ANZAC Day is celebrated on April 25th. A day for the nation to sit back and reflect on the sacrifices made by the young soldiers during the awful period of war, particularly in Gallipoli, Turkey. Being a proud Australian, the word ANZAC resonates deeply inside me. Respect, gratitude and heroism sit right at the top of a vast list of emotions that swell up when the mere mention of the occurrences, past and present, our soldiers had to endure to protect ideals they felt were important enough to sacrifice their lives for.
Lest we forget
For those unaware of the word ANZAC, it is the acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the soldiers listed among them. Other terms such as "digger" are also used, but generally ANZAC is the word we use to describe our soldiers, World war 1 in particular. Even though no one in my family fought as an ANZAC, I still felt that I owed them a lot as my life in Australia would have been vastly different if it not for their actions in the past.
My chance to pay homage to these men came around on my previous trip to Turkey and I decided to visit Gallipoli - a well known yet mysterious location. As the bus drove from Istanbul, the weather turned increasingly dreary so as to enhance the sombre day that was ahead. With a bus change and a cup of tea we arrived at Gallipoli and commenced the tour. Even before we got to the landing point the atmosphere changed as the bus fell silent.
Looking down the beach at Anzac cove
On a positive note, the tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, which added great value to the tour. Dates, numbers and historical accounts flowed from his mouth with unbiased vigor. A tour guide for this place is definitely a must.
The first stop was Anzac cove where the Anzacs first landed at dawn on April 25, 1915 to little resistance initially. A combination of incorrect maps and missed landings unfortunately got this campaign off on the wrong foot from the beginning. It was here that the Anzacs commenced the assault on Gallipoli against the Ottomans.
I stood there and the beach was so calm and still. It was hard to imagine looking out and thinking that men had died here, young men. You could almost sense their rapid breaths, wide eyes, racing hearts as they gripped their rifles with white knuckles and charged forward into a foreign land. The cliffs were steep, the scrub dense and the trek up to the top even more hazardous as they started off on lower ground.
View from the beach up to "the Sphinx"
Sign marking the cove
Gravestones. Even though it was depressing as you would expect, it was also rather interesting. I've always found reading headstones fascinating. Even though technically it's just a piece of marble with some letters and numbers etched into it, it's almost like you subconsciously conjure up an image of what the person looked like. I wonder if it's your mind trying to have a personal association with an inanimate object. According to the guide, the direction the headstone is facing also relates to religion and the period of time the soldier was killed. The white headstones really stood out against the stark dreary day.
Each with its own story
Sad when you think about it
As a young boy I remember watching the movie about Simpson and his donkey. Even at that young age the selflessness that he and his ever faithful donkey showed was moving and the ending really upset me. The basic story is that John Simpson and his donkey were allowed to enter the battlefield and collect the wounded from the battlefield and move them to the beach which saved many young lives. He was respected and considered a "non- target," by the trained Turkish soldiers. However, when the younger drafted soldiers came in they did not know the rules of war (in regards to medics) and he was gunned down. To me, it was a real honor to pay my respects at his headstone at Gallipoli. He demonstrated the true Anzac spirit.
As the day wore on we made our way up and down the terrain with all aspects of the battle being described to us. To look out and try to imagine that not a single piece of vegetation was left in the area (albeit Lone pine) was near impossible. Today, thick dense bush covers the soil that was once drenched with blood, sweat and covered in metal. Now, it looks innocent and renewed, but no matter how hard mother nature tries to hide the past in this place is it not easily forgotten.
With world war I being all about trench warfare, it is nearly impossible to contemplate the hardships that everyone went through. If the bullets didn't kill you, then the disease did and if you survived that then the cold winters were the next to push your body to its absolute limits. Tales of weak soldiers falling down and drowning in knee deep mud are not uncommon and a scary thought. Evidence of the trenches are still clearly visible today with some being less that 5 meters apart. They were literally looking down the barrel of each other's guns.
A literal maze of canals
Reality of it all is present everywhere
As much as the whole battle field is one big sad story of human suffering and misery, there is one place that demonstrates how utterly wasteful of human life war can be. The battle of Lone Pine ran between the 6-10 August 1915. This battle was meant to act as a diversion for the allies and according to original estimates that battle was meant to only last for a few hours. Being a great vantage point meant that it was an important position to have. The Australians knew this but so did the Turkish and the battle raged on insistently over 4 days.
Lone Pine memorial
The battle lines were so close that sometimes grenades were tossed back 3 or 4 times before they exploded. Bodies were set up on top of the trenches to be used as a barricade against counter attacks. Eventually, the Anzacs won and the Turkish retreated. It was said that you could walk from the Australian trenches to the Turkish and not lay a foot on the ground, such was the density of dead bodies. In the end 2,200 Australians died and 5,000-6,000 Turkish died. In the aftermath, there was only one piece of vegetation left, a single Turkish pine tree, the remnant of a fierce battle which later came to be known as the Battle for Lone Pine.
When I arrived at Lone Pine it was literally dead silent. No birds, no voices, no vehicle noise. Utter silence. The gravel crunched beneath my feet and constantly reminded me of the brutality that had once occurred in this place. To look at this place of peace and think back to the magnitude of the violence seemed difficult. Yet, I could visualize the dust in the air, the sounds of gun fire and grenade, the screams of attack and honor replaced with the screams of injury and death. What a tragic place.
Soldiers who gave everything
Beauty amongst horror
To say it is a tourist attraction is in my mind blasphemy in its highest form. It is a shrine of remembrance, but on a landscape scale and not just a tribute to the ANZACs but also the Turkish. The men who fought here had ideals, honor, courage, but one can only guess what horrors they endured and what they needed to do in order to survive. Sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and even grandfathers died at Gallipoli leaving loved ones behind. They did it for them and their country. Nothing but men being used as pawns in the global political game of chess.
Where it began and ended
Despite the horror there was still respect and comradery among the opposing sides
The Dardanelles - To capture this was the reason for it all
I went to Gallipoli with mixed emotions and intrigue. I left changed, grounded and respectful towards those who fought on both sides of the battle. To have stepped foot on a piece of land that is famous for all the wrong reasons reaffirmed the tragic waste of war to me. I am angry that this unnecessary loss to human life continues today. Have we not learned anything from the past, the pain of previous wars or haunting memories left behind by those who sacrificed everything?
Lest we forget.