ANZAC DAY – DAWN SERVICE

On the 24th.
On the 24th.

It was a very early start for us on the morning of the 24th, getting everything organised and ready before the gates opened to the crowds. As I mentioned a few posts ago, us Youth Ambassadors had the responsibility of crowd management – we helped people find their seats and where needed pointed them in the direction of the site’s facilities. We paired up and each pair had a grandstand they were in charge of.

Some of the merchandise stalls.
Some of the merchandise stalls.

The first people began filtering in in the early afternoon, and by the time the gates closed again, it was 2AM on the morning of the 25th! Ten thousand people filled up the stands and the grass; everyone in beanies, puffer jackets and sleeping bags. We really felt the conditions on the Peninsula as evening arrived – long before we left NZ, we were warned that the night of the 24th on the Peninsula was going to be very cold, but I don’t think any of us were expecting it to be quite as bitterly cold as it was. We were also told beforehand to watch for signs of hypothermia among people in the crowds! I had more layers of clothing on than I’ve ever worn at once, but even with those several layers – which included two thermals – I was still shivering. I have to wonder how the ANZAC troops managed to survive the ridiculous temperatures in only their uniform?

Evening of the 24th.  [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
Evening of the 24th.
[Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

The site was still alive throughout the night and morning – you could see some people trying to get some sleep, others engaging in conversation, others at the merchandise tents buying warm blankets. Still others of course, were queuing for the port-a-loos (not so glamorous anymore after ten thousand people have been using them). That night all us Youth Ambassadors huddled up to sleep before our 3AM breakfast – I managed a whole one and a half hours of sleep! Suffice it to say, we were all tired…but still ready for the day! And I wasn’t expecting to have an appetite at 3 in the morning, but breakfast was so delicious!

The crowds just before the service was set to start. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
The crowds just before the service was set to start.
[Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]

Watching the Dawn Service on television is one thing but being there and experiencing it is something else entirely. Sitting in reserved seating up front, we were closest to the beach which was just on the other side of the podium stage, and the arctic breeze coming off it was harsh. I have never been so cold in all my life (and I thought the previous evening was cold? – psh!) and I really was concerned that I was going to develop hypothermia.

It was still pitch dark at that time of morning, so once the floodlights were switched off, you couldn’t even see the water. I remember that there was a moment of silence during the service – and it was real silence, despite the ten thousand or so people all occupying the same space – where all you could hear was the ambient sound of the waves lapping on the beach. In that moment, it was so easy to imagine the ANZAC troops arriving on their boats and scrambling up the beach for any form of cover from the enemy bullets raining down from above. It was too easy to imagine the many who weren’t lucky enough to reach shelter. All on that same beach in front of us.

And though there were so many people present at the Dawn Service, there was an overwhelming sense of unity. All ten thousand of us had travelled far and were gathered there for the same reason, and it was a very powerful thing.

Anzac Day Rehearsals

I could never have imagined just how much work goes on behind the scenes in preparation for the Anzac Day services – the work already starts months before Anzac Day, with things like setting up the grandstands on the sites. I take my hat off to all those leaders and officials whose efforts make the services possible – being with them for some of the preparation, I think I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the incredibly hard work they put in.
By comparison, us Youth Ambassadors had the easy part in the preparations. We learnt and continuously practiced our set of songs to sing together to the Chunuk Bair crowds – I still have the words ingrained in my head to this day.
We had a few full days of rehearsals with the rest of the contingent on the Peninsula before Anzac Day, and while the weather on Anzac Day was thankfully perfect, we weren’t so lucky in all the days leading up to it. On one of the days up at Chunuk Bair, we sang our songs in driving rain and wind – bitterly cold wind, being on top of a high hill on the coast. We had to sing very loudly to be heard, what with the gusty winds snatching our voices away. I remember huddling into my rain jacket like a turtle. But we were unstoppable – all of us together as a contingent were toughing it out and so we wouldn’t let a little bit of miserable weather break our spirit.
While we were rehearsing at Chunuk Bair, an Australian youth choir visited the site and of course, in the spirit of friendly competition, we had to have a little bit of a sing-off with them before they left!

During rehearsals up at Chunuk Bair.
During rehearsals up at Chunuk Bair.
Just before the rehearsals at the Dawn Service site.
Just before the rehearsals at the Dawn Service site.
Dawn Service site.
Dawn Service site.

Battlefield Tours – Gallipoli Peninsula

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.

Us on what was a cold morning waiting for the ferry to arrive and take us across to the Peninsula.
Us on what was a cold morning waiting for the ferry to arrive and take us across to the Peninsula.
Us on the Peninsula, walking down to one of the sites.
Us on the Peninsula, walking down to one of the sites.
On the walk up to Chunuk Bair. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
On the walk up to Chunuk Bair. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
Part of the way into the walk up to Chunuk Bair.
Part of the way into the walk up to Chunuk Bair.
One of the trenches at Chunuk Bair.
One of the trenches at Chunuk Bair.
One of the sites we visited on the Peninsula.
One of the sites we visited on the Peninsula.
At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.
At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.
At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.
At one of the cemeteries we visited on the Peninsula.
The cemetery at Anzac Cove.
The cemetery at Anzac Cove.
The piper playing the Lament at Anzac Cove. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
The piper playing the Lament at Anzac Cove. [Photo used with permission from Rawhitiroa Photography.]
Anzac Cove.
Anzac Cove.
At Anzac Cove.
At Anzac Cove.

En route – Day 4

DAY 4 of 4: Canakkale

And we arrive in Turkey! Canakkale is a small city/big town on the waterfront, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. The town being on the water, it was COLD. It was spring at the time, although it felt like winter with summer sun…I liked it! And our hotel was almost on the water itself – very convenient as the ferry was a one minute walk away, and we travelled to the Gallipoli Peninsula almost every day by way of a 15 minute ferry ride. (On the other side we arrive in a town called Eceabat before we drive the rest of the way to the Dawn Service site.)

I loved Canakkale. I would love to go back one day – I could even imagine myself living there for a while! Everyone is so friendly and they love it when you try to speak Turkish – “Merhaba!” (Hello), was pretty much as advanced as our vocal got though, haha! (When we got back to NZ, it took me a fair while not to automatically say “Merhaba” whenever I greeted someone!) The town itself is so beautiful, with lush greenery (so much like NZ, it surprised me!), cobblestone streets (walk carefully) with colourful, cramped shops looking so much like the photos you see in travel books of little Italian streets. I loved it. And the food. Oh my gosh, they know how to do a mean kebab there! Gozleme and durum dona…I have never tasted such good wraps in my life and I’m afraid no other will ever match up! I also tried Iskendar which, I was told, is a dish Canakkale is famous for – I could taste why!

You walk around and so often you see stray cats in the streets – we were told beforehand that there are many stray cats and some stray dogs in Canakkale but that we mustn’t pet them in case they have rabies. It was so hard not to but I managed to refrain. They looked so cute and cuddly, and made me miss my own kitty back home!

The day after we arrived in Canakkale was the contingent’s rest day so that we could have time to recover from the five days of constant travelling, and settle in – and of course see some of the main tourist attractions! The small Canakkale markets had so many interesting trinkets and hand-made crafts that were so uniquely Turkish in design. We visited the Canakkale Marine Museum just down the road, going aboard a replica of their mine-laying ship – the Nusrat – from the First World War. We also visited the Cimenlik Fortress located on the marine museum grounds – it was awesome to see some of the war history from their point of view.

And, I just have to mention, for those of you who are ancient history nuts like I am…the actual Trojan horse from the movie “Troy” is on the Canakkale waterfront, and I got a friend to take a photo of me in front of it! I also finally crossed one place off my ancient sites travel bucket list (which consists of many ancient sites that I’ve studied in my classical studies classes) while we were there – TROY! That is all I shall say otherwise I may just write another page or so gushing about how awesome it was, and you’d probably just roll your eyes at me like most of my friends do…

Canakkale was such a lovely town – I’m feeling so nostalgic as I write this! Would that transporters existed and would that I then owned one!

Beautiful! Reminds me of NZ!
Beautiful! Reminds me of NZ!
Beautiful sunset from the waterfront.
Beautiful sunset from the waterfront.
TROY. Imagine what those buildings could have been!
TROY. Imagine what those buildings could have been!
The cobblestone streets.
The cobblestone streets.
Entrance to the Canakkale markets.
Entrance to the Canakkale markets.
Part of the outside of the Cimenlik Fortress.
Part of the outside of the Cimenlik Fortress.

En route – Day 3

DAY 3 of 4: Dubai

Dubai was something else entirely. You definitely know you aren’t anywhere near home anymore! You kind of fancy that you’re in an Aladdin movie, especially as you’ve just seen orange desert and a few camels from the plane as you were flying in – it was so awesome! It was the first time I had ever seen desert – it was so foreign compared to the GREEN that is New Zealand. Also, it was the first time most of us had ever seen a camel, so as you can imagine there was much excitement!

The heat is the first thing you register as you get off the nice, air-conditioned plane and onto the tarmac, though. It was HOT. Hotter than Darwin. And my face instantly turned into a tomato. But it was a dry heat which did make it somewhat more bearable.

It was crazy to think that we were so close to all these famous landmarks – like the world’s tallest building – and driving through streets you only see pictures of in travel books. Dubai is seriously amazing at engineering. The whole skyline is composed of tall buildings in constant competition, it seems, with the ones next to them. The designs are incredible and logic-defying. And there is sooooo much glass – everything reflects and shines brilliantly. We had the thought that you’d earn a lot of money being a window-cleaner in Dubai…if you didn’t fall to your death down a million stories within the first few days, that is.

A desert sunset is something to behold. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. (So much so that I had to take several photos even though my eyes were melting out of their sockets as a consequence of the sun’s brightness…) It’s hard to describe but the desert beauty certainly competes with that of the skyscrapers on the horizon.

The markets in Dubai are an experience I don’t think you’ll ever find elsewhere – overwhelming! (Of course, I had to buy myself some souvenirs at the markets, consisting of a mini Aladdin lamp, mini Aladdin shoes and a mini camel ornament…all of which now sit on the Dubai section of my souvenir shelf!)

Desert!
Desert!
Travelling back to the airport the next morning.
Travelling back to the airport the next morning.
I have no idea what this building is but the design defies logic! I quite like it, though!
I have no idea what this building is but the design defies logic! I quite like it!
Desert sun.
Desert sun.
Seeing the world's tallest building - the Burj Khalifa - in the distance while on the way to our hotel.
Seeing the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa – in the distance while on the way to our hotel.

En route – Day 2

Day 2 of 4: Penang

Penang! To be honest, Penang was so unlike anything in NZ that I felt a bit intimidated and much like a fish out of water – my first impression of the city left me disliking Penang. However, we went exploring a little after arriving at our hotel, and it didn’t take long at all for me to change my mind completely! In fact, I would love to go and visit Penang again one day!

The people there are so friendly and everyone greets you with a smile (and from where they sit on their scooters, they wave back somewhat bemusedly as you wave enthusiastically from the sidewalk…maybe they’re used to us strange tourists?).

That night we all took taxis to see the night markets, and my group’s driver was a lovely man named Henry. I felt sorry for him at first because he had to deal with a car full of teenage girls (who were now hyperactive after having been cooped up in a plane for close to seven hours), most of whom kept asking him to turn on the radio to a music station (anything in English, please?) and would sing along loudly. However, he took it in his stride and even got involved, entertaining us with interesting facts about the city, pointing out landmarks and telling us about his children, all of whom he is very proud of! Henry became our friend – even though I genuinely feared for my life a few times when he would enthusiastically gesture in his story-telling (with BOTH hands – which equals ZERO on the steering wheel!) and the car would begin slowly drifting into the oncoming lane. But, needless to say, we survived, and of course, we had a group photo taken with him when he dropped us off back at the hotel.

Earlier that evening, a massive thunder/lightning storm had started. I put the slash in there because, really, there was more lightning than thunder. It was amazing to watch – especially as the room I shared with my roommate had a view of the mountains. We’d never seen any storm like it in NZ! Which explained why many of us were shrieking or yelping in fright at every lightning flash on the way to the markets, and good old Henry had just laughed at us – I think he said these kinds of storms happen almost everyday at that time of year. Of course, the minute I decided to try and catch a photo (or even a video!) of a lightning bolt (after the hundreds I’d just witnessed), the lightning stopped. Yeah, talk about trying to catch lightning in a bottle!

The markets were interesting, but only five or so stalls were actually trading because of the storm – it was supposed to be a two mile long stretch of stalls, if I recall correctly. But that didn’t dampen our spirit! It was still heaps of fun, and I was such a touristy-tourist and got myself an “I <3 Penang" t-shirt. Laugh all you want! It's one of my favourite shirts, too! Also at the markets, a major cultural difference we encountered was the concept of bartering - it was actually expected of you! Well, the art of bartering eluded me - I was useless at it. I admit it. I was so pathetic at it that one of my fellow Youth Ambassadors took pity on me and appointed herself barterer on my behalf. She was much better at it. Although, maybe no one was quite as skilled as the drama students we had on the team - their bartering was a sight to behold and I still laugh whenever I think about it! Those stall owners didn't know what hit them - they had certainly met their match. Although, I think perhaps our laughing in the background as we watched may have slightly hampered the success of some of the serious bartering endeavours. IMG_0505

From the bus on the way to our hotel.
From the bus on the way to our hotel.
View from our hotel room.
View from our hotel room.
The path a few of us walked along the waterfront for a stroll.
The path a few of us walked along the waterfront for a stroll.
The storm - one of my fruitless attempts at capturing a photo of a lightning bolt.
The storm – one of my fruitless attempts at capturing a photo of a lightning bolt.

En route – Day 1

First, before we get to the heavy, life-changing stuff, I’ll just cover some of our journey en route to Turkey because it was one of the most culture-rich experiences I’ve ever had – and we hadn’t even arrived at our ultimate destination yet!

As we had only one flight crew, we had to have one-night stop overs along the way to Turkey. It took about four days – we left NZ for Darwin (Australia) and stayed a night there, then stopped over in Penang (Malaysia) for a night, then Dubai (UAE) for a night, and then we arrived at Canakkale in Turkey, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. So to sum it up – five countries in five days. Wow! It felt as though we had travelled almost half way around the globe, and in Turkey the timezone difference to NZ was nine hours!


DAY 1 of 4: Darwin

I had been to Darwin once before and had already fallen in love with the place (well…certain aspects, definitely not the heat or all the creatures [big and small] out to kill you) and being back there made me quite nostalgic. It was amusing to see everyone’s reactions to the heat – at least I knew what to expect, so I was lucky!

IMG_0332

The Gallipoli Story

The Dawn Service site, Gallipoli Peninsula
The Dawn Service site on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

I had the privilege of attending the Anzac Day Centenary commemorations at Gallipoli this year, having been chosen to represent the country as one of 25 New Zealand Youth Ambassadors. It was an absolutely mind-blowing experience, and it brought the meaning of Anzac Day to life for me in a way nothing else ever has.

The Youth Ambassadors were selected from all over NZ – most were chosen through means such as competitions and programmes and from the cadet forces. I was selected via the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs’ Passchendaele Multi-media Competition.

We travelled as part of the official New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) delegation to Turkey for the centenary commemorations on the Gallipoli Peninsula. As Youth Ambassadors, we had duties for the two services: we helped with crowd management (such as helping people find the right seats and facilities) and we walked with the crowds up to the Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair services after the Dawn Service (helping carry things for the public and trying to keep spirits up, as it was a 7km up-hill trek to the Chunuk Bair site). At the end of the Chunuk Bair service we helped with getting everyone loaded onto the right buses and off the Peninsula – quite an operation!. Prior to Anzac Day, we had also learnt and continuously practiced a set of songs to sing for the crowds as the stands fill up for the Chunuk Bair service.

In the lead up to Anzac Day we went on two battlefield tours of the Gallipoli Peninsula, visiting war cemeteries (quite sobering, and an emotional experience at times) and walking some of the trails that the ANZAC troops had used 100 years ago.

The trip offered four weeks of life-changing experiences, and I feel so honoured to have been in the company of the NZDF contingent and the Youth Ambassador contingent (consisting of our leader, our chaperones and my fellow Youth Ambassadors). I have met the most amazing people on this trip and have made life-long friends.

I want to share with you my experiences and the insights that I gained while in Turkey regarding the Anzac legacy – I can prove to you that Anzac Day is more than just a holiday and that it is something that still affects us today. While I have always believed that Anzac Day is an important event to observe, I realise now that I had never fully understood it and so it was hard to connect with it – but this trip has changed everything for me. I wish that all New Zealanders could have the opportunity to visit Gallipoli themselves and see what we saw, but while that is impossible, I can write about it for you. That, I can do!