The main reason I went to Istanbul was to go to Gallipoli for ANZAC Day. To experience the Australian national day of remembrance in the most sacred of battlefields was an opportunity I had to jump on. Intrepid Travel kindly provided a tour for Chris and I for the day after we arrived in Istanbul, and we met up with the team at their office in Sultanahmet at 10am and got our supplies for the trip.
Looking up over the site to the rock formation dubbed The Sphinx.
We arrived at ANZAC Cove at about 6pm after the 5-6 hour bus drive from Istanbul with about 20 other Aussies and Kiwis and the site was already full of people. We found some seats with the rest of the Intrepid guys in the grandstands and settled in with our sleeping bags for the night. Shortly after, we got our bearings and scoped out where the toilets and food stalls were so we could replenish overnight.
Sunset over the Aegean Sea.
Just after sunset at about 8pm the Reflective Service began with a charismatic Aussie bloke introducing himself as the MC for the evening. He spoke about the fascinating historical documentaries they’d be showing overnight on the big screen followed by the Australian Army Band kicking things off with some WW1 era music. The MC was really serious about how significant it all is but also entertaining with a bit of laid back banter at the same time. He was probably in his 40s, had a fantastic moustache and told stories about his own trips to ANZAC battlefields.
Other Aussies and Kiwis on the ground in their sleeping bags.
The entire service was very well orchestrated over the entire night. Throughout it would flick between documentaries about the Aussie, Kiwi and Turkish sides of the stories on the big screen and the band breaking things up by playing more WW1 era and Australian songs. There were recorded interviews with the Australian and New Zealand Chiefs of Defence Force and documentaries about the Navy’s role in the battle along with other stories I’d not heard of before, so it wasn’t like we were sitting there all night with nothing to do. Each item was introduced by the MC with the fantastic tasche and he was always like “how you doing out there guys? still awake?” to keep our spirits up.
It did get decently cold overnight, probably about 5-6 degrees. Enough for us to get in our sleeping bags and try and get some sleep. We got some food (kebabs, obviously) and the food was provided by a long strip of Turkish street vendors along the road just shouting “HELLO MISTER PLEASE TURKISH KEBAB CHICKEN KEBAB CHIPS HELLO“. It was pretty lol.
The aforementioned food and merchandise vendors.
Rugging up in my trusty ASDA sleeping bag for the night.
I fell asleep at about 1-2am when they started playing some symphonies inspired by the ANZACs and woke up at about 4am when they started playing footage of dawn services from the day in cities around Australia. It was pretty surreal to see how ANZAC Day had already played out back home already. Following, a roll call was played on the big screens of soldiers that died during the landing, showing their photo, name, age, rank and where they were from. The youngest bloke to die was 14, it’s bloody shocking.
Once 5am rolled around the lights were dimmed and it all became really full on and solemn. The Catafalque Party was mounted and the dawn service began. Everybody stood up and the Last Post was played followed by 2 minutes silence, the Ode to Remembrance, the Australian, Kiwi and Turkish anthems and a few speeches. Our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard made a speech and it was great to see her there..
The Dawn Service begins.
A word about the terrain and where ANZAC Cove – it’s ridiculous how undulating and mountainous it is. There is just a rocky beach and then sheer rock cliffs. How the poor bastards managed to establish a foothold is beyond me. Being there where it all happened, where the ANZAC spirit was forged is bloody emotional and really intense. I won’t mess around, when they played songs like “We are Australian” and the Last Post, I teared up.
Everything that it means to be Australian is represented at that place.
Making the trek up Artillery Track to the Australian and New Zealand Memorials.
Following the dawn service, everyone (about 10,000 or so people) walked the 2km up to Lone Pine. It’s all uphill and it’s a hard slog, especially with the hot sun coming up. You have to pass through security again and find seats in the grandstands before the service kicks off at 8am. The tasche bloke was back and he did a good job of revving everyone up. He was doing stuff like saying “who here’s from NSW?!” and everyone would cheer and “who’s here from Queensland?!” etc. Made for a great vibe before it all kicked off again.
The Australian Memorial at Lone Pine.
Before the service, Julia Gillard and the Australian SAS trooper that won the Victoria Cross came into the crowd, spoke to people and had some photos taken. The service itself is similar to the dawn service but its only Australians speaking and the backdrop is full on, because it’s right there in the cemetery where the grass is dotted with headstones.
The service at Lone Pine finishes up at about 11am and then the Kiwi service starts at Chunuk Bair, about another 2km up the mountain. It’s bloody hard going and it takes almost 2 hours to walk up there. Chris and I stopped at The Nek and for those of you that have seen the Mel Gibson movie Gallipoli, the last scene is about the battle at The Nek where 3 waves of Lighthorse were cut down. I kid you not, the battlefield is literally the size of a tennis court. There are only 6 headstones here, but there are 350 unidentified bodies buried there.
The cemetery at The Nek.
We got picked up by the bus at about 1-2pm and got back to Istanbul about 8pm. All in all I can say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and I think it’s something every Australian should try and do once in their lives.
Disclosure: My tour was provided complimentary by Intrepid Travel, but as always opinions are my own.