15 - Dispatch From ANZAC Day
It turned from Spring back into Winter on the eve of ANZAC Day. Blossoms blew off the trees and white caps on the cove. Unlike Jean, I could not nap but stayed up with the lads in the pub until our midnight departure - including a mile or so of night march to the commemoration site.
Gallipoli is still a wild and open place populated only this day of the year as thousands of Aussies and Kiwis trudge in after a 6 hour bus trip from Istanbul - few places to get a room anywhere near the battlefields. Security was everywhere - and a quick trip to the bushes could lead to an encounter with a camouflaged commando - "Present Arms!"
With our Australian government connections, we managed to get bleacher seats - while the "young folks" joined the masses stacked up in sleeping bags or at least wearing all they had - about -3C by 3AM and 25 knots of wind zipping up the beach. It was a great test of those who stood vigil throughout the night to endure until the dawn service. And a reminder of the hardships endured by those who landed here 93 years ago - wearing wet wool and leather boots.
There was a jumbo-tron screen to watch and all was broadcast live back to AUS and NZ - but this is not an entertainment event - no pop stars or disco lightshows. Historic reviews and interviews with some of the members of our group who had come to see the graves of family members - often the first by anyone since WWI ended and the dead were finally buried.
The mood was light until the sky started to lighten, the delegations of VIPs were seated and the military ceremony began. Then it grew serious with speeches and greetings from various governments and many wreaths were laid.
We then walked an additional few miles up to the hill to Granddad's unit's spot at Lone Pine, for a daylight Aussie memorial. Someone suggested that the 8 to 9 thousand in attendance were about equal the numbers lost on this little hilltop - a shocking mental image as we scan the huge crowd.
A Turkish officer ended the dawn service by quoting Turkish President Ataturk's famous speech given at the first commemoration here in 1934:
"To 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 to us between the Johnnies and the Mehmets - 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."
As a lone bugler blew the Last Post - not a dry eye in the house. The sun began to light-up the cliffs and gullies that Granddad's mates fought up and filled with their bodies. I am drained of emotion - cold, tired and stunned by the honor of being present. It is an experience never to be forgotten - as they too will not.
- Remembrance Rod