As the 100th anniversary approaches this month, I thought it was long overdue that I share my experience from attending last year’s ANZAC Day service in Gallipoli, Turkey.
My first thought when I arrived was just how beautiful a place Gallipoli (or Çanakkale in Turkish) actually is.
Whenever I think of it my first images are of bloodshed and battles but under the sunshine, despite its horrific past it now feels a very peaceful place.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey was a commander for the Ottomans in Gallipoli during WW1 and there’s a touching quote by him on display at the site today. In case my photo is a bit unclear it reads:
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 faraway 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
ANZAC Day is a relatively unknown outside of Australia and New Zealand, it is a national day of rememberance for all soldiers who have bravely fought for their countries.
It originally started though out of respect to those who died in Gallipoli fighting for the Allies against the Ottoman Empire during WW1.
The aim of the Gallipoli campaign was to eventually take over Constantinople (which is Istanbul today) as the Ottomans were in league with the Germans.
The allies weren’t expecting the Ottomans to be ready for them and paired with bad weather, rough landing conditions and terrain the troops suffered many casualties. What was meant to be a short battle then dragged on for eight months.
The exact number of casualties is understandably difficult to confirm but it is assumed that more than 100,000 men on both sides, lost their lives at Gallipoli.
I chose to visit Gallipoli for ANZAC Day with the tour company Topdeck, as part of a bigger two week journey around Turkey. Since it is a massive event I felt it was a great choice since there’s a lot of procedure to follow.
We arrived the day before on April 24 in the afternoon and had to wait a few hours until the site actually opened. There were people playing cricket, sitting on the beach and walking around paying respects to some of the graves.
Once inside there’s a stage area set up for the dawn service and our group managed to get lucky by going in early and getting a spot on the grass which meant we could actually lie down to sleep overnight. Others who missed out simply spent the night in spectator chairs which seemed a little more uncomfortable.
It gets very cold at night time so bring lots of warm clothing and we brought along some plastic tarps to put underneath our sleeping bags too since the grass becomes really dewy and damp too.
Through out the night there was a variety of videos being played which included interviews from family members of ANZAC troops, people telling the stories of men who fought at Gallipoli through their diary entries and messages from the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers.
At dawn the service began and everyone stood in silence to remember together.
The mood was hard to describe but it was as if everyone there mutually understood and thanked the sacrifice of these men, many of whom lost their lives at just 17 and 18 years old.
Afterwards everyone hiked up to services at Lone Pine for Australians and Chunuk Bair for the New Zealanders. I sadly wasn’t able to do so because of a sprained ankle and was very disappointed to have missed out on the walk there.
Following these services we returned to Istanbul and as we left I reflected on Atatürk’s heartfelt speech. I really got the sense that both sides (the Turks and the ANZACS) understood one another not only at the time the war was happening but now too and there’s a mutual respect for each other, despite the fighting.
Being able to pay memory to these soldiers on ANZAC Day at Gallipoli was a really special experience that I’ll remember always.