A special and moving experience
24.04.2016 - 25.04.2016 10 °C
We were lucky enough to book tickets to Turkey which had us there for 25 April. When we realised this, we couldn’t miss the chance to attend the ANZAC Day ceremony at Gallipoli.
We picked up a rental car in Istanbul and got a free upgrade to a Nissan Qashqai with only 1,000 kms on the clock. We spent almost a whole day driving to the Gallipoli peninsula, including on some pretty questionable roads!!!
On the way we saw poppies in the fields and stopped at a Turkish memorial which was packed with Turkish tourists. The Gallipoli campaign holds equal or more significance to the Turkish as it does to us, and there are memorial ceremonies at the same time for the Turks. The dead soldiers are considered martyrs who died defending their homeland, and this was a defining part of the creation of modern Turkey.
The vast majority of people attend the service as part of an organised tour and we weren't sure how it would work out arriving in a private vehicle. Security was tight as there were concerns that either the ANZAC ceremony or the concurrent Turkish ceremony may be a target for a terrorist attack. We had to park our vehicle about 10kms away and were provided with a free shuttle to ANZAC cove, where the dawn ceremony would be held.
Inside, the staff were all incredibly friendly volunteers from NZ and Australia, and we were presented with free water and a goody bag with ponchos, beanies, pencils and information about the Gallipoli campaign. We found a spot on the grass for the night, but it soon started to pour with rain.
They moved us all into the entrance tent (fortunately there were around 1,200 people attending, about 1/10th of last year's numbers) and we waited until the rain passed.
We went out again and were entertained by a variety of music and short documentaries. After a while, we decided to try to get some sleep and took half a sleeping pill each. Just as the pills kicked in it started to drizzle again. We decided to wait/sleep it out (I'm not sure we really has much of a choice at that point!!!) and woke up at around 1 with the area around us quite wet but the Gallipoli ponchos we were in had protected us well. The overnight low was around 7 degrees, I wore a singlet, woollen dress, icebreaker jersey AND puffer jacket and was still cold, I can't imagine how the ANZAC soldiers managed in winter!!! We woke up just before 4, when the morning performances started.We also got to see highlights from the ceremonies in New Zealand and Australia which was a nice way to feel connected.
The words spoken, the music, and the short films were really well presented and made for an extremely moving memorial ceremony, we were both very moved and definitely shed a few tears.
After the ceremony we walked the 6.5km up to Chunuk Bair. Using an app we had downloaded we listened to the stories of the battles which took place along our route. It was amazing to be there and see the cliffs and ridges which shaped the battles. We visited a number of cemeteries, memorials, and trenches, and the walk was a fair climb which took us a solid 2 hours, even on a reasonably good road.
It was sad to think that in the 9 months the ANZAC soldiers were on Gallipoli this was the furthest they ever got, and even this was only briefly held. The scenery on the walk was picturesque and peaceful.
The New Zealand ceremony was packed, we had taken our time with the climb and almost missed out on seats.
The temperature had changed drastically from the night before and it was now sweltering. This ceremony was also really well done, but the lack of sleep, hot conditions, and walk up the hill meant that a lot of people were falling asleep in their seats.
Luckily we met an Aussie who had managed to park his car nearby who gave us a ride back to our car. We headed off straight after the ceremony, absolutely exhausted but extremely pleased that we had attended such a special event and even more proud of our New Zealand heritage.
Attending the ANZAC ceremonies at Gallipoli was a very special experience, which I would highly recommend to any New Zealander.
We were actuary surprised at how few New Zealanders there were, most of the attendees at both ceremonies seemed to be Australian.
My only disappointment was that I didn't see any poppies on the Gallipoli peninsula. We saw a lot on the next day of our trip - more about that coming soon.... Spoiler alert, we visited Troy!!!