97 years ago on the 25th April 1915 tens of thousands of men and boys, most younger than me,stood on the shores of Gallipoli Peninsula. Britain had asked for something that could never be given back. Britain asked for what are now known as; The ANZACs.
These ANZACs, or more specifically the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, were lured to the shores of Turkey during World War I by the sense of adventure, travel and the glory of war. What the ANZACs didn’t know 97 years ago was that more than 10,000 of them would never see their families again. All in the name of protecting our nations.
For that, we are eternally grateful.
ANZAC Day in Gallipoli
We can only begin to imagine what must have run through the minds of those soldiers as the dawn broke across such a magnificent landscape. Was this the adventure that they sought months ago in New Zealand.
At the beginning, probably. By the end of the first day, I think not.
Sitting in the cold at ANZAC Cove overnight on the 24th April we feel lucky to have our sleeping bags to keep us warm. While all they had was courage and the beginning of what would become the birth of a nations identity.
ANZAC day in Gallipoli is a pilgrimage for Kiwi’s and Australian’s. Every year thousands of young, and old, travel thousands of kilometers to the same shores that many of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers stood all those years ago. There is a strong need for us to see where our heritage comes from.
The 9 months in the trenches of ANZAC Cove also created strong bonds that have become known as “mateship“. It is a bond between those men in the trenches that was born from the need to form a lifeline to your home and family through your friends. Living and dying in such hellish conditions halfway around the world will quickly create that unbreakable bond.
And I believe that is why so many survivors refuse to speak of what happened during World War I.
ANZAC Day in Gallipoli Dawn Service
As the dawn breaks, the darkness that grips ANZAC Cove is broken while the silence is broken by a high pitch Waiata (traditional Maori word for song) welcoming us to the ceremony and commemorating those that were lost. Just as it was on the 25th April 1915 the beautiful shoreline of the Aegan Sea and rugged steep Turkish cliffs at our backs are revealed in the morning light.
Beauty surrounds us everywhere on Gallipoli Peninsula and we cannot comprehend how such a place of stunning wilderness could have seen so much bloodshed. The ground beneath our feet must have run red with the blood spilled from so many ANZAC and Turkish soldiers.
Our sleep filled eyes are quickly forgotten as you suddenly remember what we have come to Gallopoli for. We have come to honour those who fell on distant shores. And honour we do.
Once the dawn service has finished in ANZAC Cove it is a tough3.1 km slog uphill to the Lone Pine, site of the Australian service. And then another 3.2 km further up to Chunuk Bair, the site of the New Zealand service. Huffing and puffing in the early morning light under the scorching sun we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is nothing compared to what our soldiers went through.
I don’t know how you could but try to imagine that uphill slog with an 80 pound backpack. Oh yea, don’t forget that your friends are falling in the hundreds around you and bullets continue to fly around your head. Any second could be your last. Like I said, pretty hard to imagine.
Reaching the individual and personalised ceremonies is a really special feeling. Being surrounded halfway around the world by thousands of your fellow countrymen is a very moving experience. In fact, there is probably nowhere else in the entire world where New Zealander’s and Australian’s have such strong ties to a country.
A final thought.
Attending the celebrations, and I use the word celebration for all it is worth as it is a celebration of countries coming together, was a very moving and once in a lifetime experience for us. Being able to share it with our fellow Kiwi’s and Australian’s will forever hold a special place in my heart.
The most amazing feeling that I took away from the entire experience was that we were not even in our own countries. Here we were standing on the Turkish shoreline remembering a war in which so many of our own soldiers killed Turkish soldiers. But we are continuously welcomed. After so much horror for both sides we are still all able to come together out of a mutual and strong respect for one another.
For that we are thankful.
Lest we forget.