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Turkey, Part 2: Anzac Cove, Anzac Day 2009.

TURKEY | Monday, 11 May 2009 | Views [1813] | Comments [1]

Karl and I at Anzac Cove

Karl and I at Anzac Cove

Waiting in the sunshine in the bustling crowds outside Aya Sofya, we were all relaxed. There were 34 of us, Australians and New Zealanders, who had made the trip to Turkey for Anzac Day from our respective homes around the world, and we were almost on our way to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Except, our bus was stuck in the busy Istanbul Traffic and little did we realise, but this wouldn’t be the last time we would be waiting for hours for our bus this weekend.

You can’t really gain entry to the service at Anzac Cove unless you’re with a tour group, so like everyone else, I’d joined the hundreds of reputable (and not so reputable) companies that make the pilgrimage to the site. Eventually on the bus and fed, we had started the final leg our journey. There was nowhere near the amount of traffic, and more specifically buses, on the road heading in the same direction as us as I’d thought. We toyed around with the idea that we might be one of a few hundred people who turn up, but then the massive party that was the hostel strip in Sultanhamet the night before would go against that theory.

After getting to know you chats on the bus, a very scratch copy of the film ‘Gallipoli’ with Mel Gibson and a quick nap we arrive in Eceabat for some dinner. The restaurant served us a traditional ‘mixed grill’ and we all filled ourselves up on the bread before the long night. Next step was making sure we had enough supplies of water, munchies, clothing and blankets to keep us going for the night, while avoiding the inflated prices of the Turkish vendors selling souvenirs of the occasion. Back on the bus and we drove into Anzac Cove just as the sun was setting.

On our first glimpse of the Cove, a bus full of adults became as excited as school kids on the last day of term. We received our corresponding bus tags (so we could find the right bus tomorrow afternoon), began piling all our layers of clothing and jackets on so we didn’t have to carry them and walked to the first checkpoint.

There were lots of Aussie, Kiwi and Turkish volunteers with friendly faces greeting us and handing out wrist tags and calico bags with order of service books and poncho’s in them. When we walked through into the site where the dawn service was to take place, I couldn’t’ help but think that it looked a lot smaller than I’d thought it would. Then I guess temporary grandstands all around it and a few thousand people would make it look kind of closed in. The bun fight began for some space of grass to sit/lie on for the night and we settled down for the evening.

The event was so well run with the respective governments going to a lot of effort to keep everyone entertained and happy; the military bands and various documentaries really set the tone for the event, but in a nice way – not at all depressing to the point where people are sitting there in tears, they just left an impression. At one point I looked up from my sleeping bag and I was one of about eight people all huddled together to keep warm and find enough space to stretch out a little. This morning we were strangers, tonight we were spooning; but as I pointed out, no one was complaining – we were all warm and managed to get some sleep.

Before I knew it, I was being woken by the sound of Kevin Rudd’s voice (something I never thought I’d hear myself say!), as the Prime Minister of Australian and then New Zealand delivered their addresses via satellite. I had been hoping K Rudd would be there himself so I could thank him in person for funding my Gallipoli Pilgrimage with his financial stimulus package, as a lot of us joked about. As  I woke myself up and stretched out the aching muscles after lying on the ground for a fair while, I watched the sun rise over the cliffs behind me and the 3 flags in front of me being lowered and then raised to half mast in preparation for the dawn service.

The Dawn Service itself felt like it went really quickly, but in actual fact it was about an hour long. Right before the last post was played, I realised that the sun had almost completely risen over the cliffs and the breeze that had kept the temperature so cold all night had disappeared. It was eerily calm and everyone’s demeanour reflected the glassiness of the water in front of us. I had expected to be moved by the experience, but it wasn’t until the final part of the ceremony that it really struck home about where I was and what I was experiencing. One military dignitary left us with the words to ‘tread carefully’ as we were standing on the ground where now, our fellow countrymen who had died for our nation and others, were resting. I hadn’t really thought about the patch of grass that had been my bed that night up until then.

From there, we walked along the beach where Simpson and his Donkey walked and laughed about how as kids it’s the one thing everyone remembers about the war. Not the battles or what it all meant, but that some bloke carried the wounded on his donkey to the makeshift hospital. Then the trek and the stripping started. Well not so much stripping in the sense of it. As we all hiked up the hill towards Lone Pine, and the warmth of the sun became stronger, the layers that had been piled on the night before quickly came off. There was absolutely no where private to take off your 2 t-shirts, jumpers and thermals, so the Aussies and Kiwis did what they do best: stripped off on the side of the path. Mind you, by the time we had almost reached Lone Pine I was doing the same!

The atmosphere walking into Lone Pine was great. A bit like a footy match, just without the bogans I think. People were sitting on the grass amongst the memorial plaques and underneath the shade of the lone pine. And that’s where we joined them. I looked around and the Aussie pride was at its best; clothing, flags and temporary tattoos everywhere emblazoned with the flag. The service here was just as good as the dawn service, but perhaps the national anthem was sung with a little more gusto this time. Again the service felt like it was over very quickly, and I’m not sure whether the sombre nature of the crowd here was due to the occasion or due to the lack of sleep and then the hike up the hill, probably a mixture of both. 

Our guide was determined to get us all to see the Turkish ceremony that was on next. So we all managed to get our way past the crowds queuing for food and drinks outside and head up the hill a little further to the Turkish site. Unfortunately it had already started so they weren’t letting anyone else in, but we managed to find a spot on the side looking over the walls to catch a glimpse of the ceremony. It seemed so much more colourful than the Australian service, traditional costumes and kids singing – the works. We continued up the hill (the hardest part of the hike really) towards Chanuk Bair for the New Zealand service and ran into the thousands of people who were doing the same thing. This space is a lot smaller than the Lone Pine cemetery, and as a result we couldn’t get in to the actual service so we sat outside on the grass and listened to it via speakers.

The end to our time at the Gallipoli Peninsula was just as important as the rest of the weekend. I guess the logistics of getting close to 10 thousand people on to over 500 buses is pretty chaotic, and we won the prize for being one of the last buses to collect it passengers (literally one of the last 3 busses). But this didn’t bother us at all – we spent a good 3 hours sitting in the sunshine just talking to all the people on our tour, thinking about all that we had experienced over the two days and attempting to catch a little sleep if possible. This time to just relax and think about what we’d seen and done was a perfect way to end our experience of Anzac Day in Gallipoli – we joked about how it would have been a perfect time for a game of two-up!

Arriving back in Istanbul close to midnight, we stumbled off the bus, organised groups to walk to our respective hostel/hotels with and swapped facebook names. Yesterday morning, I didn’t’ know these people. Tonight I was walking away from friends that I had spent a once in a lifetime experience with (and considering the spooning, swapping emails seemed the fitting thing!).

Tags: anzac day, turkey



Hi Kate,
I enjoy keeping up with your adventures! Peter and I visited Gallipoli just before Christmas last year. Only four of us on the tour (all Aussies) and the only bus (a seven seater). It was still a moving experience and Anzac Cove looked small even then with only the six of us looking out to sea.
Cheers Marg

  Marg Byrne May 11, 2009 10:19 AM



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