Lest We Forget
Cities / Towns Visited: 16
Countries Visited: 7
Steps Taken Today: 21,260
Steps Taken Around the World: 791,188
No puns here, as I recall the solemn occasion of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Gallipoli. It is long but I beseech you to read it.
It had been a solid two hours of waiting on the bus before we reached the security check point. Now there’s some information which would have been incredibly useful to know before we arrived; information which was not stated on the website of the dawn service, or know by our guides. Information like the fact that their security would be carried out ‘airport style’, we’re talking nothing over 100mL,including sunscreen. A lady who hopped on the bus to inform us of the rules, just prior to us reaching the drop off point ran through the list of restricted items, which spanned from camping equipment (excluding sleeping bags, which we had been provided by the tour company), to umbrellas (luckily it wasn’t going to rain), and flags larger than an A3 piece of paper (much to the outrage of a few of the more patriotic attendees). The spiel started with her telling us about how it will be cold overnight so we need warm clothes, and the next day would be hot and sunny and we would be required to do around 10km of walking. We took this opportunity to express our outrage at the ridiculous restrictions disallowing us to bring our larger than 100mL sunscreen, when they don’t provide any and we’re expected to walk unprotected for hours the following day. She kept just repeating its the same as on a plane, to which another guy in the bus pointed out in no polite terms that there isn’t a chance of severe sunburn on a plane. I know you shouldn’t shoot the messenger, but we were all stuck in a bus and somewhat irritable as a result.
With the annoyance growing, we stepped off the bus, leaving behind drinks we’d bought with us, emptying out our drink bottle, and even setting aside the drinks the guide had purchased for us in a lunch pack with a sandwich and an apple, for the following day. Assured by the lady that we would be able to just show our confirmation emails on our phones at the security checkpoint for entry, we immediately found out that we couldn’t and had to go to a separate tent to have a ticket printed, a fact we only discovered as people who had already waited in line for security were being sent back. With ticket acquired and security passed, including feeling somewhat violated by the obligatory pat down, we finally were met by overly perky volunteers attaching our wristbands, and handing out the souvenir tote bags with beanies, programs for the service, and a bottle of water (at least they were providing that). I just tried to smile, and be as cheerful as I could to them; they knew not of the 150 minutes of cramped conditions and misinformation we’d passed through, and they were just innocently trying to thank us for making the journey out and hoping we had a good evening. Bless them.
It was midnight by the time we headed up the hill into the cove, decompressing by venting to each other about the appalling lack of communication between the organisers, the security, and the tour groups. They have been holding memorials here for decades, and tour groups have been delivering them to the out of the way location, surely they should have figured out a system by now.
As we passed the group of porta-potties, we reached the cove we had been at but two days ago. A giant screen stood to one side of the main stage, showing documentaries on Gallipoli and the battles fought there, and on the slopes on either side of the access road lay people tucked in their sleeping bags. We found a place to hunker down, using our complimentary ponchos as ground covers so the morning dew wouldn’t dampen our spirits any further. It was a hauntingly beautiful scene. This collection of pilgrims from the uttermost ends of the earth, coming together on the hills our forefathers fought their way up, to uphold the tradition of this all night vigil. As we lay down to rest in the assurance of safety, surrounded by armed guards of the country who slew our men 103 years ago, all of the annoyance melted away. As we lay where they fell, it was humbling to know that we would rise, where they did not.
The hours slipped by, each half hour alternating between silence, allowing for snippets of sleep, and the showing of films. As the cold night air made us huddle deeper into our sleeping bags, we listened to the stories of men who survived the battles here. We heard stories of bravery, and devastation. We heard a veteran ask a question we ourselves have never had to; how do you tell your loved ones that you watched your mates die just metres away from you? How could they ever understand watching a friend fall and not being able to run to them, to comfort them in their final moments, to bury them? How do you explain that instead you had to watch as their bodies bloated in the summer sun, only to collapse, and finally rot and sink into the soil? How do you go back to living after seeing so much death? My heart sunk, we were likely laying just feet above the bones of the men he spoke so painfully of. It was confronting to say the least.
Finally, as the clock ticked past 4am we were called to stand; to gather toward the stage as the mornings remembrance began. First an award winning short film, telling the story of the heartbreaking job the telegram man during the war, and how he went from being a welcome guest in people’s homes, delivering the happy news of weddings and babies, to being unwanted, as his presence often meant the devastating news that your son, brother, lover, or friend was never coming home. I, among many around me, were moved to tears. This was followed by the honour roll, naming the soldiers who displayed great bravery in the battles of Gallipoli, along with their age, how they died, and often the messages written on their tomb stones, loving words from those who cared for them the most. They were so young, many of them barely in their twenties, some fell with their faces to the foe, whereas others died from influenza or other ailments in hospitals as they were treated for wounds or illness.
As I looked around I was moved once more to spy the Turkish military guards standing vigilantly around us. It was surreal to think that those who were once our foes, now stood willing to protect us as we mourned those who fell by the hands of their ancestors. The honour roll ended, and the Royal Australian Navy band, the New Zealand Defence Force Band,and the choir of St James’ in Sydney, entertained us with half an hour of music, from hymns, to a beautiful rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’.
The horizon began to grow ever so slightly lighter, as the spotlight shone brightly on the flags; Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey side by side, waving strongly in the gusty dawn air. It was an image that I will carry with me forever. Finally the formal service began, with touching speeches, and heartfelt words. New Zealand had sent their Governor General, who gave a stirring oration, so it was hard to feel impressed with the Australian representative being Peter Dutton. His very rehearsed sounding speech only added to the seemingly odd choice to send the minister for home affairs and border security to a country we had illegally crossed the border of during the war. I’m assuming the minister of foreign affairs had other business to attend to.
As the Ode of Remembrance was read out, and the minute silence began, I was disgusted to see just how many people didn’t remove their hats, were sitting down, or spent the entire time taking photos. Surely if you could be bothered to make the journey, you could stand bare headed and camera-less for a thirty minute service. As the last post was played, and the national anthems sung, the snapping continued, like no one would possibly believe you’d come to pay your respects, and in trying to prove it you showed absolutely none. As the line ‘For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.’ was sung across the sea of Australian’s scattered through the crowd, I had the overwhelming urge to tell Mr. Dutton to take note of the sentiment of our own anthem, on his return to his normal duties.
Lastly the wreaths were laid, and I was touched to see that so many countries who had not even been part of the battle placed one against the memorial; India, China, even Bangladesh (a country that didn’t exist at the time).
The service concluded and after taking a few photos after all of the formalities were complete, we began the trek up the hill to Lone Pine, around three kilometres of hiking, with more volunteers along the way handing out bottles of water, and words of encouragement, it gave a sense of comradery that boosted the spirit. Finally we reached the memorial, and were faced with another round of security screening. Much to my shock and appal though, they were forcing everyone to throw away the bottles of water we had been given just a few hundred metres before, even if they were unopened. It was horrifying to see hundreds of plastics bottles simply tossed in the garbage, not even to be recycled. Surely if you are already wearing the wristband that shows you went through the first security screening where they took away all liquids, it should be obvious you’re not smuggling in alcohol or explosives in the water bottles they are providing. Alas we must abide, and we passed through waterless, before gaining a second wristband and being handed a new bottle of water. The ridiculousness of it was hurting my unsunscreened face. As we sat in the grass and the sun rose higher in the morning sky, the temperature began to rise and I was forced to put on my hat, pull down my shirt sleeves, and try and keep the sun from scorching my pasty white skin while waiting for the Australian service to begin. It was short and sweet, almost identical to the one at ANZAC Cove, which seemed strange, as you would expect to see at least a little more of a nod to the fact it was for the Australians. But nonetheless, it was sombre and moving.
From here we had to walk the 3.5 km up to Chunuk Bair. We were told that we would not be able to attend the New Zealand service as well, as there wouldn’t be enough time, but we still had to walk to the top of the hill as the buses all left from there. It was steep and hot, with little shade to offer respite or protection. I simply thought, ‘You know what would be really useful right now? Sunscreen or an umbrella’. We couldn’t complain too much though, at least we weren’t being shot at, or carrying a 30kg rucksack and a rifle, like those we were here to remember. It was their memory that drove us up that hill, their strength that gave us strength.
When we finally reached the top we were exhausted, and just wanted to sit down while we waited for the bus under the shade cloth, in the assigned area. But naturally it couldn’t be that easy, and once more we had to toss aside our water, pass through security, and obtain another wristband before we could even do that. It seemed insane that you needed a third check, like the two wristbands, obvious look of sleep deprivation, and the general sense of exhaustion didn’t scream ‘Seriously, I’m not hear to kill everybody!’. I do respect the amazing job the Turkish military did at ensuring we were all safe, but at that point we were all just a little over it. As we finally reached the shade, it was a pleasant surprise to see that we could watch the remainder of the New Zealand memorial service on a big screen they had set up in the waiting area. I will, rather coyly, admit that their service trumped ours, with traditional Maori songs and a Haka being performed by members of the New Zealand Military, it certainly felt more personalised than ours.
Now would be a good time for me to tell you, that earlier in the morning we had learnt that one of the your buses which had been headed to the dawn service, had caught on fire from a mechanical fault. No one was injured, but the poor group, who were on the seventh day of a nine day tour, had lost all of their luggage.
Finally the time had come to hop back in our tiny minibus and begin the squished and tiresome six hour journey home, with a couple of stops for food and bathroom breaks. As we crammed back in, half of us began a conversation about the wonderful ceremony, but the terrible lack of organisation and the horrible waste of plastic water bottles which would all end up in land fill. We were swiftly told to ‘Shut the f**k up!’, by one of the girls on the bus who told us to be grateful and stop complaining about the little things. We had come away with life and luggage in tact, and we were thankful for that, but I guess there are two types of people in the world; perpetually optomistic people who see it as a personal affront should anyone not share their personality, and us realist/pessimistic people who find it decompressing to vent about issues; this doesn’t mean we’re not grateful or weren’t humbled by the experience, we were simply talking about how they could improve the event. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, as I don’t see the mindless waste of thousands of plastic bottles to be a ‘little thing’. I have always been a big believer in the fact that just because there are bigger problems in the world, doesn’t mean your problem isn’t a problem. Either way we stopped our conversation, not for sympathy to her plea, but mainly because the general rule of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’, prevented us from the possibility of replying in any polite way, shape or form. I personally just looked out the window and took some time for personal reflection on the events of the morning.
Eventually we made it back to the hostel, and met up with a friend of my brother’s who had done, as we three all had, and packed up her life to go travelling. She would be joining him on his bicycling odyssey, and it was nice to share a meal and more than a few drinks with her before we left tomorrow.
As we finally settled into bed, as you can imagine, I took a final moment to be grateful once more to all of the men and women who have, do, and will serve in the Australian armed forces. You are braver than I, and I now understand, more than I did before, the hardships you face. To every family member, lover, or friend of a military officer in active service, I now empathise with the stress and pain you live with. I will carry the memory and the respect of today with me throughout my life, and for this reason I encourage every Australian to attend this service once in their life. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we remembered you. Lest we forget.