Family of Gallipoli soldier rediscover piece of history

Burdett Nettleton, who died at Pope's Hill, Gallipoli, on August 7, 1915. His family has just been reconnected with some of his possessions.
Burdett Nettleton, who died at Pope's Hill, Gallipoli, on August 7, 1915. His family has just been reconnected with some of his possessions. Christina Ongley

ALMOST 100 years ago, a young light horseman was felled by a bullet in a failed charge at Gallipoli moments before his commander decided to pull back the regiment.

Today the family of Burdett Nettleton met with a Turkish professor in possession of his hip flask, following a series of amazing coincidences that brought them together.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Remember our Anzacs 1915- 2015

Burdett was 25 when he enlisted soon after the outbreak of the First World War - the golden boy of the Nettleton clan who was expected to carry on the family wool-trading business.

But it all went wrong the following year, when ill-fated charges at Pope's Hill and The Nek - which were supposed to be supporting British and New Zealand assault on Chunuk Bair during the August Offensive - cut down row upon row of young light horsemen on August 7, 1915.

The Red Cross Wounded and Missing Report on Nettleton said he "did splendid work that day and was a fine example to his men" - something that may have brought little comfort to his family.

A fellow soldier told the Red Cross he had found him alive but past help, and had had to leave him to die when the regiment was withdrawn.

These battles have since become among of the most famous in Australian lore at Gallipoli, due to the huge losses and futility of the action.

Burdett's body has never been found, but his headstone is in the Lone Pine Cemetery in Turkey.

His story was later taken up by Turkish mathematics professor Haluk Oral, also a keen historian and published author.
 

Sarah, Louise and James Nettleton meet up with visiting Turkish professor Haluk Oral, who has possession of their great-uncle Burdett's flask. Burdett Nettleton died on Augut 7, 1915, at Pope's Hill.
Sarah, Louise and James Nettleton meet up with visiting Turkish professor Haluk Oral, who has possession of their great-uncle Burdett's flask. Burdett Nettleton died on Augut 7, 1915, at Pope's Hill. Christina Ongley

Prof Oral bought a flask in a small-town antique shop near Istanbul in 1993 and started researching the young lieutenant who owned it.

When he later published an article on his research about Burdett, he was contacted by the grandson of Izzettin Calislar, a senior staff officer of Gallipoli war hero Mustafa Kemal.

Calislar had recorded his war experiences in more than 20 notebooks between 1912 and 1922 - and one of them was Burdett's, picked up from the battlefield unfinished, and completed by the Turkish officer.

"We don't know he came by it - but notebooks were very scarce, so the soldiers probably just took it after the battle was over and gave it to their commander," Prof Oral said.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and the professor is being interviewed by television journalist Liz Hayes on 60 Minutes.

A friend of the Nettletons sees the program and sends a member of the family a Facebook message asking if they're related to the guy whose story featured on TV.
 

A picture of Burdett Nettleton's flask, bought by Professor Haluk Oral in an antique shop near Istanbul in 1993. The flask is still in Turkey.
A picture of Burdett Nettleton's flask, bought by Professor Haluk Oral in an antique shop near Istanbul in 1993. The flask is still in Turkey. Christina Ongley

The family made contact with Prof Oral and realised he was coming out to Canberra for a landmark conference organised by the Australian War Memorial and Australian National University, called Gallipoli: A century on.

The opportunity was too good to miss - they met up today to exchange their knowledge of the man who died a century ago and left traces of his life behind.

"For us it's a reconnection with some of Burdett's artefacts," said great-nephew James, from Sydney, who travelled to Canberra with sisters Sarah and Louise.

"But it was also amazing to hear the stories from Haluk about the regiment that killed him - it's brought us full circle."

For now the flask will remain in Prof Oral's possession and the Nettletons aren't bothered about that.

But they are starting to formulate travel plans for Turkey.
 



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