The journey to pay homage to those who never returned from this now peaceful peninsula is one SUE WALLACE will forever hold close to her heart.
NOTHING quite prepares you for the first time you step foot on the sacred grounds of Gallipoli.
I thought I knew what to expect after reading books and watching so many mini-series and films but when you stand on those once bloody battlefields, walk in the trenches and look up at those imposing cliffs, emotions run high.
It’s a mix of deep sadness, awe and pride that creeps over you as you try to get some idea of what it must have been like, but know you never will.
Woken at 4.30am by the call to prayer in Istanbul, it’s a six-hour bus ride to Gallipoli but our excellent Turkish guide, Ozgur, provides us with lots information about the area we will visit.
Around every bend anticipation grows as we near our destination, which has become a sacred rite of passage for so many Australians.
We could spend days here visiting the many cemeteries and museums but we only have a short time to pay our respects to all those who fought and died for their countries.
First stop is a big map so we get our bearings and Ozgur explains the significance of the area and why it was so fought over.
“The slender peninsula that forms the north-western side of the Dardanelles has been the key to Istanbul — any navy that could break through the strait had a good chance of capturing the capital of the Eastern European world,” Ozgur says.
The entire Anzac site has been preserved as a memorial to the men who died here and includes 21 cemeteries and three memorials.
The bus pulls up at Anzac Cove, where the blue Aegean Sea is lapping the small stretch of beach where so many Australian soldiers were killed even before they reached the shore.
We tread lightly on the sacred sand; crystal-clear waters run over pebbles and it is hard to imagine this was the scene of such carnage 100 years ago.
Some pick up pebbles to souvenir but to me this is a place where things should be left undisturbed.
It’s now a beautiful bay beside a small gravesite where the age of young soldiers who died evoke deep emotions.
There’s Robert, who died aged 19, Tom whose life finished at 18, and Henry 20, who didn’t return home.
Just names on gravestones but when you stop and think of the grief and loss of the families involved it washes over you in waves. So many young men in their late teens and early 20s; so many lives cut short.
Further on I stop at the gravestone of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who was with the Australian Medical Corps and died at age 22. His exploits have been well documented, with the help of his donkey he helping many wounded.
It says simply: He Gave His Life That Others May Live.
Close by is another gravestone that catches my eye — TA Wallace — no relation but his namesake touches me.
Killed at the age of 24, he was with the 8th Australian Lighthorse and his headstone is inscribed with the poignant words: Though Death Divides, Fond Memories Cling.
Later we visit other nearby cemeteries including St Hells Spit and Shrapnel Valley, which took its name from the heavy shelling it was given by Turkish forces in the days after the Allied landings. Some in our groups find the graves of distant relations and pay their respects.
Lone Pine Cemetery is located on a strategically important plateau that was once a Turkish stronghold and attacked by Australian forces on August 6, 1915, — for four days fighting raged over the ground where the cemetery stands until the last Turkish counter-attacks were defeated.
Lone Pine was then held until the evacuation of the peninsula in December 1915.
Seven thousand men died here in just four days, in an area the size of a soccer field.
The Gallipoli statistics are sobering, from the landing on April 25, 1915 until the last soldiers left the peninsula on January 9, 1916, 8700 Australians and 2700 New Zealanders lost their lives.
In all, 36,000 Commonwealth, 10,000 French, 86,000 Turkish troops — a total of 132,000 soldiers died in the Gallipoli campaign.
Later we walk along the old trenches and a shiver runs through me.
It’s a place to stop and think about the sacrifices made and the horrors endured.
There are also many Turkish cemeteries and memorials which are busy with busloads of school children who visit Gallipoli as it is a compulsory part of their school curriculum.
Today, as Anzac Day unfolds my Gallipoli visit has special meaning.
I think of all those families who lost fathers, husbands, sons, brothers and friends on both sides and for those whose lives were never the same again.
As we leave the words of the first president of Turkey Mustafa Kemal inscribed at the memorial on Anzac Cove touch me like they always do and several tears escape:
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.
I will always remember Gallipoli where red poppies sway in the patchwork of fields.
It touched my heart and I will not forget Robert, Tom, Henry, John Simpson Kirkpatrick and TA Wallace.
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