Well where to start?? Dawned an absolutely glorious day for the start of the pilgrimage to Gallipoli.
We were booked on a bus leaving Sultanahmet Square (the square outside the Blue Mosque) at 8.30, so up early and breakfast and left hotel on foot. Both of us managed to fit all our warm clothing and bit and pieces into backpacks with me carrying a plastic bag of food and Dad a plastic bag with his blanket in it.
My earlier concerns regarding how we would find the bus in the very large and somewhat confusing area the forms Sultanahmet Square were unwarranted. Upon arrival at the Square we were greeted by the sight of buses in every spare space all clearly marked, albeit in random order. We were on Bus No.13 which we found relatively easily. Put our gear aboard and since we were early had the choice of seats. The girl who greeted us said "bus leave 9.00" so we went off and had a coffee and wandered back, still only about 8.25 so Bob went off to find toilet. Luckily the toilet was closed as by the time he got back they were doing final roll call on bus and it departed pretty much right on 8.30 (seemed the organiser forgot to tell the authorities he was taking over their square with about 15 big busses and they were hurrying him on his way!). Anyway we were safely on the bus and on our way!!
The bus trip was long only broken by a stop for coffee after about two hours. Our driver very slow being passed by every other bus.
I should note that last time I was down here with McCaughans and Quinns the road was narrow, rough and pretty challenging. It is now a four lane highway.
After about five hours we arrived at the outskirts of Gelibolu (Gallipoli) town and stopped for a BBQ lunch in the grounds of a big road stop.
After what was a very good lunch we sat around for a couple of hours until the busses returned one at a time to pick us up. During this time a couple of enterprising Turks (in a burgundy Toyota Hiace van) arrived selling commemorative scarves. I wandered over and at about NZ$7 each felt they were a bargain so bought one each for Dad and I. The first clue should have been the colour of them, green and gold. Anyway upon further investigation it was apparent they had a Turkish flag, an Australian flag but no mention of New Zealand, seems these Turks are playing to the numbers with four Australians to every New Zealander! So Smiths they are headed your way!!
As we boarded the busses again we were given lunch packs for the next day. Consisted two luncheon sausage and cheese sandwiches, a boiled potato, a piece of what looked like caramelized carrot, a boiled egg and a drink of sour cherry. Needless to say we jettisoned these and backed ourselves with the food we had.
The bus then moved on to the outskirts of Eceabat where we experienced the first of what would be many queues and waits. Stopped on the main road in a line of busses as far as you could see in both directions. Remembering they were expecting 450 busses.
Initially our guide girl (obviously operating under instructions) refused to let us off despite the busses moving at about a bus length every few minutes. With a mutiny building fuelled by the aircon having broken down and a number of, Australian, smokers she relented and we had a very pleasant walk for about an hour.
The checkpoint was beside one of the Turkish cemeteries, Akbas Martyrs' Memorial, and we had a chance to look through this and give pause to reflect on the fact that in the Gallipoli campaign the Turks lost twice as many of their sons as did the Allies. As always in these place you can't help but be moved by the ages of the victims, always young and with life in front of them. One of what will be many sad reflective times on this journey.
Finally our bus got the front of the queue and were briefed by the first of the many Australian and New Zealand volunteers, Defence Force personnel or ticketing workers we would encounter over the next day and a bit. The bus was given a number (in our case 180) and registered into the system. We then proceeded to Kabatepe (on the ANZAC cove side of the peninsular) where again the bus queued for a period and finally we were disembarked to pass through the first scanning point. At this point passports were checked, passes scanned and we went through a metal detector. Not overly sensitive however as my camera, phone and iPad failed to set it off!
We then were taken by shuttle bus to the next security checkpoint at the ANZAC Commemorative Site (ACS) which is the site of the Dawn Service and adjacent to (a little bit north) ANZAC Cove. This move brought the first bit of what would become a pattern of lucky breaks for Dad and I. We had been instructed that places on the shuttle busses would be allocated in the order people arrive and we could expect a lengthy wait. As we walked into the holding area an Australian official approached us and told us to go to a shuttle immediately. Wait averted and off we went very happily.
Arriving at ANZAC Cove we passed through metal detectors and a cursory bag search and were given an information pack including guide to the ceremonies, some information on the Gallipoli Campaign and various items such as a pen and poncho.
We arrived at the same time as John Key and his entourage but to a little less fanfare!
By this time it was about 8.30pm so the New Zealand dawn services at home were getting underway. All of you at home were in our thoughts at this time. A most unusual feeling knowing you were commemorating the same defining events as us, albeit a few hours earlier.
Walking into the Commemorative area for the first time was a bit overwhelming. Thinking we had made it all this distance from home on the other side of the world and looking around at the multitudes and realising they too had made this long, and not so easy, pilgrimage was quite moving. Suddenly using the word "pilgrimage" felt right it was no longer merely a journey, trip, visit or holiday it was something so much more meaningful and shared with so many others.
Despite us arriving probably about half way through the overall attendees when we looked around the site looked quite full. A lot of people had set up on the grass and were lying down trying to get some sleep this despite the information advising that lying would not be allowed as the area filled. The grass area looked quite full of people but we initially started to set up amongst them albeit pretty crowded. I left Dad to see if there were any seats in the stand and managed to find a couple about eight rows from the back and a little off centre so good views and in hindsight this was the second bit of good luck to come our way.
We set up and settled in for the night which promised to be long but meaningful. If you were able to get comfortable enough to sleep this was really not an option with constant but very informative programming on the big screens interspersed with live performances. They played a couple of tremendous docos on the campaign and some of the stories that came from it. Even if you arrived knowing nothing of the Gallipoli campaign (and I doubt there were many who did) you would have gained a good insight through the night.
Ian McGibbon (a noted NZ historian on Gallipoli) gave a live presentation of the campaign and used spot lights on the hills behind the commemorative area to highlight the various hills and ridges. This gave Dad his first view of the terrain and how steeply in climbs away from the landing areas. It was a truly spectacular presentation with the hills towering behind us being lit as each was described together with the battles and misery associated with each.
One item that deserves special mention was the speech given by a young (16 I believe) Maori girl from Opotiki who was the winner of the Cyril Bassett VC speech writing competition and was awarded the honour of speaking at Gallipoli. She spoke for about 15 minutes (unaided by notes) about her great Uncle who fought at Gallipoli and whose picture was on the wall of their family house. The story was truly moving and the confidence and talent of this young lady impressed everyone. If there is an opportunity to get a video of this I would recommend it as watching to anyone.
Periodically the lights would be turned up to full bathing the area in daytime levels of light while the organisers reorganised those on the grass until they were only taking the space it takes for a person to sit cross legged and identified every spare seat in the stands and filled them. At about 2.00am when it looked as if no further people could be accommodated it was announced that a further 1400 were expected and room needed to be made for them. By the time the last people arrived at about 3.00am those on the grass were standing with little chance to sit again and there was not a spare seat in the stands. Despite the obvious discomfort this caused everyone (especially those on the grass areas) there was no grumbling, no animosity and everyone remained in sombre but good spirits. One only needed to watch some of the viewing on the big screens to realise the discomfort we were experiencing was nothing in the context of Gallipoli.
A little after 4.00am coverage of Dawn Services from New Zealand Australia was played. Quite emotional seeing the huge turn-outs and knowing they were commemorating events that occurred where we sat. It also brought you close to home knowing loved ones were there and thinking of you and vice versa.
At 5.00 am a short period called "The Spirit of Place" commenced. This commenced with a performance by a renowned Australian didgeridoo player. This was followed by a roll of honour which played some of the names and epitaphs of some of the ANZACs who died at Gallipoli. So very sad as you read the epitaphs, often penned by mothers or close friends of these brave men who perished.
Following this there was a Karanga performed by New Zealand Defence Force women. Truly moving as the almost plaintive cry echoed off the surrounding hills.
The Dawn Service commenced at 5.30am by which time there was just a glimmer of light coming over the horizon to the south (remembering ANZAC cove faces west and hence the sun rises from the hills behind).
You could not help but be moved by a Dawn Service here in the spiritual cradle of the ANZACs and the spirit they encompass.
As the daylight began to grow the service commenced with a Call to Remembrance by the Chief of the Australian Defence Force. Again a moving story of the landing and the honour we are all paying them here on this day.
John Key spoke and was truly moving, remembering the hardships suffered by the forces in the campaign and the journey we had all made to pay our respects to their contribution to our nations. He talked about the brotherhood forged between the three countries (New Zealand, Australia and Turkey) through the experiences on the battlefield and the respect and comradeship that has developed since.
In finishing JK observed generally at times like this you would finish with "Lest we Forget" but here today we should say "We remember". A poignant thought.
A Turkish military representative then read a quotation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk reflecting on the fact that those that lost their lives in this campaign and lie in Turkish soil have become their sons also. This reading just reinforced how forgiving and respectful the Turks have been towards what was an invading force all those years ago.
After a hymn Tony Abbot spoke, like JK giving a moving speech, reminding everyone how the ANZACs made such sacrifice for all of us there and how we should learn from their sacrifice and live in their spirit.
Following Tony Abbott Prince Charles provided a reading from the diary of an ANZAC survivor (who later died on the Western Front). A very moving piece including his thoughts of leaving mates behind in the evacuation and an excerpt from the night before the landing where he did not expect to survive and farewell his wife and children. Like all of us privileged enough to attend and hear this reading Prince Charles was moved in reading it and became quite emotional as he concluded.
The service then concluded with Prayers, Wreath laying, the Ode of Remembrance, Last Post and Reveille.
I am sure I'm not alone in struggling to keep dry eyes during the The Last Post and Reveille during dawn services. Here at Gallipoli, despite the slight numbness that comes with no sleep, as the bugle rang out across the water, beach and hills behind you felt a real tightening in your chest and a welling up of emotion. A beautiful moment in what was once a terrible place.
During the dawn service a flotilla of the Turkish navy (perhaps 12 vessels) slowly motored past out at sea in a line about 1km apart. The sea was calm and grey (almost broody) and seeing these ships slowing passing by was very poignant, almost haunting.
After the Dawn Service we remained in our places while the official party departed then were marshalled out area by area to commence the long walk to Lone Pine and on to Chunuk Bair. The Australians attend a service at Lone Pine and us New Zealanders attend at Chunuk Bair.
One aside I should mention here, is that during the night Dad went off for a walk (I thought to the toilet but actually to get some exercise for his circulation). Upon returning there was much rifling through backpack and belongings only for, upon enquiry, him to admit he had lost a glove on his travels. It was very very cold and I offered him mine (as my jacket pockets were warm) but he wouldn't have a bar of it. So for the rest of the night he sat with a cold hand in a cold pocket but pride intact.
The walk started out along the shoreline towards the actual landing sight. At this site I laid knitted poppies from Marie, Colleen Sayer and Elisabeth Langley at the memorial. Dad also laid one knitted by Mum. Quite emotional knowing these were knitted by people on the other side of the world who we care for and who care enough for the spirit of ANZAC and our country to make these as a tribute.
After about 1.5km the walk turns up the hillside and climbs steeply for another 2km until it reaches Lone Pine. The climb is about 200m height (2/3 a Haka for those of you in the know) to Lone Pine. Dad is a trooper!! After no sleep and limited food he marches on carrying his pack and carry bag even getting a bit tetchy when I try to take his pack and give him a break. His spirit is amazing.
At Lone Pine we stop for a toilet break and Dad to remove a few layers of clothing. We then continued towards Chunuk Bair. Alongside the road were the remnants of trenches interspersed with cemeteries. Just walking along you could visualise the situation these men found themselves in with the enemy only metres away and dead and dying laying between the trenches. All very real!
About one kilometre from Lone Pine we came across a large memorial where the Turkish were having a commemorative observance and adjacent to this was a small area of carpark with food and some souvenirs. We decided we'd take the opportunity and get some food and so while Dad sat on a kerb and watched the bags I queued for a couple of rolls with meat off a BBQ (not sure what they were called) and Coke. Took about half an hour but queuing is becoming something of a speciality of mine here and frankly the hot food after a day of scroggin, dried fruit and energy bars was devine.
We then carried on up to Chunuk Bair about another kilometre further along the road.
Upon arriving at Chunuk Bair and proceeding through another security check, the entire New Zealand group (numbering about 2000) were held in a small memorial area, I believe remembering the Turks who perished here.
The passes to Chunuk Bair allocated seating were based on the order you were drawn from the ballot. As we were in the last, waitlist, group we were allocated in the grass area outside with viewing via a large screen. Knowing viewing might be difficult I got us at the front of the group to go in. Our next bit of luck came when the organiser decided they had allocated too many seats to VIPs and some of those outside could use those seats, we were in this group and so went from having the worst places to the best!
When we arrived into Chunuk Bair the New Zealand Youth Ambassadors were singing along to the armed forces band a number of modern and quite "Kiwi" numbers. A really natural and uniquely evocative way to be greeted onto what is such an important place for New Zealanders.
The official party arrived and Princes Charles and Harry and John Key made their way around the crowd chatting to people and having photos taken. Again very relaxed and quite in the New Zealand spirit.
Once everyone was seated the service proper commenced.
After a greeting and reading John Key spoke, paying tribute to the ANZACs and their spirit while also acknowledging the Turks and their losses in defence of their homeland. Again a moving and poignant speech finishing in the refrain "We will always remember them".
Following the singing of How Great Thou art, Prince Harry gave a very moving reading of a letter from one of the New Zealand troops detailing life and death in the trenches.
Craig Foss then read Colonel Malone's (the New Zealander under whose command Chunuk Bair was gained, albeit for only one day) last letter to his wife. Despite our tiredness there wasn't a person there who wasn't moved by the words of this letter knowing he perished the next day in defence of Chunuk Bair.
The Chief of Defence, then read another diary entry from a New Zealand trooper who was the sole survivor of his group that attempted to reach Chunuk Bair. Again so sad and so moving.
There was then wreath laying.
Why does Pokarekare Ana always bring tears to my eyes??
After prayers the last post was played this time on a bugle that landed in Gallipoli on 25 March 1915 with the ANZACs!
The national anthems of both Turkey and New Zealand were sung and after a final blessing the official party left and we were able to lay tributes and reflect.
Dad and I place knitted poppies from Marie and Mum respectively at the memorial. There was a sea of poppies and quite stirring thinking how these had all travelled around the world to find their way to a memorial on a peninsular in Turkey.
After this we moved back to where we had gathered prior to moving to the memorial area. It was form here that we would all join our busses for the journey back to Istanbul.
By this time in the day (3.00pm) everyone was very tired but spirits were high as we had all shared in something unique and so special.
When we arrived every bus was given a number (from 1 to about 350) and as the busses arrived the forces personnel would call out the number, ours being 180. The only problem being with 350 busses and them arriving a few minutes apart this was possibly/probably going to be long wait. We got the other New Zealanders on our bus together and all sat together (noticeable how the sharing ANZAC Day could bring about such comradery) waiting for our bus. Bus arrivals were random with no reference to number hence number 340 could arrive well before number 3.Hope wasn't high for our bus as on the way to Gallipoli the driver had made a couple of wrong turns and driven so slow that were ere overtaken by a large number of busses.
During the wait the Defence Force personnel spent time talking to people, handing out water and some small food items. Most notable was the Chief of Defence who spent time carrying bottles of water around and handing them out to waiting people. It really said something about New Zealanders and our culture when the top brass of the army (dressed in full ceremonial uniform) are happily handing out water and openly enjoying the company of sleep deprived, often a bit grubby public at the end of what was a long day.
Also worth mention were the Youth Ambassadors, young people chosen from all walks of life through New Zealand, who while we all waited kept spirits high with signing just the overall exuberance of youth even after a day and a bit without rest.
At about 7.30 our number was finally called and like all groups before us we gave a loud cheer and off we went. I would estimate we were about two thirds of the way through the numbers so some unfortunate people would have been waiting until 9.30pm or later. But I bet they didn't complain! People just took things in their stride and in good humour regardless of the cold or discomfort.
The bus ride back was uneventful, a short stop at a roadhouse for dinner for those who wanted it. Dad and I had the healthy option of an ice cream and can of Coke (Coke Zero hence the healthy bit!).
We finally arrived in Istanbul at about 12.45am nearly 42 hours after leaving, severely deprived of sleep but refreshed by the experience we had shared!
One thing that was notable from the day was how fortunate we were with the weather. It was very cold overnight and again at Chunuk Bair while waiting for the busses but it was generally fine with only light rain during the start of the New Zealand service. How miserable it could have been in rain or even worse snow, so we were again lucky.
In finishing this, the longest of blogs I have or probably every will do, I feel I've used words such as moving and emotional too much but, frankly, I am lost for words to adequately describe what Dad and I have been fortunate to share here. Talking about it today (the day after) it has sunk in for both of us and we are both in awe of the significance of what we have been part of. Perhaps some things cannot be described in words!
Photos to come tomorrow!