G'day Mates. It's a gaggle of geese, a gang of crows, and a mob of kangaroos. So too Australians, in any number, are called a mob. We have joined such a mob. They have come to Turkey in the care of the Australian War Memorial's Gallipoli Tour 2008 - researchers, history buffs, grandmothers, teenagers and just plain Aussies - to do what all of Australia does on each and every April 25th, at dawn - on ANZAC Day.
Australia became a country only a few years before Gallipoli. They fought as Australians for the first time and picked up two other names there as well; ANZAC - for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp they formed when setting off to fight WWI … and another nickname earned after an order given by a British Admiral, who knew the troops had been landed on a bitch of a beach … "Just dig," he said, "Dig 'til you're safe." And the "Diggers" dug, and the name stuck.
So we find ourselves in a small mob from all over Australia and even a Kiwi or two. There is an old stockman (cowboy) with an accent causing Jean to call for translation; and some sisters (nurses) who kindly dig some urchin spines out of my foot; a barrister and a solicitor (lawyers); a grandfatherly researcher and his lanky grandson - who doesn't know my out-of-date Aussie slang, but knows enough Monty Python skits to keep us both laughing; a retired SAS (special forces) Colonel who served in Nha Trang at the same time I was there - and two other Aussie Vietnam vets who flew in the backseat of US Army Birddogs - and have the photos to prove it - even one of a plane from my very platoon at Phan Rang. Small world.
There is seldom a time when a laugh cannot be heard in this mob - only the descriptions of the awful warfare practiced here can pause their constant ribbing and witty jokes - and as the only Yanks, we take and give as we can … questioning their love of the dreaded Vegemite, while they kindly avoid too many US political jabs - or maybe don't see any humor in it.
This mob is on our same pilgrimage. Like me, some have relatives who were here, many who still are - but most are just doing what Australians have done, or wanted to do, since the war here ended - come back to honor those who served and to see for themselves this place that became ingrained in their nation's DNA. We are guided by those who wrote the books, literally, about Gallipoli - one from Australia and two from Turkey - a privilege of knowledge.
Yes, the Turks have memories and monuments here too - and the bones of thousands of Johnnies and Mehmets lie mixed in the soil - pieces are churned up to the surface each Spring. I bury the skull pieces and arm bone I find, but Jean can't resist and pockets a bullet.
We wander and wonder all over the battlefield areas. Places from Granddad's battalion diary come to life … or death - Shrapnel Valley, The Nek, Sniper's Nest, Lone Pine. The carnage of a war using Wellington's tactics against Maxum's machineguns staggers my military mind. About as many died here, in a few months, as in all the long years of Vietnam. On one morning, 3000 bodies fell in an area about equal to a tennis court - before lunch.
But I know enough about warfare - what I want to understand is how this glorious defeat became a national symbol, why my mob and many more are coming here, and what is in me that makes me feel about Gallipoli as the full blooded Aussies do. Could it really be in the DNA?
The Diggers came ashore before dawn on the morning of 25 April 1915, in a little cove the Turks have re-named ANZAC. We will be there on the beach 93 years later, as members of the mob, to greet the sun - and them. G'day mates!
- Shoreside Stew