Britain's Prince Charles, Harry remember suffering of Gallipoli troops

GALLIPOLI PENINSULA, Turkey (AFP) - Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his son Prince Harry paid their respects on Friday to the tens of thousands of British troops who died at the Battle of Gallipoli, laying wreaths and recalling the suffering of the soldiers.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several Turkish ministers joined the centenary ceremony on Cape Helles on the westernmost tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, where British forces launched amphibious attacks in World War 1 starting in April 1915 but failed to break fierce Ottoman resistance.

As the sun descended, the British assault ship the HMS Bulwark fired a salute from the entrance to the Dardanelles Straits in the Aegean Sea where the British forces launched their first assaults one hundred years ago.

Charles, dressed in full military uniform, said the memorials reminded "all too powerfully what was endured by ordinary people called upon to do the extraordinary."

He imagined how the "deep dark and foreboding fears" of the troops "would be realised all too often and all too soon" as they met early deaths.

He said he had always been struck how accounts from the time described departing soldiers with "smiles, cheers and waving caps".

Harry, who serves with the British army, for his part read a poem by Alan Herbert, a British soldier who fought in Gallipoli in 1915 and was then evacuated wounded back home.

"Gather strength for what the morrow brings; For that may be the end; It may be that we shall never swim again," said the lines in the poem.

Cape Helles was the focal point of the assaults by British troops, with soldiers from Australia and New Zealand launching their initial attacks at what is now called Anzac Cove to the north.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand Premier John Key both laid wreaths at the memorial, as did Erdogan while a top Turkish commander read recollections by the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

"The heroic devotion of our men stood up unflinchingly in all the flames and explosions," read the 1918 interview by Ataturk who was one of the key Ottoman commanders at Gallipoli.

Leaders have been at pains to emphasise during the centenary commemorations that the Gallipoli peninsula should be a symbol of post-war reconciliation as the final resting place for both Turkish and Allied soldiers.

Some 30,000 British troops died in the battle, although Ottoman losses are put far higher at an estimated 86,000.

The memorial plinth at Cape Helles is also seen as a memorial for 21,000 troops who have no known grave after the battle which ended with the evacuation of the last Allied troops in January 1916.

The battle is celebrated by Turks today as an act of heroic resistance that helped lay the foundations for modern Turkey.