Teresa Curran visits Gallipoli and ponders why it is so important to New Zealanders on Anzac Day
"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 between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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." – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Gallipoli is deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Like many New Zealander's (and recently the numbers have been growing) I have stood silently at dawn on April 25 – on Primrose Hill in Paeroa, at Auckland Museum, by the banks of the Waikato River in Hamilton, by myself in Cape Town, with hundreds in Hyde Park in London. Why have I done this? Why is Gallipoli so important to New Zealanders? Why is it so important to me? There have been other battles, closer to home, further away, but Gallipoli is the one we remember. I'm not sure I learned a lot about it in school, though you certainly do now. I've never wanted to go to Gallipoli on ANZAC day, I like my small, quiet dawn services. I have always wanted to go to Turkey though, and I picked this tour because it went through Gallipoli. I did not expect to be quite so moved by the experience.
Atatürk's words are the key, the quiet dignity of a person who vowed to look after all the fallen can not be overstated. The memorials are side by side on the hills of the peninsular. Friend and foe lie together, both in unmarked graves and in the sea. There is a dignity about the place, it's quiet, and calm, like those dawn mornings.
The Dardanelles have always been strategic, hold them in your grasp and you can enter the Black Sea. The Allies underestimated the Ottoman Empire, landed on the Peninsular and entered into a battle which would scar the history of Turkey, Australia, Britain and New Zealand. 130,784 people died, 261,554 more were injured.
ANZAC Cove is pretty and tiny, not the stuff on which legends should be made. The hills of the peninsular are steep and unforgiving. It's a terribly long way up to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, that anybody made it that far is a demonstration of incredible fortitude. It was 40° today, the thought of climbing those hills seemed ridiculous. How did anyone manage to survive?
It's difficult to visit a place like this and not make it about yourself, vague reminders of those who died, those who remained, those who entered the consciousness of so many people, and those who time has forgotten. It is difficult to imagine the scale of the horror, both the acts of inhumanity and humanity that took place, the fact that most of these men were barely more than boys, and such an awfully long way from home. It's difficult to imagine that people would sign up now for such a big adventure when our heads are full of the images of life on the front line which we see every day. In a way it is more poignant as we see old, grey photos of young men ready to leave on their adventure, the letters they wrote home and the calm, quiet, peaceful place where the Turks look after the memory of all who died.
There are olive trees and rosemary around the graves, the sea is peaceful, people's voices are subdued. I think they are doing us a great service, and great honour, I only hope that we would do the same.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
World traveller, writer, blogger, photographer, editor, teacher, cake maker, wine drinker, sesquipedalian, wordsmith. And serial competition winner, it seems.