It’s 1am and I’m struggling for sleep, so I put the pen to page to release thoughts that have been burning a hole in my brain.. my journey to Turkey to experience ANZAC Day’s 85th anniversary on the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula.
On April 23rd my flight touched down in the beautiful city of Istanbul and we hit the road in the station wagon that was to be our home for the next few days. After a brief encounter with a Turkish policeman (clip-on koalas are great for avoiding speeding fines ;)), we arrived in Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula, parked our “hotel” on a grassy lot across the road from Vegemite Bar and immersed ourselves in the local culture… ah, I mean drank copious amounts of 500ml Efes beer cans with other Aussies/Kiwis who’d made the trek to Turkey for ANZAC Day.
The next morning with dusty heads we headed off to the nearby ANZAC Cove and surrounding battlegrounds to learn about Australia’s first foray into war as a country in it’s own right. For the uninitiated, during World War 1 Allied forces were sent ashore at ANZAC Cove to capture the high-ground overlooking the Dardanelles, the strait of water connecting the Aegean and Black Seas. Securing the Gallipoli Peninsula would mean being able to protect Allied ships being sent to re-supply and support the Russians who were under heavy threat by advancing Turkish forces.
In the cold dark dawn of April 25th 1915, our Aussie diggers hit the beach below sheer cliffs which meant initially that less than a few hundred Turkish soldiers were required to hold their ground against thousands of ANZACs whilst the commander of the Ottoman forces, Mustafa Kemal, (later known as Atatürk, the founder of Turkey) mustered the Turkish 19th Division to contain the ANZAC troops.
If you’ve not had the privilege, the Gallipoli experience is one that is almost impossible to describe. After spending the day traveling around the various battle-zones, our crew headed down to ANZAC Cove at midnight along with thousands of other Australians, Turkish nationals and New Zealanders. Sitting there in the freezing cold night at the base of the cliffs at ANZAC Cove, I tried to imagine what it would have been like for the young Australian and New Zealand soldiers (many of them younger than 18) half a world away from their loved ones and home. Soaking up a mixture of emotions I recounted tales of World War 1 horror, acts of selfless bravery and thousands upon thousands of casualties on both sides. I was also struck by the tribute later made by Atatürk to those ANZACs who died in Gallipoli that is now inscribed on the Atatürk Memorial in Turakena Bay, Gallipoli:
“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
All these emotions and a moving pre-dawn service on the crowded foreshore left a lump in my throat and tear in my eye. It is for this reason that every ANZAC Day no matter where in the world I am, rain, hail or shine, I rise in the early hours to attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service.
Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance has been my port of call in recent years and to this day whenever I stand in silence for the Ode of Remembrance and the bugle call of The Last Post, the memories, goosebumps, lump and chills return.
It’s just impossible to fathom the sacrifice of our ANZACs both past & present.. but this is what ANZAC Day means to me… This is what it means to be Australian..
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning.. We will remember them.. Lest We Forget."
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