Anzac Day 2013
On the 25th of April 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers stormed the beach at Gallipoli in Turkey as part of a mission to secure the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula in WWI. What followed was almost 9 months of dreadful casualties on both sides as the Turks and Allied Forces battled in trenches on the peninsula. It was to become the most bloody battle which Australians have been part of and the day on which future generations of Australians and New Zealanders would commemorate the sacrifices of our troops in this war and all to come after it.
For us Anzac Day has always been a time when wherever we are we take a minutes silence at dawn and think about the many lives lost for our country. Usually we attend a dawn service in one of our major cities and getting to Gallipoli to pay our respects is on many an Aussie or New Zealanders ‘must’ list.
Jen and I arrived in Eceabat a couple of days before the dawn service and spent some time around the peninsula where we learnt more about what exactly happened almost a hundred years ago. We visited the cemetery at the beach and looked out over Anzac Cove, a place which is now so beautiful it is hard to imagine something so horrific occurred here.
We walked through the Aussie trenches near Lone Pine and found out about the horrendous conditions where soldiers suffered disentry, heat and flies along with the constant smell of death and never ending battle. But we were also uplifted to hear of times when the battle stopped and the Turks and Australians exchanged food and cigarettes, throwing items from one trench to another as gifts. It seemed neither the Turks or the Anzacs had any real problem with each other and were all just men caught in something neither really understood. The Turks and Anzacs had a great respect for each other and it can be seen today with the way the Turks greet us with open arms and let us have our time to remember our troops each year.
As the great army officer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who went on to become Turkeys first president so eloquently put it:
Those heroes that 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 the 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.
I think this quote which can be found near Anzac Cove sums up the respect and attitude the Turks have for us and our fallen heroes and is alive here today.
When it came to Anzac evening we were ushered into the cove where people slept on the grass or huddled together in the grand stands to wait through the freezing night until the sun rose over Gallipoli. Throughout the night many documentaries were played, musicians and choirs and dignitaries played or spoke of the events surrounding Gallipoli and set the tone for the memorial service. Looking out to the black ocean and feeling the biting cold of the pre-dawn air I got a sense of what the Anzac would have felt just moments before the stormed the beach. It must have been a terrifying time for them.
When it reached 5:30am the service began and the bugle sounded, followed by a minutes silence and the many dignitaries from Turkey, Australia and New Zealand speaking. Once the dawn service was over we walked to Lone Pine where most of the Australians attend another service and then the New Zealanders move on to Chanuk Bair. Lone Pine is the position in which Australia suffered its most losses mounting to around 2300 and was the place in which Australia finally withdrew from in December 1915.
Attending the Anzac service in Turkey was an unforgettable experience and I learnt so much more about the sacrifices of the Anzacs than I ever had back home. Being there I got so much more sense of what it must have been like and hearing stories of the many heroes, on both sides was great. The warm welcome we receive from the Turks is also incredible and they have everything so well organised so that it is a smooth running experience and everyone was very respectful.
I have read that the latest Lonely Planet guide to Turkey suggests that Australians and New Zealanders should not travel here for Anzac Day and should go at other times of year because they are ruining the landscape of the peninsula and the beach. As far as we experienced this could not be further from the truth and I wonder if the writer actually even attended the Dawn Service. The level of planning and efficiency of the guides is flawless and with a ban on alcohol everyone is completely respectful and careful about where they walk. I think it is important for all Australians and New Zealanders to attend the dawn service at least once in their lives to get a sense of what it must have been like and to learn more about the Anzacs.