On behalf of the Australian Government and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, we are very pleased to inform you that your application for a double pass to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Gallipoli on 25 April 2015 has been successful.
You might recall my post from a year ago announcing my name had been drawn in the ballot to attend the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at the Gallipoli peninsula. I mentioned the logistical difficulty of getting down there, but I didn’t talk about how I was considering giving up the tickets. There were a lot of questions. Who would I take? Adam? But who would look after the kids? What if I took one child and not the other – wasn’t that unfair? And even if I did take a child, wouldn’t that be too much to ask, a night out in the freezing cold with little or no sleep? On top of this, I couldn’t find the right tour – they were all too long. I just wanted an ‘in and out’ one – go down the day before and came back the evening of the 25th.
Then my mother came to the rescue. I realised she would be the perfect choice to accompany me – she’s done so much genealogical research into our family over the years. I asked her and she said yes. She also found the perfect tour when she was doing her own investigating. It was Kismet. So we extended our trip to include Turkey, I officially accepted the offer and we were set.
Fast forward the months, as the time got closer and the number of emails from the government increased, making sure everyone was informed and prepared, I discovered that they weren’t going to start distributing the tickets until the week we were due to leave Australia in March. People affected by this had the option to either pick up their tickets in Eceabat (not possible for us) or collect them at one of the checkpoints on the 24th. Not an ideal situation, but I trusted that everything would be fine.
Then we arrived in Istanbul. Fabulous, wondrous Istanbul, full of Australians – you could pick up our accents everywhere.
I packed as much sightseeing in on the first day as I could: we only had four days in Turkey and two of those would be spent down at the Gallipoli peninsula. While we were gone Adam and the kids got out and did a lot of things I wish I had the time to do. I only hope I can get back there one day and explore it better.
But I had adventuring of my own to do – getting down to Anzac Cove. If you watch the video you’ll hear me go into a little more detail about that process, but here are some shots – I didn’t take many because my phone was dangerously close to data capacity and I wanted to conserve what I had (not to mention battery life) over the two days.
Here we are waiting at the second checkpoint at Mimoza Park. Many people opted to go and wait the hours down on the rocky beach and take advantage of the warmth and sunshine (the former of which we were assured would vanish once the latter went away). This ‘holding area’ was an extra precaution the Turkish authorities created for this year – tour group buses are usually able to drive up to the drop off zone, but that area was pushed back to here. Instead, Turkish shuttle buses made that extra journey and the tour buses went off to park and wait until they were summoned to make collections the following afternoon. Sounds straightforward, right? Ha. Uh, no. More on that later.
This is the final approach to the final checkpoint and is just outside the Anzac Commemorative Site. People familiar with history, or the terrain, will be able to recognise the Sphinx, that dominating spur of rock that overlooks the cove. At one point during the night, and then again during the dawn service (I think) it was illuminated all around by powerful spotlights and was very impressive.
Medical personnel and ambulances were already being called by this point. One older woman fell up the ramp at the metal detector at the final checkpoint, badly damaging her ankle, and had to be carried out by a stretcher. We all had a long night ahead of us.
This was taken at around 6pm in the evening. There’s a big debate usually about the best place to sit – in the stands or on the grass. There are pros and cons to both, but the regular opinion is that the seats are the better option. Which was why I was a little surprised to find most people dashing to the grassed areas first!
The sun soon started to set and we were all treated to a wonderful sight. Show off, sun!
Here’s the Dawn Service about to start. It’s funny – at some points, it felt like the night was never going to end. Films and documentaries and music is played all the way through to keep the crowd entertained, but it’s hard. And very cold. Then all of a sudden it was 5am, the Spirit of Place began, the sun rose, and the night seemed like it never happened.
We came across many photo-happy soldiers on our way up to Lone Pine.
“Take photo!” one said, gesturing to me.
“Okay…” I said uncertainly, about to hand my phone over, wondering why they wanted to take a picture of me.
“No! You take a photo of us!”
Well, who am I to argue with those flirtatious smiles? Or their bowie knives. Or the machine guns…
Prince Harry received the usual flurry of excitement and cheer he gets at similar public appearances. He smiled and saluted back to the crowd, which got a roar of appreciation. The mood is much more relaxed up at Lone Pine, possibly because everyone is tired and looking forward to that bus trip home again.
Only… that wasn’t quite how it happened. Or it did – just after a long time.
There was an announcement that the Turkish officials would start releasing the buses at 2.30pm, right about when the Chunuk Blair service was set to end. These buses would come up from their parking zones (kilometres away) to collect everyone. As most of us had already discovered, waiting to pass yet another security checkpoint outside Lone Pine, a plan can sound okay in theory, but execution was another matter. This board shows the five bus pick up zones around the memorial site, originally one bus per zone. That was later increased to two buses per zone. How much time might’ve been saved if there were two buses per zone to start with I’ll never know, and I don’t deny that it is an incredibly hard business moving 10,000 people off a mountain, but by 6pm, when our bus number finally flashed up on the board, I admit I shouted out and raised my fists in celebration.
But I looked around and saw how many people were left. About half. They were going to be in for a long wait. And the weather was turning yucky.
Reports vary as to when the very last bus left the penninsula that night: best estimate was 8.45pm; worst estimate was 11pm. Coincidentally, 11pm was when our tour group walked into our hotel back at Istanbul. All I know is that if I’d still been waiting in the dark down at Gallipoli for a bus at that time, I would’ve had a severe mental break.
When Australians would meet in the airport over the coming days, or chat over flights, the first question we all asked one another was: “What time did your bus leave?” Call it a bonding opportunity.
This is sunset on Anzac Day, not long after we were finally on the bus. Most of our fellow tour companions dropped off to sleep straight away, but I waited for the sun to go down. It’s not often you get to see a day from the its start to very end.
Not at Gallipoli, anyway.
Here’s a video about Istanbul and going to Gallipoli:
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