Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anzac Day

After our visit to Çanakkale and Troy on April 24, we took the ferry back across to Eceabat and headed for Anzac Cove. On the night before the Dawn Service most people head to the site and try to get a spot on the grass or in the stands so they can spend the night there and be ready for the dawn. We planned to take our sleeping bags and lie down on the grass and try to get some sleep, so we knew we would have to get there early. 

Security was heavy, and we passed numerous jandarma checkpoints along the road. We arrived at the south end of the National Park at 2pm, but were told by some helpful Aussie marshals that we should turn around and approach Anzac Cove from the north as we would be able to get closer to the site that way.

As close as we could get to Anzac Cove.
You can see the red seating for the Dawn Service
We followed a narrow rural road for 45 minutes, getting waved through jandarma checkpoints every 5-10 minutes, until we reached the north entrance to the national park. And were promptly told by the final jandarma to turn around and go back whence we came....

The official system was that most of the tour buses would approach Anzac Cove from the south, drop their passengers off, turn around and follow the loop road by which we'd come, and then park along the side of the road leading in to Anzac Cove from the north. The other portion of buses drove straight to the north end and let their passengers off there. (The next day, the buses would drive south through Anzac Cove and then head up the hill to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair - the Aussie and Kiwi memorials - to pick up their passengers there). We wanted to make sure we were well out of the way of the jandarma and the potentially long line of buses, as they were to park along the road for the next 9 hours, so we drove back up the coast a bit further and pulled into the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery. We paid our respects to the many men buried there, and set off on the 3km walk to the northern entry point. When we finally arrived about 3pm, there were already a hundred or so Aussies waiting to enter. We soon discovered that the jandarma were not opening the gates to Anzac Cove until 6pm, so it was going to be a long, hot wait.

The bottom arrow shows the beginning of the anticlockwise loop road (which eventually becomes the top arrow)
The arrow in the middle is pointing to Artillery Road.

Finally, at 6pm, the gates opened. We soon discovered that everything was to be done in tour groups, and we were the only people there who had travelled in by ourselves... Eventually we pinned down the head Aussie marshal who escorted us through the entry gates and into the site. He also introduced us to the first Kiwi marshals we'd seen, who were amazed that we had walked in by ourselves, shaking our hands in awe like we were celebrities! (By 3pm the next day, we had met only one other group of people who had travelled in by themselves. It didn't take long to realise that everything was much easier if you were in a tour group, especially as those in tours didn't have to do the 8km walk back down from the top of the hills. So if you're thinking of travelling in independently - it can be done, but I'd recommend you join a small tour instead.)

After chatting with the Kiwis for a moment more, we entered the queue for the security checks and were soon on our way to Anzac Cove.

Walking the final few kilometres south to the Anzac Commemorative Site

We managed to find a good spot at the back of the grass, and we set our our sleeping bags and made friends with our neighbour. He was with a Contiki tour and was unimpressed at the less-than-appropriate party attitude of those on the tour so had found his own spot to set up camp. He was a military enthusiast so there was much to talk about.

Soon the sun started to set and the long night began.

The front half of the site - there were about this many people again behind us
Once the sun had set, the floodlights came on and the video screens began to play clips from documentaries, films, historians, and the like. It was all very interesting, though hard to catch a moment of sleep with the bright lights and extremely loud audio.
The Sphinx and moon looking down on us
Trying to get some sleep
It was a long hard night, though the material playing on the screens was quite interesting, and the occasional slot from the NZ Military Band and Mark Hadlow was very welcome. (Who knew he was in the Navy??) It got a bit more cramped at 2pm when another whole swathe of people arrived, and I found myself sliding down a hole. No more sleep for me!

Soon, - I lie - hours later, the Dawn Service began. The atmosphere was electric. We stood there solemnly, chilled through, as the beautiful orange moon slowly set in the sky behind the stage. I tried to picture the ANZACs, moored out beyond the horizon, waiting for the moon to set so they could begin their mission. Finally setting off in near total darkness, boats drifting north with the current, men shivering with cold and nerves. Rowing towards us, rowing into the toughest challenge of their lives.

During the service there were readings, hymns, prayers, and greetings from official parties. Finally, as the flags were lowered and we bowed our heads, the bugler played the last post. After this, with the sun slowly rising over the range behind us, the haunting tones of the bagpipes filled the air. We thought of the second wave of Australians coming ashore in daylight to be met by now reinforced Turkish fire. The waves of Australians and Kiwis that kept arriving during the day, some never making it up the beach. The next eight months spent on the very ground we stood on, with so many of our countrymen never to make it off these shores.
As we reflected, the piper piped.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

And over it all, the Sphinx (and the jandarma) stood watch.

After the service, we prepared for the 8km walk up to Chunuk Bair. It was lovely and cool, the perfect time to begin a tough walk on little sleep.

The first part of the walk was south along the main road into Anzac Cove. After walking for a few kilometres, we came to a sign pointing to a rough track - Artillery Road. This was a steep track created by the Allies in 1915, to enable them to get reinforcements up the slopes of Bolton's Ridge. The Australian Field Artillery also had a number of batteries instilled along the surrounding hills, which is where the name came from. In preparation for the August Offensive, the track was widened and extended up to the top of the ridge, near Lone Pine. 

Today, there is a fair amount of scrub and trees along the sides of the dirt track, and this provided much needed shade as the sun grew hotter. 

And we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed. This shot looks down to Shell Green Cemetery, the first place of rest on the long walk up Artillery Road. On December 17, 1915, Australian troops played cricket at Shell Green in order to divert Turkish attention while much of Anzac Cove was being prepared for evacuation.

Shell Green Cemetery
Looking south towards Lone Pine.
The end of Artillery Road is on the right, where the person in the red top is visible.
We finally made it onto the main road, just beyond Lone Pine, the Australian War Memorial. By that stage, we were 118 metres above sea level. After about 45 minutes of walking, we decided to turn off the main trail and pay a visit to The Nek.

On August 6, 1915, a new offensive began. British forces would land at Suvla Bay and march south to capture the high ground of Sari Bair while the New Zealanders would take the high ground at Chunuk Bair (part of the greater Sari Bair range). The landing at Suvla was unopposed, but British troops failed to make much ground up the Sari Bair range (Most simply because commanding officers failed to impress upon the men how crucial it was to capture Sari Bair within the first few hours of the Offensive - ask me if you want to know more!), and the New Zealanders, too, struggled - becoming lost in the unfamiliar terrain, desperately in need of British back-up. 

It was planned that by dawn on August 7 the New Zealanders would have captured Chunuk Bair and at 4.30am that morning, the Australians would launch attacks at Lone Pine and The Nek in order to distract the Turks. By dawn on August 7, the New Zealanders had not managed to capture Chunuk Bair, but it was decided to launch the Australian attacks anyway. The fighting was brutal: much of it took place in extremely close quarters - with trenches some 10 metres apart in places - including some hand-to-hand fighting actually inside Turkish trenches. At The Nek a naval bombardment of Turkish trenches started the attack. Unfortunately  the bombardment stopped early and this gave the Turks valuable minutes to prepare for the inevitable attack. Between 4.15 and 5.30am, four waves of Australian soldiers rushed out of their trenches and towards the Turkish trenches only metres away. 243 Australians were killed and 138 wounded in little more than an hour. 

This is The Nek - there are 316 unidentified men buried in a piece of land barely the size of a tennis court:

The views from The Nek were breathtaking. Another difficult-to-process juxtaposition of beauty and the horror of war.
Looking north towards Suvla Bay, where the British landed on August 6
We dragged ourselves away from this haunting place and continued our walk up the hill. The road grew steeper, the asphalt radiated even more heat, and our legs began to grow wobbly. It was a sort of baptism of fire, but we must have been fitter than we realised - and I suspect the Meindl walking boots helped a lot - and we finally arrived at Chunuk Bair.
These boots were made for walking

After a 2.5 hour wait, and once the VIPs and VVIPs had eventually arrived, the service began. I must admit, it was hard to concentrate with the Turkish media making a large amount of noise directly behind us. However, when they shut up long enough for us to hear the service, it was beautiful.

My friend Shay
Afterwards we placed poppies on the memorial, said goodbye to friends Shay, Jo and Regan, and - failing to find any offers of transport (other than suggestions to walk down Rhododendron Ridge - anyone have any info on this? Not that we're planning on going back to try it!) - began our long climb back down the hill.

Jo and I
From The Nek we had taken a picture of the long line of buses, snaking their way along the road south into Anzac Cove. Our car was parked right at the very end of those, and the only way to get to it was to walk back down, past Lone Pine, down Artillery Road, through Anzac Cove, some 11+ kilometres... But we made it!

Our car is pretty much off the right-hand edge of this picture...
We even made some friends on the way back down
The view back up to Chunuk Bair - giant Ataturk monuments are in white on the right,
the Turkish flag flies from a statue just beside the Chunuk Bair memorial

Just after 3pm we made it to our rental car. Dog tired, we drove back to Eceabat and to our B&B there. We collapsed, and slept so deeply that it eventually took me half an hour of concerted poking, prodding, shaking, and pinching to get Adam to wake up. 

What a day. A truly memorable experience, and we felt like true ANZACs for making the epic climb both up and down the tall range. Even though the walk was tough, we both agreed we had no regrets - it was all part of the experience. I'm so glad we got to go, I've been wanting to go since I was about 16 and this really was a dream fulfilled - another thing ticked off our bucket list!


  1. Beautiful Michelle - brings it all back from when we made it there in 2008. You guys were hardcore doing it by rental car! we joined a small 2-day tour to get out there and back.

    Hope you're continuing to have an awesome time!

  2. Hi Ju, thanks for the comment!! Yeah we didn't realise how uncommon it was to go in by yourself - but it definitely made for an amazing experience. Who knew I would be able to walk 20 kms in one day?! Of course, it was much more difficult for the ANZACs, as they had to dig their own roads and everything, but it helped me understand a bit more of how difficult life on the peninsula must have been.

    Looking forward to chatting about your experiences with you when we get back in a few months! Any recommendations on places we really have to visit?