Earlier this year, along with my hubby, I went to ANZAC Day at Gallipoli. It was the 100th Anniversary of the landings and it was an amazing and surreal thing to be there for the Dawn Service on that day.
Friday 7 August 2015 signified the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Chunuk Bair. The battle lasted only a few days, but thousands of men lost their lives, from both the Allied (primarily made up of New Zealand men) and Turkish contingents.
I thought now was the best time to share my ANZAC Day experience……
January 2014 I heard an advert on the radio for an open ballot to be able to attend the 100th Anniversary ANZAC Day Service at Gallipoli, Turkey. On a whim, I decided to enter my details, then I also entered my husband – 2 chances are better than 1, is always my thinking – as we’re NZ citizens we had to enter the NZ government ballot.
Fast forward to early April 2014 and I’d forgotten all about it, until I got home one evening and there was a letter from the ANZAC Ballot organisers. My husband had opened his letter and he was unsuccessful, I opened mine expecting to see the same letter…. But mine was different. It said “you’ve been successful in acquiring a double attendance pass”.
There was no question about it, hubby and I were going to go and we’d make our budget work to accommodate it. A once in a lifetime opportunity had knocked on our door and I was opening the door and asking it to come inside for cake. We made plans to have a 3 week overseas adventure at the same time. We would go to Dubai (you can read my posts about Dubai here, here and here), then Turkey, then drive through the battlefields of Normandy and Belgium and finish up in Paris.
Wednesday 22 April we land in Istanbul, Turkey and meet up with our tour group. For ANZAC Day, you were not allowed onto the Gallipoli Peninsula unless you were part of a tour group and had an attendance pass. Our tour included 1 day in Istanbul then out to ANZAC Cove for the overnight stay under the stars and the commemorations on ANZAC Day itself.
We left our hotel at 6am Friday 24 April and arrived back at the hotel at 11pm Saturday 25 April – a long, but amazing 41 hour experience.
Arrival at the peninsula meant going through 4 checkpoints just to get to the waiting area at Mimosa Park (the area where the ANZAC troops should have landed 100 years ago, but because of ocean currents they landed at what we now know as ANZAC Cove). At about 5pm our bus number was called and we were ushered to walk down to the ANZAC Cove commemorative site – which took about 45mins.
By 6pm we were settled in our spot for the night. From 7.30pm till the dawn service at 5.30am there were short films and interviews played on the big TV screens and several performances by the ANZAC defence force band. It got quite cold during the night and by the time dawn rolled around I had 4 layers on, plus a windbreaker and a sleeping bag.
During the night it was a very eerie place. Whenever there were lulls in the noise level you could hear the water lapping at the beach. It was extremely surreal to think that so many lives were lost on the ground where we were.
Australia and New Zealand conducted three commemorative services on ANZAC Day. The Dawn Service at the ANZAC Cove Commemorative Site was jointly conducted by both countries and was followed by an Australian Memorial Service at Lone Pine, and a New Zealand Memorial Service at Chunuk Bair.
The dawn service was very solemn, as you would expect, with only the sound of the birds and the sea lapping at the shore. It was even slightly overwhelming at times, especially for me and hubby when singing the NZ national anthem and hearing the Last Post played.
After the dawn service we hiked 1.4kms up a steep dirt track to Lone Pine – where the Australian’s stayed for their service – and we Kiwi’s went on up the road another 3kms to Chunuk Bair. I struggled with the walk, but I did make it. I sure as hell appreciated the fact that I didn’t have bullets flying at me. We also had a road to walk on. The men who climbed that mountain side 100 years ago, did not. They did it all through bush and scrub, something that seems completely unfathomable when looking at the terrain of the mountain.
Lone Pine was the main objective point for the Australian forces. It is only a little bit bigger than the size of a football field, yet over the 4 days of fighting to acquire that area Australia lost 2,200 men, while the Ottoman Empire lost approx. 5,000 men.
Chunuk Bair was an area with a higher vantage point than that of Lone Pine. The New Zealanders captured the area, however did not have it in their possession for more than a few days. The Allied forces lost over 5,500 lives, while the Turks lost approx 10,000 in that particular battle.
After being part of these special centenary services, I have a complete respect and an insane amount of gratitude for our ANZAC’s. They are true heroes and so are those who have served and continue to serve for both Australia and New Zealand.
Have you ever been to a Dawn Service?
Have you been to one at ANZAC Cove?
Do you have loved ones who have served or are still serving their country?