Anzac Cove: Dardanelles dawn service

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

After the fiery battle of the churches I found some time for rest and relaxation on Chios whilst waiting for the ferry to Turkey to depart.

This was fortunate as I was weary from travel in Greece and the next few days would prove to be pretty hectic as well - travelling a considerable distance from Izmir to Cannakale to get to the Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day commemorative services, then further missioning around a rugged Gallipoli peninsula to see the battlefields and cemeteries it contains. Then back to Izmir to meet the Mystery woman.

Throw in a sleepless night for the Anzac Day Dawn Service and the need to write a couple of entries and you either have a recipe for demented insomnia or alternatively an eternal sleep. It would be touch and go it seemed.

The short but expensive ferry ride to Cesme was a classic from the outset, after I met some guys from Crete who were on a short holiday into southern Turkey. Alexander, Michael and George had a bottle of sweet wine and a small bag each and were very helpful in explaining some of the peculiarities of the Chios traditions and Orthodox Easter in general. They were amazed that I had gone down the hill that night and checked out the church whilst it was under heavy fire - toasting my reckless bravery a number of times. If you read this guys, thanks for the vino and send the little video through!

I made Izmir that evening and from the multitude of Turkish flags fluttering in the breeze it was obvious something important was afoot. Another six hours bus ride northwards and I would find out just what, as well as reach Canakkale (pron. Chanakali), the staging point for the annual Anzac pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Anzac Day Dawn Service was my goal and I made it with a few hours to spare - late on the 24th of April. Not long after checking into a very nice hotel I'd booked online in January for the royal sum of $US25 per night, I had to sally forth across the Dardenelle Strait by ferry, then take a local dolmus (minibus) to Anzac Cove. I was the only foreigner on it - everyone else taking coach tours - so it was fortunate to meet a very local lass called Dekha who spoke good English and who's family had lived on the peninsula for generations.

It was her first time at the service as she'd been living overseas (in Germany) for some years. Under the glare of the lighting and in the midst of thousands of predominantly Australian and New Zealander bodies cocooned in blankets and sleeping bags, she explained that the 25th of April is a very significant day on the Turkish calendar too, as it was the day the father of the modern Turkish state - Attaturk - first repelled the invading Allied armies and paved the way for the establishment of their Republic. In turn I explained why many young Australians come so far to Gallipoli to remember an obscure battle that happened so long ago - because it was the 'baptism of fire' of our young nation, where the Australian ethos of courage, resourcefulness and mateship was first displayed to the world.

So this day in 1915 is a defining moment in the history of Turkey, as much as it is to Australia, and the importance of it for each other dawned on both of us late that night.

The wait was cold and I rued leaving my sleeping bag behind even though there would have been nowhere to unroll it. We arrived around 1am the place was packed, and whilst Andrew Denton did some interviews and there was the screening of parts of an impressive Turkish documentary about the landings at intervals throughout the night, there was little to keep the growing crowd occupied before the service commenced at 5.30am - an odd time seeing as though the original diggers were hitting the beach by 4.30am on the day 91 years ago.

When it did eventually happen it was a moving experience. With great dignity the Governor General, Major General Michael Jeffery toured the crowd, coming for some words those where we were sitting, then descending to the podium to make a stirring commemorative speech that made up for those of some of the lesser dignitaries. As to be expected there was some hymn singing and prayer before the Last Post was bugled and anthems of the combatants sung. We Australians really have to learn the second verse of our national anthem, but apart from that it was a compact and dignified service all round.

All was done by the time the sun's first rays had illuminated the craggy bluffs behind. The crowd started to file out along Anzac Cove, where it all happened, and for the first time I could study the landscape and begin to imagine how monumentally difficult their task would have been - wet, cold, laden with equipment and ammunition, then scaling these brushy heights under fire. Sheesh.

Aspects of battles and terrain will be covered in detail next entry, but the photo above right should give you the gist - that is the actual Anzac Cove in dawn's early light. What I will say is that the ceremony and organisation was just a little too sanitary for my liking - a commercialised 'event' that has thoroughly lost the larrikan spirit that the diggers are also known for. Not a beer nor a 2Up game in sight. A shame but probably to be expected in this day and age.

But now just some quick words about Cannakale which is a great little town on the south and eastern side of the Dardanelles Strait - pleasant and un-touristy except for the short period when thousands of Anzac pilgrims descend on the town in late April.

There's a bizarre collection of sights and attractions found along tree-lined boulevards of this modern and progressive Turkish town. Some that are entirely ornamental (and quite hideous) like the traditional green ceramic sculpture above left, others more educational like the sun dial with complete instructions on use (above right). There's also the ubiquitous Venetian port fortification as well as a very pleasant promenade along the waterfront just made for strutting, so half the population is out on the street at any one time, giggling and happy.

The Homeric city of Truva (Troy to the west) is also located in this region - 25km to the south. I will not have time to go there unfortunately but I have heard from a number of locals and tourists that it is not really worth visiting anyway - there is little to see and some of the tour operators have actually been dropping it off their itineraries as its popularity wanes a few years after the Hollywood blockbuster was released. Canakkale has its own Trojan horse, a convincing fibreglass version, as well as a scale model of the ancient city developed from archaeological findings close by.

It won't be good as going there, but fibre-horse and some photos whilst the bus hooned by will have to do.

Next entry -> battlefields and many cemeteries of the Geliboli peninsula

Words from the Wise #47

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference to between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us,
where they lie side by side in this country of ours."

You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land,
they have become our sons as well."

Kemal Mustafa (Attaturk)
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