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Pam Coogan

Pam Coogan

Deputy Group Leader, Goodna SES Group

In April this year, I went to Gallipoli and attended the dawn service at Anzac Cove, and the Australian Service at Lone Pine. So what? What has this got to do with me? You may ask, and rightly so.

Normally when I come home from a trip, I keep my memories to myself, as they are indeed, a personal event. But something happened to me at Gallipoli, something which is hard to explain, but compels me to encourage each and every Aussie, to try and make the journey, if and when possible, to the place where, on 25th April 1915, our young men fought an unbeatable fight.

We left Brisbane 18th April, and after a very long flight, and a few days sightseeing in Istanbul, which is a must if you make the journey to Gallipoli, we flew to Bodrum in the South of Turkey, then coached up to the Gallipoli Peninsula, arriving at our hotel after crossing the Dardanelles, late 23rd April.

April 24th, after a 2 hour drive, we spent the day visiting all the sites, in what is now a national park. At Gallipoli, names like the Beach Cemetery, Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, The Nek, Shrapnel Valley, Chunuk Bair, Cape Helles, Suvla Bay weren't just names in a book, I was seeing them for real, and as I walked along the Beach Cemetery, amid the graves of Simpson and his mates, reading their names, their ages, what their family had written on their head stones, I couldn't help but shed a tear as I always so on Anzac Day at home.

These young men, some of them only boys, who gave their lives for us that we should have they type of Australia we now share, and lying in graves so far from family and friends, deserve the honour and respect that any one from Oz, who has time and money to visit their resting place, can give. They thought they were going on an adventure, on a ship to a far away place, little did they realise what the outcome would be.

The other memorial sites were also impressive. And as we left Gallipoli to go back to our hotel, I felt humbled.

The idea was to have as much sleep as we could, and we'd get a wake-up call at 11pm, and be ready with our luggage at midnight, to get away for the two hour drive to Gallipoli so we could get a good position at the Sphinx at Anzac Cove for the dawn service at 5.30am. No need to tell any of you about Coogs and her early rises. Well I did it again, I either didn't hear the phone at 11pm or we didn't get it, (I swear the latter). As I woke at 11.55pm, woke Tom, and we made a mad dash for the bus. I knew they wouldn't go without us!

Arriving at Anzac Cove along with thousands of others in their buses, we found a spot to wait until dawn. Actually me and my trusty torch just stayed put where we got off the. I didn't relish fumbling around in the dark, stepping over bodies of backpackers curled up in their sleeping bags where they'd gone to sleep the night before. I was cold, colder than I'd every been before, even in Canada's winter, and I swear I almost crawled into a sleeping bag with a backpacker, who every he / she was, and there was enough of them there.

The Dawn Service was inspiring, and the sun came up, and finally sent its rays to warm us all, by the time our bus arrived, warm clothing had been shed, it was well after 9am. We were then take to Lone Pine for the Australian Memorial Service. Tom found his Uncle's name on the Memorial wall, the same name as on the Goodna's memorial, and we took our position to wait for the service, at the wall facing the V.I.P's.

At 11.30am the Australian Navy Band took their position near us and it was party time, with the band playing all the Aussie songs, the crowd was singing along. And a big crowd it was too. Alexander Downer and his mum, Peter Beattie and his wife were among the dignitaries, but come midday and we were down to the serious side of things.

After the service, there was a long wait for our bus. All the buses were lined up and no bus could move until all the services had been held. The few porta loos there, were the only toilets available, and out of water. And with hardly any shade, the sun was hot, and people began going to the shrubs to the lavatree, and you could see heads bobbing everywhere. If you used this method, it was a case of 'oops - sorry', as you neared a shrub.

Our tour group, one of three by the company we booked with, to bide the time, decided to put in a $1US (or 1,000,000 Turkish Lira =" $2AUD)" a throw, winner take all, and guess the time our bus would turn up. I put in the $ while Tom decided on the time, 4.35pm/ Now this was getting on to 2pm when this happened, and I thought to myself what a stupid so & so time. Then on the far ridge, near the NZ Memorial, we could see the buses moving and as each person dropped out of the race, 4.35pm was looking pretty good. Only Cara with 4.40pm was behind us. Our bus arrived at 4.55pm. Damn, missed by that much!

And so it was back to Istanbul, for a sleep, and be ready again at 6am for a flight to Paris to 'do' the French and Belgium war fields, but that is another story.

The sacrifice I made with all the early starts on this trip, was nothing compared to the sacrifice our Anzacs made for us. The number of young people at Gallipoli, far outweighed people of my age group. I came home wanting the spread the 'Gospel of Gallipoli', there seemed to be something about the place that made you want to do it, and people thought that I was crazy.

Well our cricketers going to England for the Ashes Series called at Gallipoli on their way over. That 'something' was there for them too. Steve Waugh said he hoped that the team had started a tradition for all the future test teams to call in at Gallipoli on their way to England, so he must be crazy too.

If anyone is interested in going next year, I can give you the name of a good travel agent, and after doing a lot of research on Anzac Day tours (RACQ etc) before going with the one we chose, I would thoroughly recommend them. I get no 'spotter's fee', it's just that we had no hassles with our travel agent and the tour was great, with a good number of meals, and with variety, included in the price. This is something that needs to be considered when going on a tour of this nature.

Thank you for allowing me to share this trip with you, and if I have enticed you into going to Gallipoli, it has been worth it.