Sydney Medical Student Represents Australia at Gallipoli "Doctor's Day"

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
23 Apr 2015

The peace of Gallipoli belies the bloodshed and tragedy of 100 years ago when so many lost their lives

Throughout the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915 when 87,000 Turkish soldiers lost their lives and a further 56,707 ANZACS , Canadians, French and British Allies were killed,  medical teams  from both sides struggled in terrible conditions to save lives treating soldiers no matter what flag they may have been fighting under.

"It didn't matter to the Turkish doctors at Gallipoli or the doctors working with the Allies, the injured were treated with respect and dignity and given the best possible medical treatment," says Joel Maamary, final year medical student at the University of Notre Dame's Sydney School of Medicine who has just returned from the Gallipoli Peninsula .He was a guest of the Turkish Government to mark the nation's annual "Doctor's Day Festival" in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of what the Turks refer to as "The Battle of Canakkale."

Mustafa Kemal Bey, later Ataturk or Father of the Turks, with other Ottman military officers during the Battle of Gallipoli

In Turkey, the naval battle of Canakkale at the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign is commemorated each year on 18 March, just as here in Australia and New Zealand we remember the fallen on ANZAC Day, 25 April.

For the Ottoman Empire of 1915, the naval Battle of Canakkale was a vital victory preventing British and French naval ships from seizing control of the Dardanelles, which would have given them access via the Straits not only to Istanbul but to Russia which was an ally of the British and French during World War I.

 For the Turks, the port city of Canakkale on the Gallipoli Peninsula remains a centre for many of the ceremonies to commemorate the Battle of Canakkale and many hundreds of lives lost during the Gallipoli campaign.

Each year shortly before the anniversary of the Battle of Canakkale, Turkey also celebrates Doctors Day. The Doctors Day Festival falls on 14 March and is a time when Turks pay tribute to the ongoing sacrifices made by the medical community of Turkey, and remember the medical personnel who lost their lives at Gallipoli 100 years ago while struggling to save the lives of others.

Final year med student at Notre Dame, Joel Maamary says his life was changed by his trip to Canakkale and the Gallipoli Peninsula

To mark this important centenary, the Turkish Government issued invitations to medical professionals and medical students in 29 of the 36 nations whose citizens fought at Gallipoli in 1915.

In Australia the invitation was made by the Turkish Embassy in Canberra and extended to the Medical Deans of Australia.

Nominated by Professor Christine Bennett, Dean of the Notre Dame School of Medicine, Joel was the young man who was eventually chosen to represent Australia in what he says was a "humbling and enlightening" experience and one he will never forget.

"Gallipoli, while forging the Australian ANZAC legend, also has significant meaning for the Turkish people who commemorate their own loss each year, particularly the physicians who died in the trenches helping others," he says and points out that the losses suffered by Turkey were so grievous that not a single medical student graduated in 1915.

Turkey commemorated centenary of nation's naval victory against the Allies fought in the waters off Gallipoli in March 1915

On the first night of the Doctors Day Festival, Joel attended a gala dinner where the Turkish Minister of Health, Dr Mehmet Muezzinoglu paid tribute to the sacrifice made by Turkey's medical teams at Gallipoli.

Dr Muezzinoglu outlined the significance of this year's 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign to the medical community of Turkey and spoke of the horrific conditions faced by doctors working in the trenches where often under fire and surrounded by mud they endeavoured to ease suffering and to heal at a time when there were no modern anaesthetics or antibiotics.

The following day the President of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan also spoke of the selfless heroism of the Turkish medical teams of 1915. He said that there was no better example of the importance of healthcare and its centrality to Turkish culture today than that shown by the medical staff in the trenches of Gallipoli where doctors risked their lives to treat their fellow man, regardless of the soldier's country of birth or on which side he was fighting.

"Learning how the medical staff were confronted by thousands of sick and injured each day with almost no supplies and severe water restrictions has completely transformed the way I look at modern healthcare," Joel says. "We practice medicine today in a truly privileged environment where our patient encounters are generally controlled, supported and well resourced. The medicine practiced in the trenches of Gallipoli went beyond traditional medicine; it not only healed but continues to inspire, renew and show the goodness of humanity where a person's nationality matters little, and where their life matters most."

Joel Maamary humbled by the strong friendship forged between people and nations who had once been at war

In addition to meeting many other medical students as well as doctors not only from Turkey but from nations worldwide, for Joel another important highlight of his time in Turkey was the tour of Gallipoli including Lone Pine Cemetery, ANZAC Cove and other landmarks of the disastrous campaign that took the lives of so many young men 100 years ago.

"For the Turks as well as Australians and New Zealanders, the Gallipoli Peninsula is regarded as sacred ground.," he says and is filled with admiration for the Turkish Government which not only allowed the construction of 31 war cemeteries on Gallipoli but the dignity and respect given by Turkey to the foreigners who died on their soil, so far from home.

Like so many, Sydney-based Joel  grew up with stories of "mateship" and the ANZAC legend, but he says it was not until his recent visit to Turkey, and in particular Cannakkale and Gallipoli that he fully appreciated the close bonds and friendships forged between people and nations who had once been at war.

Turkey commemorated centenary of naval battle of Gallipoli on 18 March

On ANZAC Day this Saturday, Joel will attend the Dawn Service at Coogee.

"The beach at Coogee will remind me of beaches of Gallipoli," he says, adding the experience of his time in Cannakkale and at Gallipoli will remain with him forever.

"It was such an honour to stand on the site where the enduring friendship between Turkey and Australia was forged," he says and believes the opportunity gave him a chance to live out Notre Dame's School of Medicine's Objects which encourage students to think of medicine as extending beyond the walls of a hospital and into the heart of all people regardless of background, faith or culture.