We will remember them.
Lest we forget.
The Ode of Remembrance
For a very long time, I have wanted to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on 25 April, ANZAC Day. This is a very special and sombre day for Australians and New Zealanders, as it commemorates the sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) in the First World War, and those nations’ service-men and -women everywhere.
In late April 1915 the Australians and New Zealanders joined an Allied force who were attempting to take the Gallipoli Peninsula from Turkish control. This was in order to force a passage through the Dardanelle Straits, giving easy passage to Constantinople (Istanbul), and from there to create a new front against Russia. The ANZAC involvement came after the failure of a British naval campaign masterminded by Winston Churchill, and would end with casualties numbering between 300-500,000 from both the Allied and Turkish sides. From the first landing of forces on 25 April, the ANZACs experienced brutal conditions of first a scorching summer and then a bitter winter, together with all the common battlefield illnesses. Many of the soldiers were in their late teens and early twenties and this was their first experience of war, and for many it was also their last. During the eight month campaign they never gained more than a toe-hold on the peninsula, and for most of the time were fighting troops well above them on the hillside. Finally, in December 1915 the order was given to evacuate, with no gains made at all. The campaign was a failure.
Every year on 25 April New Zealanders and Australians, as well as other nations, gather at North Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula for a dawn service of remembrance. I knew this would be one of my highlights of my Turkish trip, but even then I didn’t anticipate quite how moving and heart-wrenching I would find the occasion.
We took the ferry over to the Peninsula on 24 April, and joined the ‘holding pen’ at Kabatepe. You can only attend the dawn ceremony at Gallipoli as part of a guided tour, and each coach is given a number as they arrive. These determine the order in which you allowed into the grounds and therefore whether you’ll be sleeping on a grassy slope or a grandstand seat! We arrived fairly early and spent our afternoon wandering the beach, catching up with our Antipodean friends, and watching makeshift games of football and cricket.
Looking at the Gallipoli Peninsula from our ferry on the Çanakkale side of the Dardanelles
Relaxed crowds beneath the trees at Kabatepe
After moving through another beachside holding area, we were let into the commemorative grounds late in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, warm with a light breeze. We quickly nabbed a spot on the grass to set up our bedrolls and sleeping bags. With plenty of snacks and a well-catered site, we were able to relax and begin to contemplate the reason we were there.
Our group of girls all set up!
The site, with the Sphinx behind us
At 8pm, we were officially welcomed. I hadn’t really anticipated it, but the all-night programme of performances, documentaries, story-telling and remembrance then began on the big screens and stage. There were fascinating segments explaining more of the history, the events of the campaign, and the stories of those who gave their lives and those who survived. I had thought I would struggle to sleep, but instead it was more of a battle to stay awake and listen to as much as I could take in!
A special performance by the New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group
Snug in my sleeping bag in the early hours of the morning
I chose not to take photographs during the dawn ceremony as I wanted to experience every moment of it. Suffice to say, I found it extremely moving. For those who have not attended one, they include speeches honouring those who took part in the campaign, readings, hymns, and prayers, as well as a moment of silence. Even now, almost two months later, it is difficult to articulate just how special it was to be there, sharing with everyone as we honoured those who had gone before us.
After the dawn ceremony, we left the commemorative site to climb the hills behind for our own ceremonies – the Australians at Lone Pine, and the New Zealanders at Chunuk Bair. Along the way, we were able to visit some of the grave sites now maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, and see remains of some of the trenches beside the road.
Shrapnel Valley Cemetery
The view from part-way up the hills
Quinn’s Post Cemetery
These dips to the side of the road are the remains of trenches
The Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial
The New Zealand service takes place at Chunuk Bair, a key fighting point for the New Zealand forces at Gallipoli. A massive offence was staged to take it in August 1915, with a corresponding loss of life. Its panoramic views over the surrounding peninsula make it clear why such a huge emphasis was placed on trying to win the position.
Again I didn’t take many photographs during the ceremony, instead focusing on hearing some of the uniquely Kiwi perspectives on the campaign. I loved the jaunty military band who had played through the night and entertained us again. Another highlight was the New Zealand Governor-General, Jerry Mateparae, who entered before the ceremony and greeted much of the crowd with a classic “Good to see ya!”. He gave both his prepared speech and, at the end of the ceremony, a moving off-the-cuff speech about the impact of Gallipoli on New Zealand and also on his own family, as his grandfather had served here.
Two days later we were able to return to Gallipoli to see more of the historic sites and to experience the peninsula without the crowds. It was equally moving to wander the cemeteries and read the inscriptions of the headstones commemorating those who now lie there. We were also able to gaze down on North Cove from the perspective of the Turkish defenders, which really brought home to me what a futile task it was to try to climb and hold those virtually impregnable hills.
Ari Burnu Cemetery
I loved this beautiful quote from Mohammed Kemal Atatürk, who was one of the heroes of the First World War on the Turkish side, and later became Turkey’s first President after the formation of the Republic of Turkey. The sentiment behind his words translated today into the warm welcome we received from Turkish people throughout our trip and particularly in Gallipoli.
The Australian memorial at Lone Pine
Looking down the sandy hills to North Cove and the commemorative site
To those that are thinking of visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It would be deeply moving to be there at any time of year, but I was particularly glad to visit it for ANZAC Day, as I felt like I gained so much from experiencing the ceremonies – and I learnt so much more as well! In no way do I want to glorify war, as if anything Gallipoli demonstrates its true futility. However, I know the time I spent there will be a memory to treasure forever.