Friday, April 23, 2010

My ANZAC Day Memory

I went to Gallipolli in 2001 for ANZAC Day, and it was one of the best, most emotional, worthwhile days of my life thus far. In total we spent 2 weeks in Turkey, and 3 days on the Dardenelles, which is the coast on which Gallipolli is located. We arrived at ANZAC Cove at about 2.30am on 25 April, with another 15,000 Aussies & Kiwis, it was quite surreal, everyone was laying on the grass and dirt listening to the waves crash in on the beach, hardly anyone slept. About an hour before dawn the officials started to take their places, the Turkish and ANZAC soldiers wandered around, making sure everything was in place, then as the dawn broke the ceremony started, there were speeches from the officials, presentations to soldiers and families, an Aussie schoolgirl read a very moving piece.

After the ceremony was completed we walked up to Lone Pine, and the Kiwis went the Chanak Bair (the Kiwi memorial). The ceremony at Lone Pine was even more emotional than the one at ANZAC Cove. There were rows of seats to the side, about 6 levels high but the majority of us sat on the grass between the headstones of the fallen solders. There were also a couple of rows of seats at the front, beside the ceremony area. A couple of these seats were spare, and one of the officials came on the loud speaker and asked if there were any diggers sitting on the grass, to make their way to the seats at the front.

What happened next is something I will never forget. A girl, probably 20 or so, helped an old digger, he would have been 85+ up from the grass and escorted him to the front seats, with that the entire crowd, about 10,000 people, stood up and clapped, it was beautiful and I'm getting goosebumps writing this.

The ceremony was lovely, a lot of Aussie songs sung and memories verbalised, and Alexander Downer gave one of the best speeches I've heard, Mr Puffy came through 100%. After the ceremony, we wandered around Lone Pine as much as we could with the huge crowds, got a few photos with some of the Turkish soldiers and with Mr Puffy and some diggers.

We then sat on the side of the dirt road for probably 4hrs waiting for our bus, I'm not sure how many buses were there, but well over 200. It was over 35c and we all got fried to a crisp. That night we had a couple of drinks and everyone was talking about their impressions of the day.

The next day we headed back over to Gallipolli, and went back to ANZAC Cove, Lone Pine, Chanak Bair, the ANZAC & Turkish Museums, and the Turkish memorial site. Some people didn't want to visit the Turkish sites, and I can understand that, but I'm glad I did.

The ANZAC museum is very sad, there are the iron army caps with holes thru them, a skull with a bullet still embedded, half written letters to loved ones, shredded and blood soaked uniforms etc.

We walked on the beach where our troops landed, and standing in the water looking back up at the cliffs that they faced, it gave a true perspective to the position the ANZACS found themselves in, lambs to slaughter is an understatement, the cliffs are so steep we struggled to get up them, I can't imagine trying to do so in a full Army kit. I pocketed some stones from the beach, which I will treasure forever.

We walked thru the ANZAC trenches, and that also made it all a bit more real, standing in the trenches, you realise how awful a place it must have been, two people can not stand side by side, there isn't enough room, if you stand straight your head is above the top of the trench and there is barbed wire everywhere, to think that hundreds of diggers shared these spaces seems unreal.

Wandering around the graves the ages on the headstones are quite shocking, the majority are under 21 with hundreds aged 18, we also saw John Simpsen's grave.

We wandered over some of the scrubland and found bullets laying along the ground, there are memorial signs everywhere stating what happened, and you can't go 100m without coming across another area where hundreds of ANZACS were killed.

It's not all doom and gloom at Gallipoli tho, the Turkish people are very respectful of the ANZAC history, and most have a good understanding of the fighting that occurred at Gallipolli, from both a Turkish and ANZAC viewpoint.

In the village where you arrive on the ferry they have the Vegemite Bar, the ANZAC bar, and a couple of others, with paintings of kangaroos, kiwis, maps of Australia & NZ everywhere. And you're not an Aussie or Kiwi there, you're an ANZAC, the local people all address you as 'Hello ANZAC'.

If any of you get the chance to go to Gallipolli, make sure you do, it's something you will never forget.

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