The battlefield tours were what really drove home the truth of Anzac Day for me. They opened my eyes and allowed me to go into the Anzac Day services feeling more of a closeness to and with a deeper understanding of our lost soldiers and their experiences of sacrifice.
Part of the tours involved walking some of the same trails on the Peninsula that the soldiers had walked during the war. It was truly humbling to be standing where they stood and fought, and to be retracing their footsteps. The geography of the Gallipoli Peninsula is not forgiving, and with the rocky cliff faces and steep hills, I could see why our soldiers had faced an impossible task, finding safety and gaining ground – there would have been no hiding and no shelter when the enemy was right above you and could see everything.
We actually got to walk up to Chunuk Bair using the same trail the troops used – this meant we had to climb up Rhododendron Ridge. It was gruelling, and at times the steepness of the hill was insane – it makes me wonder how the troops managed to do it without the stairs we had, during the night, while carrying all their gear and their rifles and their wounded comrades.
The other part of the battlefield tours consisted of visits to several war cemeteries on the Peninsula. Every visit was a personal journey in itself. Simply having read about the ANZACs in the past was not nearly the same as actually standing by their gravestones, and I don’t think any of us had expected it to take such an emotional toll on us as it did. But what was so lovely was that all the cemeteries were so incredibly peaceful. The grounds were lush green and very well-cared for, with big shady trees, and plants or colourful flowers planted between every gravestone – it made me happy that our troops’ final resting place was a place of peace and safety where they are cared about, albeit so far from home.
Anzac Cove was a definite turning point for me. At Anzac Cove, we were all wandering among the gravestones and laying poppies when the silence was broken by the sound of bagpipes – the piper who travelled with us was walking along the beach playing the Lament. It really struck a chord with me seeing and hearing the Lament being played on that same shore on which our troops arrived a century ago – the meaning of Anzac Day had never before been so clear to me as it was then.