Back in 1994 I had set out on an excellent adventure with Duncan to the other side of the world. By April we were traveling through Turkey and timed our trip to arrive in the city of Canakkale on the 24th April. The place was swarming with Australian and Kiwi backpackers and every second shop seemed to be screening Peter Weir’s 1981 epic Australian film Gallipoli that starred Mel Gibson and Mark Lee.
Like us the other travelers had come to commemorate Anzac Day at the place where it had all begun 79 years before. We checked into the Yellow Rose Pension not far from the centre of town and booked ourselves onto a tour for the following morning.
In the very early hours of April 25th 1994 we boarded a ferry and crossed the Dardanelles (a narrow stretch of water connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara), to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Ari Burnu War Cemetery near Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsular. The crowd that day was estimated to be around six hundred people, which seemed heaps back then but in more recent years crowds attending the Gallipoli Anzac Day ceremony have been in excess of fifteen thousand people.
It was a moving experience to stand looking out over the Aegean Sea in the half-light of dawn and listen to the lone bugler play the Last Post.
Nearby was the Kabatepe Ari Burnu Beach Memorial. Inscribed in English on the stone are the famous words that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk delivered in 1934 to the first Australians, New Zealanders and British to visit the Gallipoli battlefields:
"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
Here 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."
(Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish military officer during the Gallipoli Campaign and went on to become the first president of the Republic of Turkey in 1923).
The remainder of our Anzac Day in 1994 was spent attending wreath-laying services at the numerous war cemeteries around the Gallipoli Peninsular. The following day we returned and spent a full day hiking over the former battlefields, through the infamous Shrapnel Gully, along Monash Valley (named after Barham Bridge engineer Sir John Monash), falling into overgrown trenches, discovering old bully beef tins and many other reminders of the ill-fated military campaign.
At Shell Green I found the grave of Roy Facey, aged twenty three. Roy was the brother of Albert Facey who later wrote about his Gallipoli experience in his famous autobiography “A Fortunate Life” … on arriving back I was told that Roy had been killed. He and his mate had been killed by the same shell. This was a terrible blow to me. I had lost a lot of my mates and seen a lot of men die, but Roy was my brother … I helped to bury Roy and fifteen of our mates who had been killed on the twenty-eighth. We put them in a grave side by side on the edge of a clearing we called Shell Green. Roy was in pieces when they found him. We put him together as best we could – I can remember carrying a leg – it was terrible.
There is a beautiful calm stillness that surrounds you at the war graves at Gallipoli, in direct contrast to its violent history. In Australia I felt that same sense of tranquility at the Adelaide River War Cemetery near Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Next Wednesday is Anzac Day and we will be commemorating the 97th anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. A time for all of us, regardless of our origins to reflect on war and remember the men and women who have fought for our country.