19 May 2001 (rewritten 2003)
The most memorable piece of literature I've read about the Gallipoli campaign wasn't particularly graphic or scary. It wasn't something that would keep children awake at night.
What it did was challenge some of the ideas I had about the Anzac landing.
It was an extract from a digger's letter to his family, which was rediscovered about 5 years ago and printed on the front page of a Melbourne newspaper.
One paragraph described the digger's leap from the landing boat and dash across the beach and up the hills to meet up with his unit. In his own words he described the landing as 'glorious fun'.
These two words occupied my mind for the rest of the day. I couldn't work out how he'd describe something so terrifying as 'glorious fun'. My only explanation was that if a Gallipoli veteran wanted to describe the landing as glorious fun, then who's going to argue with him?
Our pilgrimage to Turkey began ironically at a place that the Anzacs never saw - Istanbul.
After the life or death ordeal that was the taxi ride from Atatürk airport to the youth hostel and exchanging a weekend's worth of pounds into hundreds of millions of Turkish lira we settled in for an nice pleasant afternoon's sport of seeing how many local street hawkers could spot the new arrivals. Ah yes, when it came to sticking out in a crowd in a foreign country, The Princess and I, resplendent in our matching backpacks, windstoppers and travel apparel were world champions.
We headed straight for the infamous Grand Bazaar, which was indeed grand and to quote a gone and thankfully forgotten one-hit-wonder from last decade: 'how bazaar, how bazaar'.
We were set upon by every different type of Turkish salesman, each one coming at us with the same technique of joining as many English sounding phrases together as they could. It was usually something like 'Hello, yes please, excuse me, Aussie, Kiwi?' but these guys had more variations than Colin 'Funky' Miller.
I was amazed at the types of ways Turks have invented to take tourists' money. One guy asked if I was interested in double-glazed windows. At first I didn't know whether he was trying to actually sell me the windows or enquiring in a round-about kind of way whether we'd had a good night's sleep in our hostel and offer us a quieter hotel room. Either way I gave him a laugh and a few million in spare change (as you do) and we kept on our way.
There are the typical young shoe-shiners, skipping school to make their millions and dodging dodgy policemen who take a cut if they catch them. One youngster wouldn't take no for an answer even when I showed him my canvas shoes. He started polishing my shoes until I took them off, thinking he'd give up, then amazingly he started polishing my socks! Give up Tiger but here's a few million for effort.
One guy simply stood on a street corner and asked with a smile, 'How can I rip you off?' I'm still not sure what he was selling, but that comment was worth at least a few million.
But my favourites were the old guys who set up a set of scales on the footpath with 50,000 Lira written on a piece of cardboard. I thought: great idea. Low-maintenance business and something nobody could refuse really. I wondered though whether these guys would have to become registered for GST or had I in fact stumbled upon the seedy underbelly of the Turkish black market?
We kept on down the road to buy some pistachio nuts.
In a funny kind of way I always thought it to be fitting that Australia and New Zealand's 'baptism of fire' took place on a beach. (That's funny weird, not funny ha ha). What I didn't count on was the minuteness of this particular beach.
Anzac Cove is a very small 10-metre wide beach with small pebbles and small waves. As with any monumental landmark you come across in your travels the initial reaction is usually: 'Gee it's smaller than I thought'.
The cliffs start immediately from the beach and head straight up to the heights of the Gallipoli peninsula. A guide showed us where Turkish machine guns were positioned, only 50 metres away a quarter of the way up the hill. They'd set up to spray their bullets diagonally across the invading forces so as to not waste ammunition and maximise their carnage.
At the northern end of Anzac Cove is Ari Burnu, the first cemetery we visited and the former site of the dawn service until just last year when a new platform was laid at North Beach (a few hundred metres further up).
It was amazing to see all the young backpackers, here on the day before Anzac Day supposedly to have a good look at the national park before the crowds came in (it seemed we all had the same idea anyway), walking quietly among the headstones at Ari Burnu not saying a word to each other. We almost felt embarrassed of the noise of our cameras as we stood and took photos.
We read headstones that expressed parent's mourning for their young sons who left on a great adventure and never came back. We looked at the ages of the dead - 18, 19, 23 - and thought about what we were doing at that age and how juvenile we still were.
As we were warned the previous day the 24th and 25th of April seem to blend into each other for those keen enough to forego a night's sleep and get a good vantage point at the Dawn Service. Not that it matters much, neither the Three Tenors nor Betty Boo were playing that day (funny, that) but after travelling halfway around the world I guess you don't want to miss a thing.
We made it to the North Beach site by about 1:30am for the 5:30am start. The next few hours were spent trying to catch up on some sleep on the grass.
One thing Anzac Cove is not renowned for is the amenities. It's hard to get to the toilets, line up and get back, which makes it very tempting for a bloke to quickly dart into the bushes.
Feeling the need about an hour before the Dawn Service I dashed off for a quick one just far enough away from the crowds. As I got Mr Wiggly out I suddenly felt an enormous sense of guilt. What would the old Anzacs think of this blasphemous act? Would anyone else here perform such a deed or did they all have far more respect for the place than I did?
Almost as if on cue I spotted the strange outline of a blow-up Kangaroo, perched on the shoulders of a bloke with a 'VB Life Member' T-shirt, obviously half cut, and about 6 of his mates all having a slash about 10 metres away. If there's one thing you can count on at a big event, even at the most holy of holy places, it's a group of Aussies bringing it back to their level without even trying.
I relieved myself and got back for the start of the service.
As the spotlights were turned on for the TV crews from back home and the sun began to rise, for the first time we spotted hundreds of people who'd climbed up the hills to watch the service from afar. It seems at Gallipoli, I guess especially as it's in this laid-back country of Turkey that anything goes really.
This was the dream that every Aussie and Kiwi, and quite a few Turks, had dreamt since childhood. To be at Gallipoli for Anzac Day, and particularly to experience this moment, was something that I don't think you could top really.
We listened to some old tunes, took photos and filmed the darkness turn to light on the cove. During the two-minute's silence you could hear the waves crash on the beach and the perfect weather and almost still sea were a testament to the very first Anzac Day, which apparently was a bright sunny Sunday morning.
Of course the silence here was a long way short of the deafening roar of machine guns & shells exploding all over the Anzacs, as a New Zealand dignitary read out a passage from a Kiwi's diary:
Sitting in their boats waiting to be landed ashore the Kiwi soldiers were amazed at the courage and commitment of the Aussies, until they realised that they were about to get thrown into it themselves.
As the sun made its way up above The Sphinx behind us and the Dawn Service drew to a close, we made our way along the roads and beaches past further cemeteries and landmarks and up into the steep valleys towards Lone Pine for the Australian service, held at midday.
Coming up to the Beach Cemetery I was greeted by Normie Rowe, leading a tour group, and spotted what others thought was John (Simpson) Kirkpatrick's grave but I wasn't really sure.
This was the famous Anzac with the donkey, who grew to such fame back home but could only survive the dangerous job of a stretcher bearer for about three weeks.
We visited Shrapnel Valley, which was beautifully lit up with the morning sun. Moving uphill we stopped at Shell Green, which was where the famous photograph of the Anzacs playing cricket was taken.
Then up to Lone Pine, scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the campaign. Here opposing forces fought in hand-to-hand combat for days, which is why the Turks refer to it in their own language as nothing more than 'Bloody Hill'.
We grabbed a good vantagepoint at the Lone Pine cemetery, although we were jealous of the early starters who'd set up directly under the famous pine tree. There was a grandstand set up and the crowd was said to have reached 10,000 this year.
By now the long day and for most of us the previous day as well had taken its toll. People lay down and slept wherever they could. Waking up a few hours later I couldn't believe the amount of people in this small area, and got a great photo from the end of the rows of people asleep, lying on individual graves.
It was like watching the living dead.
At midday it all began.
The Australian service is normally a more buoyant and festive mood than the one at dawn. There's singing of your old favourites, famous people to get your photo taken with and a few smart-arse comments from the crowd when a particularly popular or unpopular politician turns up.
Girls were getting their photos taken with the Turkish soldiers who put on big silly grins (not unlike Bolivian airport staff) and one lucky tourist was even allowed to hold a soldier's machine gun for the pose.
Following the Australian service we started the walk up towards the New Zealand service at the top of the Gallipoli ridge at Chunuk Bair. It was there that some of the last-ditch efforts were made to break the Turkish lines and the stalemate that had ensued since April.
Also near this point a few years after the end of the war the body of a Kiwi soldier was found within sight of the Dardanelles and Canakkale - the final objective. He was hundreds of metres ahead of the rest of the invading forces and is the only one to have caught a glimpse of the Dardanelles, just before he was killed.
Unfortunately we didn't make the New Zealand service, as we wanted to have a good look around the trenches and cemeteries that dot the landscape right up to Chunuk Bair.
Along the way from Lone Pine we stopped at Johnson's Jolly, Quinn's Post, Courtney and Steele's Post, the Turkish Memorial and The Nek.
The Nek is a drawcard to those who have seen Peter Weir's classic film Gallipoli. The real-life story of the young digger portrayed in the movie met his untimely death at the gruesome battle that ensued here.
The cemetery is about 50 metres long, if that, and sadly this is about the distance between the Turkish and Anzac trenches when hundreds of young Aussies and Kiwis were ordered to go over the top in the August offensive. Almost all of them perished there, cut to ribbons by machine guns, and their bodies laid where they fell for a further four years until they could be buried.
We stood there, thought about this for a bit, and made our way back to the bus.
The old saying 'you can't choose your relatives' came back to me as we departed Istanbul and headed back to our base in London.
How many times have you been to a family gathering and looked across the room at your cousins who don't really look, act or laugh at your fart jokes like the rest of the family and thought 'are you that much better than us?'
Call me disturbed, but as we left Turkey - as strange and intriguing place as it is - I couldn't help thinking: why this place?
Why is our most sacred piece of soil outside our own country so far away and in Turkey? Even still, how did such a massive defeat of the British Empire by a vastly outnumbered Turkish army become such a source of pride for the people of two Southern Hemisphere nations?
In the end none of this really matters. History is made where it's made if there's one thing in this world we can't change it's our history. The Anzacs came to this place Gallipoli in 1915 out of a sense of duty for the mother country and they were slaughtered by the thousands.
What they also did was forge an ever-lasting tradition of ingenuity, mateship and sacrifice that remains to this day and is commemorated each year not only be those fortunate enough to be able to visit Anzac Cove but also those in Small-Town Australia and New-Somefink New Zealand.
No you can't choose your relatives and you can't disown them (although sometimes you'd like to), but then again they're as much a part of you as you are of them. So you accept them, you remember them on special occasions, and you try to do them proud.
And I guess that's what we were doing coming here.