Poppies and provisions in Gallipoli (via Hurriyet Daily News)

The end of April is the time for poppies to pop up in fields. Throughout May, and well into the month of June, fields of green wheat stalks celebrate the spring, dotted red with poppies.

The poppy is also the symbol of martyrdom. Ancient Greek and Roman tombs were ornamented with pods of opium poppies representing the final eternal sleep, death. It is no wonder that the sleep-inducing opium poppy is associated with death, which some consider as the deepest sleep, but the white and lavender-colored opium poppy flower has never been the symbol of martyrdom.

It is the striking blood-red field poppy that was associated with the quivering souls that dropped dead in battlefields. The battlefield of Waterloo is most striking when covered with a scarlet-red blanket of poppy flowers. The painfully beautiful poppy represents the fragility of human life.

Life in the battlefield is a story of survival. Food and water supply is a major logistics problem, often not implemented as planned. Dr. Ahmet Uçar, who has conducted research on the battlegrounds in Çanakkale, gives interesting numbers based on the accounts of soldier’s provisions on the Turkish side. The “Provisions and Forage Law” was the guide to determine the daily food intake of each soldier.

According to the official Turkish records, each soldier was entitled to 600 g of flour, 250 g of meat or 125 g of potted or cured meat such as pastırma, sucuk or kavurma, 86 g of rice, 10 g of oil, 20 g of onion and salt. The meat provision almost never met the ideal standard from the very start of the Gallipoli war. The registrars show that the amount was initially cut down to 62 g, and then further reduced to 31 g, and eventually the meat supply totally disappeared.

The soldiers were also entitled to legumes and/or vegetables such as chickpeas and beans, supposedly at a quarter of the amount of the meat. The most common dish was a stew of dried beans or chickpeas with a little meat and rice or bulgur pilaf to go with it. Compote with raisins would usually accompany the pilaf serving both as a sweet and as beverage. Gruel or soup was served but only in back lines.

Actually, all cooking had to be done at the very back lines, never at the front trenches, as smoke would easily give away the positions of the soldiers. That meant the food transferred to front line soldiers usually consisted of cold bulgur pilaf. The ones in the front trenches were given a few olives and peksimet (dried, twice-cooked bread) to keep in their pockets, together with some hazelnuts and raisins if available.

The Gallipoli battle was not only about fighting for land; it was also a battleground for finding adequate food and water supplies. Turkish soldiers had little resources, as the whole country was practically on fire and villages were starving with very little food to sustain them. However, these guys knew their land and could forage wild greens and even at times find water sources. The only thing they could not find was the time. Most even did not even have the time to nibble those last crumbs of peksimet or the handful of olives.

Life was as frail as poppies.

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Written by: Aylin Öney Tan
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