ANZAC – We will remember them
Every New Zealand and Australian citizen should know about the terrible campaign our ANZAC soldiers fought in Gallipoli in WW1, A campaign that saw many of our soldiers laid to rest on far away Turkish soil.
We learn about it at school, both our countries have a national holiday on Anzac Day every year and some of you, like myself, you even attend dawn ceremonies here at home every year on the 25th April, or you at least watch the reruns of them on the TV.
Anzac day is in our patriotic psyche, but do we really understand what happened at Gallipoli and why is it that so many Kiwis and Aussies of all ages still make that trip to Turkey to attend a dawn ceremony at Anzac Cove.
Anzac Day – Auckland, NZ 2014
The Great Turkish Pilgrimage
I have been going to ANZAC services for years and attending a Dawn service at Gallipoli has always been on my Bucket list for as long as I remember, as it was for my mother.
So why is it so important to those of us who make that pilgrimage all the way to Turkey for that one day? The answer is in the last line of the ode to remembrance – Lest We Forget.
WW1 shaped our two beautiful countries in ways we cannot even fathom. We were young fledgling nations at the bottom of the world, slightly naive, but hard working with a desire to see the world. As a result of this war some very significant things happened to our young nations, it hailed the formation of a very close alliance between our countries and the name ANZAC came to represent the bond between us, and it still does to this day.
Anzac Cove – Gallipoli, Turkey 2015
2015 – 100th Anzac Centenary
In April 2015 the Anzacs celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the fateful Gallipoli landings. Our two countries held a ballot for a lucky few to attend this historical moment. Roughly 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders were invited to attend this most memorable event in Turkey. I was one of the lucky ones who got drawn in the first ballot, and I can sincerely say this experience has changed my life, as I finally got to tick of one of my major Bucket List destinations. Winning the ballot tickets was definitely the push I needed to finally go. And what better time to go than the 100 anniversary.
One of the requirements to get into the Cove on the 24th April was to be a part of a tour. There were so many amazing tours to choose from, but one particular tour caught my eye from the start, and that was On The Go’s “2nd Australian Light Horse” A 14 day tour that started and ended in Istanbul. If I was going to go all that way I was going to make the most of it.
The tour had a perfect itinerary and I was one of 6 kiwis in a bus full of Aussies. That alone was an amazing experience, and we bonded as quickly as those soldiers must have on the ships and in the trenches 100 years earlier. Of course there was the usual jibes our two nations give each other and being a Rugby World Cup year there was a bit of competition around which country would take it out – and of course the Kiwis came out on top there. But the competition was mainly around our sporting as per usual, as two such competitive nations we were undoubtedly drawn together in unity for this very special event that we had in common.
My Personal Experience at ANZAC Cove
Our amazing tour leader had a plan, a very good plan, and in the early hours of April 24th 2015 we started our journey to Gallipoli. We left our hotel in Dikili and headed for Troy where we finally got our first look at the Gallipoli peninsula. Emotions were high and for many of us, we just wanted to get there.
After a short ferry trip across the Dardanelles, we arrived on the peninsula and started to pass through the many security stops, getting checked, scanned and tagged at each stop. Our tour leader and bus driver then dropped us off around 12pm at Mimoza park (all part of the plan), this was a holding area before we headed into the Cove. Then finally at around 4pm in the afternoon, the officials started to move us, and since our awesome tour guide had such a great plan, we were one of the first groups into Mimoza, so we were one of the first groups that got to start walking to Anzac Cove to secure our space for the long night ahead.
There are absolutely no words to describe the feeling you get when you walk into ANZAC cove, especially on the eve of ANZAC day when there are 10 thousand Kiwis and Aussies making the same trek. It’s an overwhelming emotion when you finally get there and you remember why it is you are there. You are reminded that Gallipoli is a living memorial and essentially, a giant graveyard to those soldiers and should be treated with the upmost respect.
We were amazingly lucky and got great seats in the stands, thanks to some clever thinking on the bus (again, part of the plan) and we managed to sit with pretty much our entire bus group. Once we had a quick scout around the facilities to orientate ourselves (find the toilets and the food stalls) we then settled in for the long night ahead.
Getting settled in for the night
The whole evening was a beautiful homage to those soldiers that lost their lives 100 years ago. From, videos, to stories to music provided by both countries. Then as the clock struck 5am and the sun slowly began to rise over ANZAC cove all 10 thousand people fell absolutely silent, absorbing the moment. We were all here for this very moment.
Nothing will get to you more than hearing a haunting Maori karanga cutting through the silence in the early morning light as the waves are gently lapping in the cove.
Kiwis are born travellers and standing on foreign shores, thousands of miles away from home hearing the Maori language being spoken and our national anthem being sung, while our flag proudly flies. It sends goose bumps over you and you cant help the tears welling up. And yes I cried, I cried proudly for my country and those poor boys.
At this point your are cold and exhausted after not having slept all night, but you are reminded that those boys, who came all this way to fight had it a lot worse so we can bear it for a little longer.
Following the dawn ceremony we begin the trek up the hills that our soldiers did all those years ago. However we aren’t dodging raining gunfire. Along the way we pass cemeteries, trenches, and other war paraphernalia that had been left behind. A very somber reminder of why we are all here.
Chunuk Bair Memorial
About halfway up the hill is where we split from our Aussie friends who move on to Lone Pine to have their private ceremony while we moved further up the hill to our one at Chunuk Bair.
The whole Anzac experience was surreal and amazing, but there was just something special about the Kiwi service at Chunuk Bair, a memorial for a battle we actually lost, to the Turkish, unlike Lone Pine where the Australian’s won.
Kiwis have a very unique way of doing things, everything is very low key and laid back but yet still very formal. The whole service started and ended with a good old kiwi sing a long. And for the first time ever during my travels around the world, I felt completely at home surrounded by my fellow country men, even though we were actually so far from home. It was kind of like being at a surreal school reunion, but what an amazing end to an unbelievable couple of days.
Thank you Turkey
The Turkish people couldn’t have made us feel safer and more welcomed. They fondly referred to us all as ANZAC’s and wherever we went, we were welcomed with big smiles and stories of how much they love and respect our two nations.
Being in Turkey it finally hit home, during the Gallipoli campaign we had suffered massive losses for our population at the time, with NZ losing around 2779 soldiers, the Aussies losing around 8709 soldiers, but Turkey, our beautiful host had suffered the greatest loss at around 87,000 people, yet despite that, they still had the utmost respect for our two countries.
During our time in Turkey and at Gallipoli we came to learn the other side of the story. And months later I was lucky enough to return to Turkey and to Gallipoli. All the scaffolding had been packed up, and all the crowds dispersed. We arrived in the late afternoon as the sun was setting and we stood silently at the cove, which seemed so tiny compared to when we were there in April. It was so hard to believe that this beautiful little beach was where all this tragedy happened. But what a lovely and beautiful memorial the Turkish people have made of it and the bond between our three countries can not be said any better than in the words of the great Turkish Prime Mister, Ataturk.
“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. There is no difference between the Johnnies and 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.”
Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1934
Planning Your Own ANZAC Experience
If like me, visiting Gallipoli is high on the Bucket list, don’t put it off any longer. There are still some spaces available on many tours, as this year is not a ballot year so anyone is free to go. It is possible to do it alone and not go with a tour, but I honestly recommend a tour as you will get a more authentic experience and you will probably end up on a bus of Aussies and Kiwis which will make it even more special.
I honestly loved my group and couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to be surrounded by and share that experience with. It was made even better by our outstanding tour guide who gave us the most immersive experience of Turkish food, culture and history.
I also recommend you jump on a tour that will cover a bit more of Turkey other than Gallipoli. This country is stunning and once you get there you will know what I mean. So take the opportunity to get out and explore more of its beautiful locations and amazing history.
If you are keen to go but don’t know where to start, pop into your local travel agent for some advice, especially when it comes to visas. Kiwis you are Visa free when traveling to Turkey however Aussies need to get yourselves one so check with your local agent when booking. Or drop me a line, I’m a qualified travel agent and would love to help you plan your Turkish adventure – firstname.lastname@example.org