Gallipoli and Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) are words etched in the Australian psyche for over 100 years since those fateful events in faraway Turkey between 25 April 1915 and 16 January 1916. Each year on the 25th of April (ANZAC Day) Australians and New Zealanders gather before dawn at the time of the first landings for a ‘Dawn Service’ to remember the sacrifices made on our behalf by the ANZACS and those who have served since. While I have attended the Dawn Service over the years, as have growing numbers of Australians, I have never been to the actual battlefields in Turkey. I have a personal connection as my maternal Grandfather was with the British forces and was wounded here.
Anne has been to Gallipoli previously in 2005 on ANZAC Day as a member of the Australian Prime Minister’s party, but that is her story and I will let her tell it. She has wanted me to experience the place and will act as my guide.
We are staying about 10km / 6 miles South of ANZAC Cove where the landings took place and the main Australian and New Zealand remembrance service is held on 25 April each year. We get up at the crack of dawn as Anne wants me to see the location in the early morning light. We ride in the cool morning air with the scent of the pine trees in the air following the coast road with no other traffic in sight until Anne says ‘here it is’.
A low wall and a grassy area distinguish ANZAC Cove from the surrounding area which is thick with trees and shrubs. I am drawn to the imposing hill called “The Sphinx” which dominates the landscape and must have seemed almost impossible to climb to those first soldiers ashore. I am struck by the simplicity of the the location, just a couple of low walls and some plaques describing the events. I have only ever seen it on television filled with people for the dawn service. We are lucky to have the location to ourselves, not a person in sight.
We rode on up the hills, climbing and climbing till we arrived at the Lone Pine Memorial and cemetery. We ride down a gravel track with views overlooking the landing beaches and the Thracian sea. Again we are alone as we walk along the rows of headstones, so many and so young, messages from anguished loved ones carved on the headstones. Many say that they think the person is buried here and the dates of death have a range, they were not sure when they died. I think that all political leaders should spend time visiting such places to understand the consequences of committing troops to war. At certain times war may be inevitable, but our leaders should explore other options fully.
We also visit the memorial to the Turkish 57th Infantry regiment which suffered over 1,800 causalities during the campaign. A statue of one of the last survivors and his granddaughter looks over the plaques recalling the names of the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives.
We are lucky today that there is a strong bond between Australians and Turks over this 100 year old event, that helped define both nations by the actions of those who fought and gave their lives here. I was privileged to have been able to visit Gallipoli.
Having attended an ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) commemoration at Anzac Cove in 2005 without Anthony, I was keen to return with him for two reasons. I wanted Anthony to feel the impact of seeing the cliffs that the poor soldiers faced as they attempted an assault on Turkey on 25 April 1915, mistakingly landing in the wrong place, with terrible consequences, total carnage! The service had started in the darkness of the night then just before dawn, the cliffs behind us were suddenly lit up showing the impossible cliffs facing the soldiers – they had no chance. It was so shocking, moving, overwhelming …
The other reason was that I felt I had been unable to ‘properly’ reflect and pay my respects. I had organised an Aboriginal art exhibition in Istanbul to coiincide with the ANZAC 90th anniversary and was invited to join John Howard’s party to the commemorations, together with his entourage, the Australian press contingent and many world leaders. I attended every ceremony that day on the Peninsular, for the Australians, British, French and Turks of course too. Yet, because of the dignitaries, press, and especially the service men and women, I was more concerned about being in the wrong place and not intruding.
Being there, at ANZAC Cove, Lone Pine and Ataturk’s memorial, just the two of us, Anthony and I, at dawn, I was able to truly pay my respects, give my gratitude for the sacrifice of those who fought for our freedom. Then I was suddenly overwhelmed with great sadness, thinking of what these men went through, so many very young ones, what their families went through too and wondering what we had learned. How many have ended up dying or being scared for life because of the egos and intolerance of a few in various recent wars?…
Over the past few months, travelling as we have, our planet has seemed so small and us, as human beings, so insignificant in our vast universe and at the same time, we as people are so similar across the world despite our borders. We all basically strive for the same things, food, shelter, family, health and happiness. And there is an inate desire within us as human beings to connect with and help others. We have seen this throughout every country we have travelled through. It has been great to experience the spirit of forgiveness and friendship here in Turkey, often being invited for a cup of tea and a being told we are welcome in their country. It is heartwarming.
Revisiting ANZAC Cove and the many memorials, I was able to give thanks and remember those who fought for us all.