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The beauty of Gallipoli surprised me. If I had known the meaning of the word, I would have been better prepared - "beautiful place." An early exit from Istanbul ensured we arrived at the Gallipoli Peninsula in time for a leisurely inspection of Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair, the Turkish and New Zealand memorials and Simpson's grave. Our Turkish guide spoke with great respect for the ANZACS, in what he called the "The Gentlemen's' War." It was an emotion-charged afternoon as we walked softly on sacred ground that embraced the souls of three countries, whose nationhood was born from that bitter campaign. As you cross from Canakkale on the ferry to Gallipoli, these words are emblazoned on the hillside in bold letters.

"Traveller halt!

The soil you tread

Once witnessed the end of an era"

The words are taken from a Turkish poem.

Stop wayfarer! Unbeknownst to you this ground

You come and tread on, is where an epoch lies;

Bend down and lend your ear, for this silent mound

Is the place where the heart of a nation sighs.

To the left of this deserted shadeless lane

The Anatolian slope now observe you well;

For liberty and honour, it is, in pain,

Where wounded Mehmet laid down his life and fell.

This very mound, when violently shook the land,

When the last bit of earth passed from hand to hand,

And when Mehmet drowned the enemy in flood,

Is the spot where he added his own pure blood.

Think, the consecrated blood and flesh and bone

That make up this mound, is where a whole nation,

After a harsh and pitiless war, alone

Tasted the joy of freedom with elation.

From this solemn site the great General Kemal, later known as Ataturk, led the Turks against the Allies, and became the founding father of modern Turkey. I stood in front of his gracious words, set in stone near Anzac Cove. I had read his impassioned plea many times, but standing on soil, soaked with the blood of our youth, took my emotions to another level.

"You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and 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.”

Mustafa Kemal Atatürksoil

When I looked into the eyes of the young men whose land we had invaded, I was aware of unease. To feel the safe hands of the Turkish police and the army, some visible, others hidden in the lush undergrowth; snipers strategically positioned high on the ridges was humbling. The Turkish authorities had gone to great lengths to ensure a safe commemoration. Swimming and diving were banned and any development on the peninsula prohibited to ensure a safe and respectful sanctuary. The respect given by our once-time-enemy is humbling.

Enduring the night on hard plastic chairs was made easier by the absence of the cold wind that prevails on the peninsula. Our survival plan included two large silver-coloured space bags, which helped retain our body heat. In addition, they provided great entertainment for the surrounding public, attracting comments like "garlic bread", and "Chris Crinkle", because every time we moved, it sounded like someone opening a packet of Smith Crisps. The blinding reflections from the lights that lit up our quality investment from Kathmandu, simplified locating our seat on our return trip from the toilet.

Before dawn, the service was greeted by a respectful silence of nearly 10,000 pilgrims. The Youth Choir with the Turkish Military Band soothed and stirred our spirits. The formalities flowed smoothly, except for the ranting of an individual whose language, fortunately I could not understand. The end of the service at Anzac Cove signalled an instant transformation. A writhing mass of unwashed humanity quickly stripped off thermals and layers that had guarded against the cold of the night. Preparation began for part two of the pilgrimage - the long climb up unsealed Artillery Road for the Australian Service at Lone Pine. Some of the uninhibited, free spirited youth left little to the imagination as they transformed themselves for the journey. Picturing the ANZACS, hauling their heavy artillery up the slope, often under fire, overcame any thoughts of discomfort as we climbed that steep, uneven road.

The sun was merciless as we sat for over two hours, waiting for the service to start. Lone Pine was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting in World War 1. On the Western Front later, the catch cry was, "Was it as bad as Lone Pine?" Similar songs and speeches were part of the second service. At the conclusion, a military style evacuation, strategically carried out by our guide, Captain Haydar, placed us well ahead of the hundreds of buses packed on the peninsula. We were soon on the ferry, powering our way to Canakkale. On the ferry, I looked back at the words that greet every traveller to this sacred sight ....... "Traveller halt.......... and remembered the final injunction of the Master of Ceremonies of the Lone Pine service "to walk softly" .... and we did.

Reflections from my Travel Diary. Gallipoli 25th April 2013


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