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They shall grow not old

As the Gallipoli landing centenary nears, Ruth Pollard reflects on the Anzac dawn service.
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For a site that has seen such horror, the Gallipoli peninsula is a silent, beautiful place. The pale blue Aegean Sea seems to stretch in a single, glassy sheet from land to horizon. Behind you, the plateau that was unforgiving in war is now a towering green backdrop to the rows of modest, meticulously tended gravestones at Beach Cemetery.

The Gallipoli Campaign took place on the peninsula between April 25, 1915, and January 9, 1916.

Next year, thousands of Australians will be on the peninsula on Anzac Day to take part in 100th anniversary events.

Whether you are family of a Gallipoli veteran, an amateur war historian or a life-long pacifist it is difficult to walk on ground here and not be overwhelmed.

The landscape forces you to confront the horrific, months-long battle in which thousands of Australian, New Zealand, British, Indian and Turkish soldiers died and so many families were left in anguish and grief.

And as you stand in the quiet beauty of north-western Turkey it is impossible to forget that just across the border in Syria, another war of unspeakable violence is being fought with no hope of an end. More dead soldiers, more wounded veterans and more families torn apart.

A walk between the small rows of headstones on the Gallipoli peninsula will make you smile and cry all at once – heartfelt, eloquent inscriptions are balanced with that unique Australian gift for understatement.

My favourite reads simply: “Well done, Ted.”

For independent travellers, an excellent base for the Anzac Day dawn service is the small, waterfront town of Eceabat. It is a 20-minute drive from Gallipoli and you’ll meet many others making the same journey out to the peninsula.

Forget what you have heard about drunken revelry taking place among the gravestones of veterans – the Anzac dawn ceremony is sober, respectful and well organised. Alcohol is forbidden and bags are checked thoroughly.

The evening passes with surprising speed. The backpackers – most seem to be Australians and New Zealanders on a gap year in London – are well-behaved, respectful and snuggled tight in their sleeping bags on the lawn in front of the bleachers.

Then, in the last hour before dawn, something extraordinary happens. Most of us, old and young, are awake and standing, watching the horizon for the first signs of light. A hush descends and I am amazed to look around at the crowd; upright and heads bowed together in silence. As the ink-black sky turned to dark blue and the first call of the Last Post cut through the morning air… it is a moment I will remember forever.

By 8am it is baking hot and time to make your way up to the Lone Pine memorial – a three-kilometre walk along a steep path that will be a challenge for some. It is here that the modest cream gravestones give identity to some of the fallen.

Some 8709 Australians died in the failed push to control the strategic Turkish seaways, along with 2707 New Zealanders, about 21,000 British and 1358 Indians.

Up to 86,000 Turkish soldiers also died in the campaign – an extraordinary number of fatalities from Turkey’s then vast but crumbling Ottoman empire.

Many who visit Gallipoli will be moved by the words of the Turkish commander at Gallipoli, founder of the modern secular Turkish republic and its first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 1934 he wrote a tribute to Anzacs who died at Gallipoli that is memorialised on a plaque on the peninsula.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,” Ataturk wrote.

“Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side-by-side now here in this country of ours … you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway 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.”

Ruth Pollard is Fairfax Media’s Middle East correspondent.Five Gallipoli 2015 pilgrimage tours

MAT McLACHLAN BATTLEFIELD TOURS

Two Gallipoli centenary tours, which include five nights’ accommodation at Gallipoli, offer historian guides.

For those unsuccessful in the Federal Government’s dawn service ballot, the tour will broadcast the official service at a key historic site at Gallipoli on April 25, and afterwards its own service will be held.

See gallipolitour2015苏州美甲培训.au.

APT

APT’s Gallipoli 2015 luxury small ship Mediterranean cruise will take in Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia and Italy over 17, 23 or 31 days.

The ship will be anchored in Anzac Cove for the morning service. Those successful in the ballot will be taken over to the dawn service. Three hours later everyone will be able to walk around the site of the service.

See aptouring苏州美甲培训.au.

INSIGHT VACATIONS

Insight Vacations’ 11-day Anzac Day and the Splendours of Turkey tour, includes sightseeing tours in Istanbul, Gallipoli, Athens and Troy. See insightvacations苏州美甲培训.

BATTLEFIELD MEMORIAL TRAVEL

The 31-night Gallipoli Remembered tour of the Mediterranean, on board 450-person Saga Sapphire, is limited to the over-50s. The three Australian historians on board will lecture on the history of each port of call. See battlefieldmemorialtravel苏州美甲培训.au.

BORONIA TRAVEL CENTRE

Being the official travel agent to the Australian War Memorial, Boronia Travel Centre has access to some of the industry’s most experienced battlefield historians and guides on their 12-day battlefield tour. See boroniabattlefieldtours苏州美甲培训.au.

Nina Karnikowski

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