Anzac Day… one of the most solemn days for any Australian or New Zealander as we stop to remember our fallen soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War. The battle at Gallipoli lasted some 8 months between the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and the Turkish Ottoman’s who were allied with Germany at the time. On just the Australian side over 8000 lives were lost in our first major offensive as a nation.
Remembrance services are held each year on the 25th of April to remember the fallen, but no ceremony matches the emotion and feeling like the one undertaken at the Gallipoli site in Turkey each year. This year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend thanks to Intrepid Travel who sponsored my spot on their Anzac Day Overnight Tour.
It’s taken me awhile to fully appreciate and digest the experience of attending the ceremony. Seeing Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, The Nek and the landscape in which our soldiers fought is something I’ll never forget. Growing up I always had so much respect for the day, but once you have been to the site where it all happened you will never look at another Anzac Day the same way again.
Attending Anzac Day at Gallipoli is an Australians mecca of sorts, the bucket list item everyone wants to experience before they die and perhaps connect with the Anzac Legend that was formed here.
Taking the simple overnight tour to the site worked out the best way for myself and mate Justin to get to and from the site. There was no rowdy or disrespectful others looking to play up and take away from the event like you see with other tour groups. We were a small group all with the same goal in mind, to reflect and appreciate the experience. It made the 5-6 hours from Istanbul to Gallipoli and then back again a pleasure.
Once on site I was surprised to see just how small the entire area is for the service. I’d always imagined it to be a large site with wide open spaces for the thousands of attendees to sleep and fit in. The reality is that the space is quite limited with the opportunity to sleep laying down or get up close to the speakers area quickly snapped up by the big tour groups.
On the opposite side of the entry is where you’ll find the toilets and food vendors all trying their hardest to lure you into eating one of their average looking kebabs. It’s an experience to say the least and perhaps the only let down from the entire event. I couldn’t help but feel there should have been a good old aussie BBQ fired up to feed the troops so to speak.
The official event doesn’t kick off till dawn but throughout the night the army band play, clips from the war and historical documentaries are played on large screens to keep the crowd entertained. I failed to sleep much at all sitting up in my sleeping bag so found these a great distraction and really informative, especially when they covered the Ottoman side of the battle.
As the dawn service began I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by where I was and what had happened here. The place fell quiet as we stood in silence and all I could do was imagine what is was like for the soldiers to storm the beach here and be faced with huge cliffs and raining bullet fire. A true moment of realisation I guess you could say.
Following the dawn service everyone then trekked the 2 kilometers up hill to Lone Pine for the Australia service while the New Zealanders headed a further 2 kilometers to attend their own unique service. The walk was no easy task, over rocks and gravel that at times felt like I was climbing and not walking up a hill.
The Lone Pine site marks a battle between the Australians and Turkish that was launched as part of a bigger campaign to distract the Turks away from other battles at Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair. Fitting then that this is the Australian Memorial site. It was here that Julia Gillard (our Prime Minister for those that don’t know) mingled in the crowd greeting everyone before the service got underway.
The service here is somewhat like I’ve experienced back home in Australia given its entirely focused on Australias participation and remembrance. The minute’s silence here was even more chilling given the lines of graves that lay before us on the ground around the lone pine that stands tall in the center of the memorial.
Following the service you could either trek higher like Justin and myself did or simple explore the surroundings of Lone Pine. We headed further up the steep road taking particular note of the extremely dense vegetation along the road. As well as walking in what we believed to be the remains of trenches the soldiers used.
Our last stop was The Nek. The battle that took part here between the Australian’s and the Turkish is perhaps better described as sending men to be murdered and not battle. Due to a series of failures some 300+ men leapt from their trench and were killed or injured within a 10 minutes timeframe. All of that happened in an area that was only some 27 meters wide…
I’d heard people say the area was no bigger than a tennis court but never really grasped the concept until seeing it for myself. But there it was, an area so tiny where so many men lost their lives so so senselessly. There are reports that 316 men are buried on this spot with only 5 having ever been identified.
The experience of Anzac Day here was something I’ll never forget. This site marks the spot of so much loss but also bares the spirit of the Anzac Legend that empowers so much of the Australian way of life. We are a country of battlers and would do anything for our mates. I urge every Australian to attend Anzac Day here just once so that they can pay their respects and fully appreciate everything that unfolded during the battle at Gallipoli.
I attended the service with good mate Justin who has written about his experience as well. If you have you been to the Anzac Service at Gallipoli I’d love to hear what you thought. Let me know in the comments below.
This is definitely something that I want to do one of these years. Going to Gallipoli on Anzac day is kind of like an Australian pilgrimage.
You are so right….it’s such an important place to go to, and the Dawn Service just makes it all the more significant for a young Aussie.
Walking along the graves at ANZAC Cove just really hit it home to me – they were all so very, very young!
I did the Dawn Service in 2005 – http://jouljet.blogspot.com/2005/04/remembering-anzacs.html
And I abandoned the party group we were with, cos it just is not about that. So important to soak it in properly, and pay respects.
Since being there at Gallipoli, I have made a point of going to a Dawn Service in NZ and home in Melbourne, and really keen to get to the one at the Australian War Memorial next year.
amazing! I was always told to go but it had never been on my list, I can see why it is recommended now. The idea that they play all the videos and clips from when it happened would be great and really educational. Its something on my list now. thanks for sharing.
Great read! ANZAC day would definitely be an eye-opening experience!
Thanks Tom. It really was a overwhelming experience to be there and while I’ve always had a lot of time for Anzac Day in the past, this just ensures I’ll continue to do so.
I haven’t been in a pilgrimage before but it seems to be quite the fulfilling experience spiritually.
I went last year (after having to delay my trip 12 months due to the 2010 ash cloud), and I’m still not sure I can articulate what it meant to be there. You’re right, its very much a ‘bucket list’ thing for many Aussies…..there were a few things that have really stuck with me: 1) how those cliffs must have looked from the sea – they looked daunting enough from where we were sitting. 2) the experience of being at Lone Pine was, for me, more emotional then the main service (I think because it was the first time in a long time I’d been around a massive group of other Aussies). 3) reading the names and ages on some of the plaques….so sad. 4) the moment of the ‘Last Post’ at the main service….still gives me chills thinking about it.