Saturday, May 4, 2013
ANZAC Day @ Gallipoli - Lest we forget
Lest we forget.
ANZAC DAY / GALLIPOLI 2013
We will never forget. The journey that we were privileged to experience on the Gallipoli peninsula was incredible! A journey of both heart-gripping and breathtaking emotions as well as a surreal pilgrimage; a tiny glimpse of what the ANZACS went through on the 25th April, 1915. I feel wordless and yet so excitable about the entire thing. It was something that we will always be so grateful that we did. And something that we will never, ever forget!
We embarked on a 5 day tour with Top Deck, discovering a quick peek of Istanbul and Gallipoli. Tim and I both quickly befriended the colourful, buzzing streets of Istanbul. But, it’s fair to say that we left our hearts on the shores of the Gallipoli National Park, with the many remaining there. Men of bravery, men of obedience, and men, who courageously and heroically left family, loved ones and their country behind.
To describe the entire scene to you is immensely impossible, as it truly was one of those “you had to be there” moments. But there are a few standouts, of which we will do our best to relay to you. Firstly, if you ever do get a chance to go to Gallipoli, especially over ANZAC day, I would highly recommend it, as it really is (as cliché as it sounds) a life-changing experience. The way that the tour works is that the bus drives down to Gallipoli from Istanbul, in a convoy of about 14 other buses (these are just Top Deck buses – there were hundreds of others)! Everyone was exceptionally aware of the fact that we were to get very little sleep throughout the coming night, so the bus ride was an attempt to credit us all some shut-eye. However, I know for me that this was rather hard when the uncertainty of what we were embarking on was causing an excited jitter, dancing in the pit of my stomach.
When we arrived we soon discovered we were only a small portion of those who had come to be astonished by this eerie but stunning site. There were over 5,000 people there! Needless to say, the organisation of getting into the site required a huge amount of patience. The groups of buses were lined up and sent in by clusters of 3. In waiting for our bus number to be called up, we managed to find ourselves wandering over to the beach that was gloriously welcoming us with a booming shout of sunshine. It was immediately evident that we were in the company of other Aussies and Kiwis; the echo of voices exclaiming how amazing the soft sand was and warmth of the sun gave it away, along with the thick Aussie accents strewn across the shore.
When our bus number “11” was eventually called out, our tour of 40 all jumped up and joined the queue, awaiting entry into what would become a very vivid and powerful memory. We went through airport style security checks and eventually made it out onto the other side. It was already packed! There were small areas of grass which had been transformed into multi-coloured seas of rustling sleeping bags. Our hope to claim a spot on the ground was quickly demolished and we made way for the grandstand – this was going to be an interesting night, trying to sleep on hard chairs and narrow flooring. Yet, our moods were not dampened. In fact, our group of about 8 people seemed thrilled to be there, despite the lack of luxury; it was all an experience and we figured we were immeasurably lucky in comparison to the hundreds of fellow Australians and New Zealanders who lay amongst the grounds of Gallipoli, never to be awakened.
We had bags full of snacks and layers of clothing that were utilised one by one as the night went on. Whilst it was predicted to get down to less than 10 degrees during the night, everyone was cheering, as there had been years where it would bucket down with rain and drop below 0. Staring out at the 5,000 bodies covering the grounds, we were so thankful that we managed to get the weather we did. We were perched up on our seats, limbless as we were cocooned into the sleeping bags, and started watching the videos and listening to the conducts of the many performers and speakers. This was one of our highlight moments. I am almost devastated that I did manage to get a few moments of sleep, as I missed some of the amazing documentaries that were played, but what I did manage to catch was unbelievable. There were videoed interviews with soldiers that had survived Gallipoli. There was information about the specifics of what actually occurred – something I was quite hazy about. The incredible and humbling thing was also getting the Turkish perspective. I have so much respect for the beautiful Turkish people, allowing us to come and remember our soldiers, who fought on their land, against their people.
A message that became very clear over the time we spent in Gallipoli was that the two sides fought out of obedience and instruction; however, they had great respect for each other, despite the dismal situation in which they were brought together as enemies. In times of cease fire the Turkish soldiers and ANZACS would share food, supplies and treat the dead of the opposing side with utmost respect, giving them back so they could be buried. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the Turkish commander at the time showed this respect when he said of the fallen ANZAC soldiers 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."
One of the most amazing performances that I was awake to hear was the Gallipoli Symphony playing an incredibly moving piece by Australian composer Andrew Schultz. The piece, titled The August Offensive, is part eight of ten orchestrated movements which are composed each year, leading to the 100 year anniversary. At this milestone, in 2015, all ten movements will be orchestrated into one entire symphony. The powerful and emotive music transcended time and space and so skilfully created a vivid picture of wartime.
In between moments of being awake and being groggy with exhaustion, we were soon wide eyed with the beginning of the dawn service. What an incredible time to be there, where the ANZACS so confidently arrived at first light, 98 years earlier. It was the moment when they played the last post and our National Anthems that I lost control of my composure and began to give way to tears bottling up. Everyone felt the emotion, and I knew I wasn’t alone in my wet-cheeked state.
Once the dawn service concluded, everyone began to pack up camp and head out towards Lone Pine, a 3km journey with stunning scenery of the coastline. The picturesque views of the water were frequently juxtaposed with the many cemeteries we saw along the journey. It was a very sobering experience, walking through the cemeteries, reading the tomb-stones of fallen soldiers. To remember it all now, without the threat of tears is still impossible. The heart-felt words from families engraved on the stones hit a little too close to home. I was forced to think about those left behind, those unable to bring back their loved one, the mothers who would never kiss the cheek of their boy again. Involuntarily, it came into my mind of what I would possibly write if I ever had to say goodbye to Tim. I became an inconsolable mess. How impossible to put all your love in a few words. All your heartache…
Once we arrived at the Australian service at Lone Pine, I bid Tim farewell (thankfully not for the last time) as he made his way up, further on to Chunuk Bair where the New Zealand service was held. The site of Lone Pine was given its name from the solitary pine tree that stood before the battle. The site was no bigger than a small football field. It was here where the battle of Lone Pine took place, one of the most famous and devastating assaults of the Gallipoli campaign. In this battle, on one end of the tennis-court-sized field were the thousands of Australians, whilst on the other end were the Turks. Little did our soldiers know, beneath them the Turks were waiting in log covered trenches. The confusion of this complexity meant that they were forced to enter into a nightmare battle of hand to hand combat, killing thousands on both sides. The ferociousness of the battle became the benchmark for the worst kind of war battle. This horrendous battle was deemed a “success” on our part with 2,200 Australians killed or wounded and approximately 7,000 Turks killed or wounded.
It was inconceivable to imagine the entirety of this event taking place in the very grounds of where I stood. The service was very formal, but still had the impact to leave a lasting impression. They had the Royal Navy Band play beautifully with a choir of young Australian students, singing patriotically about peace, equality and “home”, Australia. There were also four young Australians who read out some more heartbreaking tombstone engravings – there I went again, tears streaking my sun-kissed cheeks. The pinnacle of my emotions occured when the official asked for any veterans, past or present, to stand up so we could applaud their bravery and service. Despite that it was near 30 degrees under the shadeless sunshine, I don’t think there was a person present who did not have spine-chilling awe for the standing heroes. I had lost my breath.
It was an honour and an eye-opening adventure to be able to stand in the place where thousands had been laid to rest. What a memory to carry. We all walked out of the experience, knowing that we will never think of ANZAC day the same. Lest we forget.