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Robert Atkins

Robert Atkins

Robert Atkins in front of memorial at Lone Pine
Robert Atkins in front of memorial at Lone Pine, 25 April 2000
Robert Atkins

Group email

London, May 1, 2000.

Hi again for the second time today (! well, I had nothing better to do than sit in a net cafe all day).

I just went and had something to eat, and I've plugged myself into Triple J over the net (what a godsend) so I'm nice and recharged.

The bus left from Istanbul at about 9:00. The plan was to travel overnight to Gallipoli, to arrive in time for the dawn service. Actually, the plan was to arrive a couple of hours early and camp out in order to get a good spot. The bus trip consisted of attempts to sleep that were continuously interrupted by toilet stops. At the biggest of these, about an hour and a bit (?) out of Ecebat (where we were staying) a whole lot of other tour buses stopped, so I went for a wander to see if I'd run into anyone I knew. It took about nine steps before I saw Julia from Teds Hall (consumer science, played the tenor sax? Can't remember her surname for the life of me...). After having a chat to her I of course found Alana (*wave*). Then it was back on the buses for the final leg.

Not quite the final leg actually, because from where the bus had parked for the dawn service we had to leg it ourselves for about half an hour to actually get to the site. We were all half asleep as this was about two or three in the morning, so we stumbled past this seemingly never-ending row of tour buses toward the impossibly powerful floodlights that marked the site. Along the way there were a few hard core campervans full of blokes who'd obviously been there for a few days and had been drinking for the whole time. We also passed some enterprising locals who'd set up stands selling kebabs and beer. You couldn't really go broke selling beer to Aussies and Kiwis on ANZAC day could you? :-)

Thousands gathered for the Dawn Service
Thousands gathered for the Dawn Service, 25 April 2000
Robert Atkins

When we finally got there the scene was amazing. There were just so many people. All the estimates I've heard so far range between 12 and 15 *thousand* people, 95% of them under 30, crowding around the new monument. Traditionally, the dawn service was held at the first landing site but they had to move it around to the North Beach as there were just too many people. By the time the service started, there were people up on the hills, way behind. We found a spot as close as we could, around the left side, and waited for a couple of hours until the proceedings started.

From about 4:30 the preliminaries started, including some old war standards from the Australian Army Band ('Rule Britannia' among them, which I actually thought a bit tasteless, but I guess the older guys and gals liked it). Then there was an intro from the MC, followed by a didgeridoo calling which was moving and eerie, then a Maori 'call to gathering' called 'Karanga', performed by a Maori Corporal from the NZ armed forces. This was followed by the seemingly obligatory piper's lament, and then at about 5:30 the dawn service started.

You've probably all heard by now that Helen Clark's (the NZ PM) speech was gracious, heartfelt, included us a few times and was above all brief. Howard's was 'good' in that it could have won prizes, but his delivery was quite wooden and it was obvious he didn't have much hand in writing it. He mentioned NZ in passing, once, and above all it was long. But that over with, they handed over to the chaplains for the service proper.

Since it was the first time this site was used, it was consecrated, dedicated and had plaques unveiled. This was followed by another hymn and then the wreath laying. From where we were we really couldn't see much detail in what was going on (especially with those damn floodlights, shining on the crowd! Nobody's photos will turn out, I'm sure). All through this we had been turning around occasionally to watch the sky gradually lighten. Finally, it was up to the national president of the RSL, Major General Peter Phillips to recite the ode of remembrance.

The bugler came out for the last post, which was very moving but had nothing on the two minutes silence. As soon as he stopped, the place was completely silent, and then the birds started twittering, perfectly on cue. It was serenely, peacefully beautiful. Aside from the birds, there was not one single sound. Amazing, considering who was there, how old were and how many of us there were.

Reveille signalled the end of the silence, followed by the anthems - Turkey, NZ and that old chestnut Advance Australia Fair. Only the first verses though, which I thought a bit of a cop out ;-). As the official party left, you really could sense a difference in the crowd that had stood there three hours earlier. I challenge any one of you to go to Gallipoli for the dawn service, or at any time, and not be moved.

We broke up to go back to the bus, which was to take us to seperate services at Chunuk Bair for the Kiwis and Lone Pine for the Aussies. The scene at Lone Pine was almost more spectacular. Lone pine itself is a rectangular area, probably about the size of a football field, maybe a little bigger, with a stone monument at the 'front', the pine itself (does anyone know if that's the original Lone Pine?) roughly in the middle, and rows of memorial stones across. It was about 9:30 or so by this time and there were probably 5000 people there already.

Graves at Anzac Cove
Graves at Anzac Cove, 25 April 2000
Robert Atkins

I walked around to look at the memorial stones and the second one I came to bore the name of Taylor (Mum's maiden name) and the age 23. The fact that 85 years ago there were people like me fighting and dying right where I stood suddenly became a lot more real.

I had a bit more of a wander around looking for people I knew (that is, other travellers) and didn't find anyone, so I put my head down on my back pack for a while (there were people rugged up in sleeping bags all over the place). I must have dozed off for at least an hour, and I awoke to the sound of programs being unfurled.

I forgot to mention before, but as well as the band recital they had some drip wailing out 'I am, you are, we are Australian' at the dawn service. He was woeful. He could not reach any of the notes, could not hold them if he did manage to get there, and to add insult to injury he seemed to have a slightly plummy British accent. Well, he was back, this time trying to encourage us into the last chorus with a shout of 'Everybody!'. We humoured him just so he'd get off. If they'd had someone like Neil Finn singing 'And the band played Waltzing Matilda', there would not have been a dry eye in the place. Neil Finn in particular, so we'd have something to argue with the Kiwis about ('He's ours!', 'No he's not, he's ours!' :-).

In any case, the service proper started, led by the chaplian. A reading, psalm 23, some hymns which none of us knew, an excerpt from a poem called 'The ANZAC graves of Gallipoli', by M Thwaites, which was quite moving. Then the Honourable John Howard, MP took the microphone again and totally redeemed himself. His speech was obviously something he had some hand in writing, this time. It was personal, relevant and moving. He spoke about the battle at Lone Pine, and the 7 Victoria Crosses awarded there, but quoted one of the men who said that every man there performed a feat of unbelievable bravery, but only some were noticed by commanding officers. He told us the names of the VC recipients, their ages and their professions - all things that many of us were employed doing. It again brought home in an incredible way the reality of what had happened there 85 years ago. It was really quite a special service and definitely changed the way everybody present thought about themselves, their country and its history.

I tell you what, they got a pretty rousing 'Advance Australia Fair' out of us after all that ;-).

When the Lone Pine service finished, we got back on the bus and went in to Ecebat to check in to our hotel and have lunch. [extract deleted]

In front of the Vegemite Bar in Cannakle, Turkey
In front of the Vegemite Bar in Cannakle, Turkey, April 2000
Robert Atkins

About 20 minutes walk down the road from the hotel ('Ece', from memory, in case you wish to avoid it in the future), by the water, there's a dingy pub called 'the Vegemite Bar'. This was obviously the place to go :-). They'd set up a camping ground on the empty block opposite which was already starting to fill up. We all headed in there for a few quiet beers and an attempt to remember all the words to 'And the band played Waltzing Matilda'. We almost made it, too. Everyone agreed that the Lone Pine/Chunuk Bair services were a lot more personal and moving than the dawn service for the Aussie and Kiwi contingent respectively.

 

Statue of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk
Statue of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, 25 April 2000
Robert Atkins

After a couple of hours we jumped back on the bus for the tour of the 'sites' as it were. We saw the original landing site at Anzac Cove, and it would have been way, way, too small for as many people as were there that morning. Simpson (he of the Donkey fame) was there, but the most moving part was a stone monument carved with the words of Attaturk, the Turkish commander, spoken in 1934:

'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 the 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 '

The above is from a man who, when sending in his troops to a particular battle, told them that he did not expect them to win, he expected them to die. I have not seen any more beautiful words written and they're making me a bit misty still as I write this. But can you imagine seeing them at Anzac cove, on a hill above the memorial to the first landing?

After this we continued around and saw some more battle sites, trenches that had been restored (you just can't comprehend how close they were together, I've absolutely no idea at all how you're meant to run a war like that) and a small museum containing, among other things, letters written home by troops from both sides.

Side note: Near one Turkish memorial some portaloos had been erected. A couple of us went, and emerged to find a shining-eyed Turkish boy, not older than about thirteen, demanding a couple of million lira out of us. Little turd... I pushed some shrapnel into his hand (worth about, oh, 50 cents), told him to piss off and walked past. I'm pleased for him that I don't know Turkish otherwise I would have had to thump him for what he called me.

By this time we were all so tired (another side note: you don't realise how hard it is to avoid clich├ęs like 'dead tired' and 'dead silence' until you have to do it) and it was back on the bus and back to the hotel.

And it's just about the same story for me: back on the tube and back to my bit of lounge room floor at Rodney's place.

Cheers, until tomorrow (I have to get all of this out of me before I forget :-), Robert.