The countdown has begun and by mid-April, many tourists will have started their journey to the shores of Turkey, albeit in a vastly different way to the war heroes they are here to commemorate. It’s that time of year again when antipodeans all over the world come to pay their respects at Gallipoli for the much celebrated Anzac Day. Held on the 25th of April, this year marks the 95th anniversary since the tragic miscalculated landing on Anzac Cove that cost the lives of many Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
Every year, thousands attend the dawn service to honour their countrymen, or in many cases, their ancestors who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. Commissioned by Winston Churchill, many of the Allied side, including Brits, French, Indians and ANZAC’s, lost their lives as they fought an uphill battle against a shower of bullets and shrapnel; the prized goals being the hilltop barracks of Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, where the Australian and New Zealand memorials (respectively) are located to this day. After months of fighting, the loss of their advantageous positions led them to retreat; their attempt to control the Dardenelles in hope of securing the only sea route to Russia and conquering Istanbul was abandoned. Being the first major battle undertaken by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, it is one of the most important commemoration days for military casualties and war veterans.
On the other side of the trenches, the Turks also have reason to commemorate the anniversary of what they call the Çanakkale Savaslari (Çanakkale Wars). A final victory for the crumbling Ottoman Empire, it was here that Kemal Mustafa (later known as Ataturk – Father of the Turks) rose through the ranks to become an important officer; had it not been for a pocket fob watch deflecting a potentially fatal bullet, Mustafa Kemal would not have lived to bring Turkey to independence eight years later. Despite loosing twice the amount of soldiers as the Allied side, the defeat gave the Turks strength and created a fierce nationalism giving way to the Turkish republic.
Stories of comradeship between the two opposing sides have filtered down from veterans over the years, adding to the amicable friendship between Turks and antipodeans that exists today. With the trenches dug just metres apart in some places, the two sides were known to swap food and cigarettes by throwing them across the dividing range; a truce was also allowed for a day so Turks could gather some 10,000 casualties at Lone Pine.
It’s quite the occasion and holds its place as one of the must-do things for antipodeans. Many debates have arose whether Anzac Day is the best way to commemorate their fallen heroes, as the popularity of the event in recent years has attracted more than tens of thousands of people, squished onto the small cove. It is true that you will probably feel more connected to what happened in the quiet of the day with hardly anyone else, but Anzac Day celebrations are an experience in themselves; the best alternative? try and do both!