. There are a couple of BBC documentaries by Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson that I haven’t seen which seem to be pushing along those lines, if the reviews I’ve read are anything to go by.

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