Tuesday, 24 April 2001
Left at 8.30am for 5 hour drive to Gallipoli. Been seeing lots of lovely towns and blue sea along the way. Road a bit rough though - hence my chicken scrawl! At least it's a pleasant 5 hours! Not like bus trips on Greyhound (in USA). Got to Gallipoli - Gelibolu and looked around the town. Continued onto Peninsula and got lots of photos at Chunuck Bair (NZ Memorial), Lone Pine (Aust Memorial), Anzac Cove and North Beach where the Dawn Service take place. Lots of people around and even some groups camping out for the prime seats.
We finished with a visit to the Museum. It had lots of remnants, even some bullets that had collided mid-air and entwined each other. Shows how many must have been fired to produce several crossed paths.
We then caught the ferry to Chanakkale on the Asian side of Turkey (pronounced chan-a-ka-la). We're staying in a government-run 'hostel' - 3 beds in a room etc. Not too bad I guess. We went up the road for dinner and got home around 9.45pm.
Wednesday, 25 April 2001
We got on the bus at 12.45 to try to make it to Anzac Cove by 1.30am. Everyone else had the same idea though! The amount of coaches / buses was phenomenal and given the Turkish attitude to organisation - the ones that made it onto the ferry first were the ones who just bolted on. It was a little terrifying. We missed the 1am ferry so waited. As we were getting primed to make a run for the next ferry a 'green bus' (just because it was green) kept trying to push-in so KJ (tour leader) went and stood in front of it! The Israeli leader on the bus came out and went off at KJ. KJ was smoking and blew smoke in the woman's face. KJ doesn't smoke and was nearly shaking with fear / adrenaline. We were hooting and cheering for her on the bus. We were ready to make a run for one of the bother buses in our group of 3 in case they got on and we didn't. Everyone got on in the end and KJ is our hero. It was a mad house out there.
On our way to the Service KJ played 'And the Band played Waltzing Matilda' which was very haunting in the dark by the water.
We got to our positions at 4am. The place was nearly packed and still more people arrived. We estimated at least 300 - 400 coaches, plus cars, foot traffic and officials. Number were 'confidently' higher than last year's record. There service was sombre and touching and subtle.
The way the sunrise gently appeared from behind the cliffs really added to the mood because we saw what the diggers would have seen and what was in store for them. It was such a hopeless situation, but amazing how far they did get.
The service started at 5.30am and it was still dark and spooky. Officials from Australia, NZ and Turkey read speeches, explained the events and Ataturk's quote in Turkish and it was translated in English by a Kiwi soldier.
They played the 'Last Post' and after 2 mins silence 'Reveille'. This was after the national anthems of all 3 countries which was a very emotional time.
Once the service was over the sun was just hitting the tops of the cliffs and 'The Sphinx'. Our group met up then walked about 1km to the bus. By the time we finally did board it was 9am, the service had been over for more than 2 hours, we'd been peeing in the bushes and picking poppies, slept at New Zealand No. 2 Outpost cemetery which was along the way and eaten our breakfast. The sheer amount of buses was phenomenal. Of course it didn't help anything when one of them got bogged and had to get a tractor to get it out.
We progressed up along the road that runs along the back of all the memorials because they weren't letting us go past the sites - too many buses and too many people. We parked the bus about half a km from the NZ memorial and walked the 3 and a half kms to Lone Pine. We stopped along the way at various plaques and cemeteries. We met a man who knew a lot about what happened, even though it was his first visit and he explained a few of the battles. It was awful to be able to put in perspective on what the guys went through. Some of the trenches were only a road width apart.
When we got to Lone Pine there were bodies everywhere and if you could imagine everyone wearing khaki, that was a haunting flash of what the battles field might have looked like. There were flags everywhere and lots of young people, some with medals.
Proceedings started with the song 'We are Australian' and then the MC announced that there were seated up the front for veterans (of any war) in the audience. As they made their way to the front they got rousing cheers and applause and that's when a lot of people lost it and started crying. The service was a much better one than the Dawn Service because we could tailor it to the Australian perspective and not be so diplomatic to Turkey. It was much more emotional and everyone joined in. After it was over people hung around to sign the 'visitor's book' (Book of Remembrance) inside the memorial and take photos of the wreaths and buy souvenirs. I saw an only lady plant a flag next to a headstone and that was a very moving sight.
We slept while waiting for the kiwis to have their service and the bus arrived with them at 4.15pm. We had sandwiches on the bus while on the ferry over to Chanakkale, rested for an hour, then drove to Troy for dinner. We met out guide for the tour around Troy over dinner, Mustafa??? and I bought his books on Troy and Gallipoli which he then autographed to me.
We got back to Chanakkale at 9.30 and everyone was fast asleep by 9.35pm. What a HUGE DAY!!
Two Young Australians
I arrived in the ancient city, assaulted by the noise, the excitement, the mad energy of life that teemed everywhere and fell in a strange, restrained form of love with the place. Maybe it was just the time of year or the fact that I'd been away from home for a while, but the people are friendly, only try to rip you off just a little but and make great food and delicious hot apple tea.
As a young Australian in Turkey, in April, you don't attract too much individual attention these days. There are hoards of other Aussies walking through the sights in a trance, a fixed expression of awe on their faces as they witness the grand mosques, climb the old steep winding streets, observe the quaint architecture and haggle at the bustling markets. And they are there for the same reason I was, to attend the Anzac Day services at Gallipoli.
No one really knows why Gallipoli is seeing larger crowds each April, especially the higher numbers of younger people. Perhaps it's the many backpackers who are invading the UK at the moment who then make the pilgrimage because it's close by and a nice time of year for a holiday. Perhaps Turkey is more accessible then in years past.
Whatever the reason, it can only be a good thing. If there is going to be one experience that will teach 'young people today' to grow up, stop complaining about their comparatively charmed lives here in Australia and realise how lucky they really are, a day spent remembering what 'young people then' gave up to protect our shores shouldn't miss the mark.
I'd like to share with you, an email I sent home about my experience at Gallipoli in 2001:
Left the hotel in Cannakale (across the Dardanelles from Gallipoli) at 1.30am to catch the ferry with 400 other coaches to try to get a good seat for the dawn service. Got to Anzac Cove at 4am and waited until 5.30 for the service to start. It was very sombre and as the sunrise lit the sky you really got a shock to see what the diggers would have been faced with 86 years ago. I think that's when the gravity of the situation hit a lot of people because up until then no one was showing much emotion.
After that the coach took 3 hours to get to the top of the Peninsula behind all the other coaches. We walked from Chunuck Bair (the NZ Memorial) to Lone Pine for the Aussie service which meant about 3.5kms but we had time to check out all the other cemeteries, plaques and sites of battles. They have recreated lots of the trenches and at some places as you walked down the one lane road you could see the opposing trenches on either side of the road. Literally seven metres apart.
The Aussie service was more emotional because we could really make it our own. Before it started they announced that there were spare seats available for any veterans (from any wars) standing in the audience and as they came to the front they got the biggest round of applause and cheers all round. This was about the time I lost it altogether.
I don't think that many people have actually sung the national anthem all at once with as much gusto as we did during that service.
As we were travelling in the tour bus to Chunuck Bair, our tour leader shared a letter that another young person had sent home from Gallipoli. I'd like to share it with you too.
Dear Mum & Dad
I haven't had a letter for nearly 2 months now, I think they are having trouble getting through. Things are a bit rough now, we were bombarding the enemy trenches, it is so loud. I am scared by the noise and when it stops you can hear the Turks calling for help. In the morning it will be my turn for a charge on the enemy line. When we go, every other man will charge the line, then we will run through them to the trenches.
I have lost many of my mates now, most of us are scared but we are keeping our spirits high. My friend Peter that I wrote to you about, was killed on Friday. I am really sad. I know what we are doing is important and I will do my duty too.
I hope you are proud of me now. I am sorry I did not say goodbye to Helen. Tell her I love her too.
I can inform you that I obviously made it home safe and have since reached my 25th birthday. Steven Wilson however was killed at 6.15 that following morning in a bayonet charge. He was only 19.
There are a few aspects that are forever etched into my memory. The trenches, dug 7 metres from each other. To stand up was suicide. You could surely hear your enemy eat, sleep, breathe and discuss with comrades how they believed they thought they were on the right side, just as much as you did.
The other image was as we arrived at Lone Pine. Many others had arrived before us and settled in for the wait until the service. Having been awake since midnight, sleep descended on us as it was by now 11.30am. The mass of bodies, strewn over each other, heaped on backpacks, hats drawn over eyes and stretching far and wide, stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't help but picture them all wearing army greens, blood oozing from horrific wounds, screams and moans piercing the air as I imagined the results of a battle waged 86 years previous. This was Lone Pine, the closest the Australians got to reaching the Dardanelles, you can plainly, and perhaps painfully, see the strip of blue water from the crest of the ridge. It was the site of some of the fiercest fighting they had to endure in the First World War. We were gathered and seeking rest on their graves, remembering them where they fell.
Steven and I were two young Australians, drawn to the same place for very different reasons, one in conflict, one in peace and remembrance, 86 years apart. One left, one didn't and both lives were changed forever on the same memorable day. Anzac Day. Steven Wilson spilt his blood and left his life. I spilt tears and left this simple message in the books of remembrance at Lone Pine.
'A grateful, free nation thanks you for your ultimate sacrifice, rest in peace, you make me proud to be Australian'.