Anzac Day 2018: Military cousins now brothers in arms with Turk great-grandfather who fought at Gallipoli
Turkish-born Hasan Kacmaz is at home in his Australian Army uniform. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jarrod Lucas)
More than a century ago, Hasan Kacmaz’s great-grandfather was fighting off an invasion from Australian and Commonwealth military forces at Gallipoli.
The Turkish-born migrant believes his family elder would find it rather amusing that he went on to serve in the uniform of his enemy.
This Anzac Day represents his 15th as an Australian Army Reserves soldier.
His cousin, Squadron Leader Ulas Yildirim, has deployed on multiple occasions to the Middle East with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The family is deeply entrenched in the Anzac story, but with a unique perspective.
Squadron Leader Ulas Yildirim’s great-grandfather fought at Gallipoli for the Turks. (Supplied: RAAF)
‘I think he would have been quite amused’
Lance-Corporal Kacmaz — affectionately known as “Johnny Turk” to his fellow soldiers — was born in Istanbul and migrated to Perth with his family as a teenager.
He said his great-grandfather Saycan fought at Gallipoli with Turkish forces and it was highly likely he faced off against Australians.
“We’re talking about something that happened 100 years ago so I’m far removed from that event,” Lance-Corporal Kacmaz said.
“But it just gives you a new, interesting perspective that my great-grandfather fought against the allied forces, possibly Australians, and his great-grandson is serving in the same army.
Australian troops relax inside a captured Turkish trench at Lone Pine. (Supplied: Charles Bean/Australia War Memorial)
“I think he would have been quite amused.”
Great-grandfather killed in action after surviving Gallipoli
The story passed down by the family is that the Ottoman Empire was preparing for the invasion and conscripting every able-bodied man.
Saycan volunteered shortly after his first child was born.
He survived Gallipoli but was killed in action on the eastern front, believed to be somewhere in Russia, although Lance-Corporal Kacmaz said the family still does not know for sure.
“Ottomans didn’t keep very good records, but we know he went to Gallipoli,” Lance-Corporal Kacmaz said.
“I’ve done quite a bit of research into it but haven’t managed to find a great deal of detail.
“His unit were all trained and equipped by the Germans, so they could be used in Europe and not many came back. They had a very high casualty rate.”
Family ‘hesitant’ about children joining service
The 49-year-old Signaller, who now lives in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, had always been interested in the army before he enlisted in the reserves in 2003.
“I’d always been interested in the army and initially tried to enlist when I was 16 but was told I was too young,” he said.
“I decided to go on to university (where he earned a master’s degree in physics) because my family were pretty hesitant about me joining up.
“Their instinct from the past was if you go to the army you’re not going to come back. But I tried to explain things are pretty different here in Australia.”
Lance-Corporal Hasan Kacmaz marched through Kalgoorlie with his Army Reserves unit last year as part of a freedom of entry parade. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jarrod Lucas)
‘Proud’ to wear Australian uniform on Anzac Day
Lance-Corporal Kacmaz said he is proud to wear the Australian uniform on Anzac Day — this year the 103rd anniversary of the day when diggers landed at what became known as Anzac Cove.
According to the Australian War Memorial, the bloody Gallipoli campaign cost 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths.
When the losses of British and French forces are counted there were 44,000 deaths on the allied side.
At least 85,000 Turkish soldiers died in the campaign.
Three unidentified 7th Battalion men standing at a bomb stop at the old Turkish firing line at Lone Pine with original trench headcover constructed by the Turks. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)
This Anzac Day, Lance-Corporal Kacmaz will be attending a dawn service and marching with his reserves unit in the small town of Leonora in the WA Goldfields.
“When it comes to parading on Anzac Day I’m very proud of it,” he said.
“I know I’ve got that family connection on the Turkish side, but that’s all in the past. I’m an Australian.”
Cousins the only family members not conscripted
Squadron Leader Ulas Yildirim enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 2004. (Supplied: RAAF)
Like his cousin, Squadron Leader Yildirim was interested in joining the military “from a very young age”, but theirs is not a typical military family.
On deployments with the RAAF, he has been in the Middle East in charge of C130 aircraft maintenance.
In Afghanistan in 2011 for about seven months, he served as a liaison officer in Uruzgan province working with the army.
He said the cousins were the only two members of their family to have signed up for service voluntarily.
“Our parents were conscripted in Turkey. They’ve all done their two years (of military service),” he said.
“[But] there’s always been a bit of a negative-to-neutral view towards the military in the Middle East, so joining the military was never something that was ever discussed in my household.”
Anzac Day in Turkey just as solemn
This year, Squadron Leader Yildirim will be at the national march on Canberra’s Anzac Parade, standing in the crowd with his two children.
He still remembers how Anzac Day is commemorated in Turkey, where streets would come to a literal standstill as drivers pulled over and stood in silence beside their cars.
“Turkey somewhat gained their independence, because Gallipoli was a turning point for the Turks, where they managed to break the shackles from their past Ottoman Empire,” he said.
“And at the same time the sacrifices that the Australians made meant that they gained quite a bit of strength against the British empire.
“They could actually force the British Government’s hand as an independent dominion.”