We still remember them. (Extract)
25 April 1995
Account of events sent to the Office for the Minister for Trade for intended commemorative booklet about the 'people's ceremony'.
We arrived at Cannakale the day before Anzac Day. There were several of us in our group and I was surprised at how many others were also making the pilgrimage. At night the hotel was packed with people, all showing nervous anticipation and excitement. I had already been travelling for 6 months, in Europe and Africa, and had been through some pretty amazing experiences, but it soon became apparent to me that something very special was about to happen.
The buses left shortly after 2am and we travelled by ferry across the Dardanelles, at the Narrows.
I was amazed at the number of people at Anzac Cove. The whole cove was packed with people and some would have been only inches from the water. As we waited, in the dark before dawn, the silence was overpowering. It was difficult to believe that so many people could be so quiet. The only sound that I could hear was the lapping of the water on the beach.
The people were obviously reflecting on the enormity of the occasion and were generally withdrawn.
Another aspect that both pleased and surprised me was the number of 'Johnny Turks' at the ceremony and, in particular, one of the guys I was drinking with the previous night. He said that he would be attending but I didn't really expect it. In my naivety I thought that the war at Gallipoli was only important to us. I just didn't understand that it had a special significance for the Turks as well. In a country, so rich in history, I thought the Gallipoli Campaign wouldn't rate. As the day enfolded I became aware of their feelings as well.
The official party was delayed but it did not bother me at the time. The power of the event was too overwhelming. As darkness faded I became aware of the silhouette of a man, holding a stick, on top of a nearby small hill. I wondered at the significance.
As the terrain came into view I thought of the many brave men who had died on this spot on that fateful morning and in the subsequent months. I thought of my own relatives and felt a special bond with Glen Whalan who, at my age, faced such adversity on this foreign soil.
As the sun lit up the solitary figure on the nearby hill, I saw that it was a man holding an Australian flag. A lump rose in my throat and I had a special feeling of pride for my country. The sight of the flag was really special. I looked at that flag and thought about the many men who had died, between the beach and the hill, attempting to get their flag to the same spot. How proud they would have been to have seen it flying there.
After the service at Anzac Cove we went to the International Service at Cape Helles. The official party left first, to go to the Australian and New Zealand special services, at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair respectively. We followed in the buses but much to our dismay and anger were confronted by a military road block, just a few kilometres from our destination. All we were told was that we could not go any further. We were not told why. We were confused and bewildered. In Australia we take for granted that these occasions are organised and will happen as expected. On reflection, we are indeed fortunate, as people in so many countries have to endure such adversity, on a regular basis, and are unable to complain.
The Lone Pine Memorial was insight and some people were keen to continue on foot. How poignant it would have been to have a final Anzac charge up Lone Pine, but it wasn't to be. It soon became apparent that the service would be over before we could get there. After about half an hour we heard that the reason for the road block was due to increased security, because the Turkish President was attending the Official Ceremonies. It was then that the idea of a protest started to emerge.
I had the bright idea of entering into the spirit of Anzac by organising a game of two-up. 'Macka', a friend from Melbourne, and I started to play and it was not long before we had a large crowd and many willing participants. I was a bit apprehensive, when the police and military joined the crowd, as were in a Moslem country and no doubt contravening numbers of laws. My apprehension eased a bit when I saw one of the soldiers ask a women to place a bet for him.
The call came that the official party was returning and, as one, the crowd moved to the road to block it in protest. This was a rekindling of the Anzac Spirit with more than 600 Australians and New Zealanders uniting to block an official party that included the Turkish President. This continued for about 20 minutes until Senator Bob McMullan attempted to talk to the crowd. The crowd were angry and abusive and demanded 'a service'. The Senator that he empathised but could not change what had taken place. He reminded us that were not in Australia now and that there was nothing that could be done, as the official party had dispersed. One of our group then cried out 'you've had your go, we want ours', to the unanimous support of the crowd. Senator McMullan then left and returned shortly after, saying that agreement had been given to re-staging the Australian and New Zealand ceremonies at the Australian Memorial. He said that he couldn't guarantee that we would have what they had before, but he would do his best.
The service was very special and emotional. Senator McMullan apologised to the Kiwis, for there only being one ceremony, but explained that this would be a combined Anzac service. While his speech was not doubt a repeat of this previous one, his emotion was genuine and infectious as he spoke about his own relative's involvement in Gallipoli. This genuineness and the empathy evident in Senator McMullan's address sparked our own emotions, so setting the scene for a special event. An Australian backpacker, representing the crowd, touched emotions further as he read a poem that had been part of the original ceremony. He had a New Zealand flag draped over his shoulder as a symbol of unity between 'Aussies' and 'Kiwis'. Appropriately, a Vietnam Veteran came forward to recite the ode.
When an apology was given, for the fact that there were no bugles, a voice said 'what about a didgeridoo?' The crowd gave unanimous and enthusiastic support. A special occasion was made more special as the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo drifted out over the hills, gullies and cliffs of this hallowed ground. A fitting and sombre salute to our fallen heroes. This was immediately followed by 2 minutes of silence (not a sound to be heard) followed by the singing of the Australian and New Zealand National Anthems.
I have never heard the Australian National Anthem sung with such pride and commitment. Everyone really belted it out and significantly we knew all the words. Not to be outdone the Kiwis, who were about a tenth in number to the Australians, then outdid us. I was glad to be there.
Senator McMullan did a magnificent job and is to be congratulated. He managed a very difficult situation with compassion and understanding, despite getting a lot of initial abuse. In the end he facilitated for us, an experience that was described by those who also attended the official service, as by far the better. One old Digger said 'I thought the Anzac Spirit had died long ago, but this is the most moving ceremony that I have been to for 50 years'. Thank you Bob from all of us.
Afterwards we walked among the gravestones reflecting on a moving and emotional service. This was a very personal time for everyone; a time for introspection and quiet.
Discussion later revealed that while we had missed the official service, that we had travelled a long way to attend, we had been provided with an experience greater than we could have possibly imagined. We had become part of the Anzac Spirit and had made our small contribution to continuing the legend of defiance and courage, started in this spot by our ancestors.
My story would be complete if I did not include the words of Kemal Ataturk, the Father of Turkey and the leader of the Turks at the Gallipoli front. These words are displayed next to the market at Anzac Cove:
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 our 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
Not everything worked out well in the end. One the group was proud of the medals he had brought with him. He had his medal from Vietnam, his father's from the second World War and another from the first World War. They were all stolen.
It was a long day spent at Anzac Cove, Point Helles, the Nek, Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and Hill 60; finally returning to Cannakale around 5pm.
It was inevitable that the day would end in a huge party. Spirits were high and friendships were strong. Australians and New Zealanders again bonded in mateship that had been born in adversity and had endured for 80 years. People were signing the anniversary t-shirts with comments about the day and it was apparent that it had been a day that no one would forget. A new generation of Anzacs had been born. We had been given the privilege to embrace something that otherwise we may never have understood - the 'Anzac Spirit'.