A belated Anzac Day post

“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives
you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,
therefore rest in peace.
Their 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.”

Ataturk 1934

The Turks love Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and to be honest after being at Gallipoli on the 25th April to commemorate Anzac Day I do too.

It astounds me that even though Ataturk fought at Gallipoli in a campaign where 86,692 of his men perished defending their own soil, he could afford such respect to the Anzacs.

And since everything Ataturk ever said is treated as gospel, 97 years on the Turks carry on his legacy and the hospitality and respect they show New Zealanders and Australians on the 25th April is truly extraordinary.

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For me I’ve just always wanted to see dawn on Anzac Day how the soldiers did, not only to commemorate those who lost their lives but to mark, what in many ways, was the beginning of our national consciousness and identity away from Mother Britain.

Like most people I booked a three day group tour for Anzac Day to take the hassle out of finding accommodation and trying to navigate the sights blind.

Of the 15 of us on our bus, four were kiwis (although I’m not sure if I should count the one living in Perth who was convinced Auckland was our capital city).

The other three were a great trio from Wellington who I pretty much grafted myself to for the three days. They spoke kiwi like me (thanks heaps, yeah nah, aye) and are the type of people I feel like I’ve known for years even though it’s only been days.

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Arriving at Anzac Cove on the 23rd was pretty sobering. What got me was how small it is.

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You can imagine how devastating it must have been for our troops to land here instead of here where they were supposed to land.

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This place is truly a giant graveyard considering that during the eight month campaign they estimate that 8709 Australian, 2721 Kiwi, 86,692 Turkish, 21,255 British, 10,000 French, 1358 Indian, and 49 Newfoundland soldiers died here.

Reading some of the headstones is lump in the back of the throat material – particularly these ones.

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After spending the night in some random seaside village and the day exploring the highly underwhelming ruins of Troy, we arrived too late on Anzac Eve to get a place on the grass so we were in the bleachers, making it almost impossible to sleep.

At least I was warm with my new Turkish socks.

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Not that I really needed them considering our guide said it was the warmest Anzac Eve he’d ever experienced.

Dawn arrived many hours and overpriced 3-in-1 coffees later.

As my camera’s a point-and-shoot my photos of dawn are a bit average, this is about the only one that turned out.

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Thankfully fellow kiwi Rob Georgiou was ever so kind to donate this dawn shot.

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The service began with a haunting Karanga from a woman from the New Zealand Defence Force who I’d met the day before when she sought me out and said – “excuse me miss are you a kiwi? Oh chur bro, we’ve only met ozzies, so mint to meet a kiwi aye.”

So when this woman begins her Karanga with the sound of tears in her voice, my eyes well up.

I just wasn’t expecting possibly the most colloquial kiwi I’ve ever met to have a voice like that.

My second round of tears comes during the minute’s silence when it’s so dead quiet you can hear the water lapping against the shore, which this time 97 years ago was about to turn red.

And, despite what I’d heard about some kiwis and ozzies using Anzac Day as an excuse for a big party I didn’t find that at all (the fact alcohol was banned and your bags were checked when you entered the site probably helped) but I was astounded that most of the Contiki and Top Deck tour groups went to bed really early. Mind you they were the smart ones who got there early enough to get a spot on the grass for their sleeping bags.

After the dawn service we began our six kilometre hike to Chunuk Bair for the New Zealand service.

Given the distance between them we didn’t have time to go to the Australian service at Lone Pine – but it’s a beautiful spot.

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The view from Chunuk Bair is incredible and you can’t help but imagine how different the war might have ended if only reinforcements had arrived on 8 August 1915 when the Kiwis briefly took this strategic spot from the Turks.

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The kiwi service again reduced me to tears and I know it sounds lame but there was something quite overwhelming about the army band playing the instrumental version of Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Welcome Home.’

The service was best described by one of the Wellington crew as having a ‘Christmas in the Park’ feel to it.

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Photo thanks to Rob again!

We left Gallipoli three hours later drunk with fatigue after our bus was possibly number 190 of 200 to collect us in a game best described as ‘bus bingo.’

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But we left never more proud to call New Zealand home.

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3 thoughts on “A belated Anzac Day post

  1. Pingback: My year in review | Today I ate a baguette

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