A travel experience that is high on the list for most Australians is to experience ANZAC Day on the shores of Gallipoli, Turkey.
It is a rite of passage for our culture, and one that needs to be experienced to truly appreciate how this major event in our country’s history helped to define its character.
Experiencing ANZAC Day at Gallipoli was one of the highlights and most moving experiences of my travels around the world.
The Battlefields of Gallipoli and Landing at ANZAC Cove
The day before ANZAC Day was spent touring the battlefields of ANZAC Cove.
Seeing ANZAC Cove for the first time was shocking. The beach was tiny, stretching only about 50m in length, with only a couple of running strides of narrow sand before reaching cliffs so sheer, it was challenging to walk up without sliding back down on the loose gravel and rocks.
I was immediately struck by a feeling of fear and instant death. I was amazed to think that any of our brave men even survived the massacre upon landing at Anzac Cove, let alone raced up the steep ravines and fought back.
Our tour took us to see the trenches of both our men and the Turks, which in some places stood only a few metres apart.
Respect between soldiers
I was touched by the stories I heard, not only of the camaraderie between our men, but also between the ANZAC soldiers and the Turks. Great mutual respect exists between our two cultures. The Turks could not help but admire the way we fought with such courage and tenacity.
Enemy soldiers, at times, would toss cigarettes and food to each other instead of bombs and bullets. During cease fire when it was time to clear the slain from dead man’s land they would each help carry the others fallen to their enemies trenches.
A plaque stands on the shores, written by the great Turk commander which really depicts the feeling of peace and friendship that radiates from Gallipoli:
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 in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well.
ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Gallipoli
Our day began at 2:30am to experience the ceremony commemorating our fallen on that morning of April 25 and for the 8 months that followed. We made our way down to the foreshore to find a seat in preparation for the dawn service.
Craig and I jumped off the bus about 1 km before the ceremonial area to walk the rest of the way, wanting to pay our respects in our own special way.
We came to ANZAC Cove and sat on the cliff face, listening to the silence and reflecting on what had happened 89 years earlier on that very morning.
Under the cover of darkness our brave young man, some still teenagers, sat silently in the boats waiting to approach shore so they could advance upon the unsuspecting Turks.
What they were unaware of was that their commanding officers had mistakenly led them to the wrong cove. At that cove above in the cliff faces lay Turkish snipers waiting to tear them apart, one by one, as soon as the sun rose and revealed their position below. And when dawn arrived this is exactly what they did.
We never had a chance.
This was not what the boys signed up for. They believed they were on an adventure to see the world and would have those Turks easily licked in a few days, returning home quickly to tell all their loved ones about the exotic and beautiful life they experienced on their trip outside the Great South Land.
I sat in that silence space and thought about all this, paying my respects and giving gratitude for the way they so selfishly gave their lives for something they believed was a worthy ideal.
They believed they were protecting their homeland; my home and my future.
I thought about my 27 years of life and how incredibly lucky I had been to live it with the fulfillment of the adventure they had craved, but never had the chance to experience.
What ANZAC Day means to Australians
ANZAC Day is a very special day in Australia, as we see it as not just a day of respect for our fallen soldiers, but a day to remember who we are as a nation and what is so memorable about our culture.
The way our men behaved and fought left an impression upon the rest of the world.
It was the first time we were seen as a nation of our own. Previous to this we were seen as just another colony of Britain.
The Gallipoli battle showed the world that Australia was actually a country and culture of our own right, deserving of respect and admiration. We were seen as courageous, tough fighters who could always find a joke to laugh at no matter how dire the situation.
The importance of mates in Australia
Australia’s idea of “mateship” came about from this period of time in our history, where our ‘mates’ are as loved and as precious to us as our family.
Your mates are who you would live and die for, you would fight for your mates and stand by them no matter what. You’re willing at any time to welcome anyone into your life as a mate.
It’s this ideal that I miss so much about home and is why ANZAC Day is really a mates day.
As the waves gently lapped against the shore, I thanked the ghosts of ANZAC Cove for bringing our nation to the world, on the sacrifice of their blood. I thanked them for creating such a beautiful part of our culture, that we as Australians all love so much.
The remainder of the day was spent running into our mates from home and spending the day with them and our new mates, celebrating and remembering at the various ceremonies.
We sang songs, played two-up, acknowledged our diggers at Lone Pine, and shed tears of pride and sadness.
A Symbolic Farewell from our Turkish brothers
I could not get over the magnanimous gestures of the Turkish people. Year after year, they allow thousands of Aussies and Kiwis to come onto their shores and perform their ceremonies for the soldiers, who almost a hundred years ago, came to invade their land and kill them.
I could not think of any other country that would allow that to happen in all its magnitude. They graciously welcomed us with the warmth of a long-lost friend and showered us with gifts of love and forgiveness.
The final farewell that day is ingrained in my memory as strong symbol of warrior strength, mutual respect and forgiveness.
We were on the hill at Chanuk Bair, paying respect at the place where many Kiwis lost their lives. It was the last ceremony of the day.
The breeze was gently blowing, the sun shining brightly and the smell of pine trees maintained the air of peace that Gallipoli strangely surrounds you with. Maori warriors began their haka war dance when from above came a formation of Turkish fighter jets.
They swooped down towards the Maori warriors, fiercely facing their old enemy once more and then flew up and overhead.
It was their final salute and show of respect, proving that our countries would forever be united, as blood brothers, by what happened on the shores 89 years ago.
Something good thankfully came out of this war for our nations. I was deeply moved by the display of the Turks and the honour they showed us, the invaders.
I will never forget mostly what they taught me that day.
That there is so much power in forgiveness, respecting the worth of all men, even your enemies, and using that power to move forward to new beginnings.
Lest We Forget