Moving experience of Gallipoli dawn service

By TONY FOSTER

IT is 6 pm on the April 24, 2012 and we have secured our seats in preparation for the long night ahead and the much -anticipated Dawn Service at the Anzac Commemorative Site, Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.

The weather forecast is promising, 10 deg overnight and no rain in contrast to other years that have experienced temperatures below zero overnight. We had our sleeping bags, layers of clothes and heavy jackets so we settled in for the long night ahead. This is a major event to organise and the Australian and New Zealand Governments along with the Government of Turkey has to be congratulated on the organisation that must go in to making this a safe and well run major event.

Mayor Tony Foster at the gravestone of the Anzac stretcher bearer John Simpson Kirkpatrick, better known as 'the man with the donkey'.
Mayor Tony Foster at the gravestone of the Anzac stretcher bearer John Simpson Kirkpatrick, better known as 'the man with the donkey'.

We, that is Noeline, my son James, brother Michael and I had come to Turkey as part of the Essendon Football Club supporters group- 28 in all, male and female ranging in age from 23 to 77 years with our tour host former club champion Jason Johnson. Our appetites had certainly been whetted in spending the previous couple of days visiting battleground sites and many of the cemeteries and memorials that are dotted around the Gallipoli Peninsula.

At 8 pm the Reflective Program begins and the WOW factor kicks in – we look at one another, are we really here.

The Reflective program starts with a Safety Video, a message about the safety and well-being of visitors to the Anzac Commemorative Site followed for the next nine hours by Military Band performances, documentaries, interviews and of course while all this is going on we try to catch some sleep but that is nigh on impossible as one contemplates the arrival of dawn.

It is 5 am and the incessant time watching can now stop as the official party including our Prime Minister Julia Gillard, arrives. The Reflective Program culminates in a segment titled ‘Spirit of Place’. It opened with a live soliloquy by Warren Brown and was enhanced by discrete mood lighting of the water and terrain. This was followed by a Roll of Honour where the names, photographs and epitaphs of some of those who died at Gallipoli are seen as a montage on screen. The solemnity of this element was further enhanced when hundreds of names of the fallen disappear into infinity to the sound effect of lapping water. Rather haunting as the time crept towards 5.30 am and the beginning of the Dawn Service.

As dawn rose it cast an eerie sight over the Aegean Sea as it lay as a backdrop to what was about to unveil before us for the next hour. Looking out over that misty sea knowing that right behind me were the hills and high ground that was occupied by the Turks when the Anzacs landed at this fateful place some 97 years ago and while only remaining on Gallipoli for eight months the casualties on all sides was horrific and while official figures vary, it is believed that almost 60,000 Australians served on Gallipoli, 8709 of those killed and 19,441 wounded.

Music being provided by the New Zealand Army Band and the Australian Army Band drifted away as the clock struck 5.30 am and Commander Glen Stokes, RNZN introduced himself as the Master of Ceremonies.

The Call to Remembrance was read by Rear Admiral Jack Steer ONZM Vice Chair of the New Zealand Defence Force, and then followed a brilliant address by the Primer Minister Julia Gillard; to me this was the first of many emotional periods that brought a tear or two to one’s eyes. A quotation by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who became President of the Republic of Turkey in 1934 was spoken by a Turkish Army Officer. This quote is etched in stone on one of the many memorials that dot the Peninsula and I have it printed at the end of this column as I believe it is so worth reading.

The Hymn  Abide With Me then was sung followed by an address by Nathan Guy Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, New  Zealand.  A Reading by Air Marshall Geoff Brown AO Chief of Air Force, Australia was followed by the Prayer of Remembrance, the Lord’s Prayer, official wreath laying and then the Ode of Remembrance was fittingly delivered by Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG.

As the tears begin to well, particularly as you look across the shores of the Aegean Sea to the islands in the background, the most amazing playing of the Last Post is followed by one minute’s silence, the Reveille and the playing of the National Anthems of Turkey, New Zealand and Australia signalling the dawn service is coming to an end.  This is at 6.30 am when the Final Blessing is given by Michael Subritzky Principal Chaplain for the New Zealand Defence Force.

We take some time to talk about what has just unfolded and with the sun now coming up reflect on what the last hour or so has meant to each of us, then it is time to walk the 3.1 kilometres to Lone Pine  Cemetery for the 10 am service. The walk takes us along the coast road past Ari Burnu, Shrapnel Valley and Beach cemeteries before turning off at Artillery Road which leads us inland up the steep slopes and hills past Shell Green Cemetery to Lone Pine.

The Lone Pine Service is attended primarily by visitors from Australia as New Zealanders have their own ceremony at Chunuk Bair. Once again the Australian Army Band performed in the lead-up to the Lone Pine Service scheduled to start at 10 am.

We had been here the day before and had the opportunity to walk around and reflect on the battle that took place on this site, a battle site that yielded seven of the nine VCs presented during the Gallipoli campaign.

The Master of Ceremonies for this service was Major General Mark Kelly AO DSC Repatriation Commissioner, Department of Veteran Affairs. I would estimate that there were in excess of 5000 Australians at this service when the Australian Ambassador to Turkey provided the welcome on a now bright and sunny morning

Ian Campbell Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs read the Reflection and a few words I quote from what he said: “Here at Lone Pine, wherever we walk, wherever we stand or sit, and the men of 1915 lie beneath us. In this place, we walk among the ghosts of the battlefield. Our hearts beat for their hearts and we leave them with a peace that was ever elusive during the campaign “. A Bible Reading followed, and then we sang with much gusto the hymn Amazing Grace, followed by another reading by Air Marshall Geoff Brown AO, Chief of Air Force, Australia. Prime Minister Julia Gillard then delivered another brilliant speech, which again was very well received by those attending. This year’s Simpson Prize winner Phylliad Behm read extracts from a poem written by Signaller Thomas Skeyhill, 8th Battalion AIF, followed by a Prayer for the Australian Defence Force, then the official wreath laying. It was very fitting that where a battle took place yielding seven VCs that our latest VC winner Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith would recite the Ode of Remembrance.

Another stirring playing of the Last Post was followed by a minute’s silence, Rouse and the National Anthems of Turkey and Australia. A Final Blessing was delivered by the Principal Chaplain of the Australian Army Geoff Webb.

In his initial introductions MC Mark Kelly asked that veterans of Australian armed forces to stand and be acknowledged. I know my brother Michael felt honoured as he stood and was one of those applauded here at this special site on this very special day.

At 11am the service finished and we prepared to walk the 3.1 kilometres back down to Anzac Cove and meet our bus for our trip back to Istanbul.

Yes an amazing experience one I am glad I have had the opportunity to be a part of, and being with members of my family made it all the more special.

Australia do not despair. Our future is in good hands if what I have observed here at Gallipoli is in any part a reflection on those 7000 young Australians who turned up for this most amazing of experiences. It is times like these that makes me feel proud to say I am Australian.

The Quotation by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – President of the Republic of Turkey (1934)

Those heroes that shed their blood, and lost their lives

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country

Therefore rest in peace.

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 bosum, and are in peace

After having lost their lives on this land

They have become our sons as well.

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