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ANZAC Day: A first hand account from Gallipoli

Sydney harbour bridge and sydney city skyline forming a heart on Anzac Day.

Anzac Day (25th April) is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War – a day of national remembrance.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

The Background: When Britain declared war in August 1914, Australia was automatically placed on the side of the Commonwealth. On the 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of an expedition to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The objective – to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and an ally of Germany. Despite the courage of the allied forces, the campaign failed and after eight months the forces were evacuated. These soldiers became known as Anzac’s.

Today, Anzac Day is a day to honour, commemorate and remember all the courageous Anzac’s who served and sacrificed their lives.

To pay tribute to this anniversary we interviewed Laura, an Australian native who re-lived this iconic time in Australian history by travelling of Contiki’s Anzac Odyssey trip.

A group of people posing on Anzac Day with an Australian flag.

What were your personal reasons behind deciding to go on this trip?

The wanderlust bug caught me at a young age and overtime I have created endless bucket lists of places to see and events to experience. Attending the dawn service at Gallipoli had always been near the top of the list. To me, it always felt like a sort of rite of passage as an Australian. The sacrifices the Anzac’s made not just in Gallipoli, but in other battles and wars, have shaped our country and I wanted to be able to pay my respects at the place so many of them gave their lives.

Did you have any relatives who were in or affected by the war?

I have three Great Uncles who lost their lives on the Western Front during WWI. Three young men in their 20s with their lives ahead of them, taken to soon. Like so many others, their bodies where never found. Today they are remembered at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France.

A group of people standing in front of the ocean with Anzac Day flags.

How moving was the dawn day service?

I don’t think anyone made it through the Dawn Service without crying. Standing there as the sun rose over the sea, you can’t help but imagine the Anzac’s landing on the beach over 100 years ago. It is a day we not only remember them, but everyone who has served for our countries.

Why do you think it is so important a 100 years later, to still remember the ANZACs who lost their lives?

Thousands of Anzac lost their lives for our country, the place they too called home. These men were sons, brothers, father, husbands and friends, and they lay down their lives so we all could be free. Their loss has shaped Australia and New Zealand alike and left us with a legacy to follow. It has been over 100 years since the Anzac landed at Gallipoli and I think now more than ever it is important to remember them – to remember their sacrifice and learn from the mistakes of the past so they are not repeated again.

A monument adorned with red and white wreaths, honoring Anzac Day.

Did the trip put the current state of the world in perspective for you?

When you travel some experiences stay with you more than others. Travelling opens your eyes to the world and some things are better understood when actually seen, as opposed to learning through a book. Attending the dawn service was one of those trips for me. People are fearful to travel to Turkey currently, but sitting at Anzac Cove surrounded by people there for the same reason as you, it felt like there was no safer place in the world. You could feel the Anzac comradery and a common pride to be Aussie or Kiwi.

As we all camped out under the stars, we heard stories of the events that took place at Gallipoli and of the men who fought there. All the problems that seemed so important to you the day before just slipped away.

As you reflect on the events of the past, it makes you wonder how much has really changed. Have we really learnt from the mistakes of the past? Looking at the world today – there is still war, fear has become common place and many people turn a blind eye to what is happening. That pride the Anzac’s head for their countries – you could feel it at Gallipoli, but it has been lost in everyday life.

A crowd of people observing Anzac Day on the beach at dusk.

What moved you the most during your trip?

After the dawn service everyone walks up through the cemeteries to Lone Pine, finally ending at Chunuk Bair. This was one of the most moving parts of the experience. The thing that really struck me whilst walking through the cemeteries was the age of many of the soldiers and the messages on the gravestones.

Many of these men never got to see their 21st birthdays. Today my brothers are around this age and have such bright futures ahead of them. These men had their futures taken from them – they could have been doctors, lawyers, teachers, fathers, but they never got the chance.

The messages on the tomb stones where written by the families of the fallen soldiers. It was their way of saying good-bye and you can feel the love and loss behind each one. Some simple, like “Our Anzac”, others longer, like “As long as life and memory last, he will never be forgot”. I will always remember these.

What was your most memorable moment from the trip?

What I remember the most about this trip is the comradery felt between everyone there – whether you are Australian, Kiwi or Turkish, young or old, we were all their for the same reason – to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

When you camp out at Gallipoli the night before the dawn service you are totally under the stars – no tents allowed, just you and your sleeping bag. The weather forecast had predicted rain and all day we had our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t come, but of course just after everyone entered the site and was settling in for the night the skies opened up, lightly at first but then it started to pour. As the rain continued the officials moved everyone into the security tent for shelter whilst we waited for the heaviest of the rains to pass. As the most beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, we made our way back out, but before leaving the tent the officials requested everyone go back to their original spot and not to take someone else’s. In the spirit of the day, everyone returned to their spot no one pushing to be at the front or taking over someone else’s area.

As the night continued it rained on and off and everyone was given the option to sleep in the tent if they wanted. Barely anyone took up this offer – we embraced the elements and slept in our plastic ponchos. It did not seem in the spirit of the day to spend the night in the tent. Ultimately it was just a bit of water and it does not even start to compare to what others have experienced at the site before us. It is those moments of everyone banding together that I remember most from the trip.

A group of people posing for an Anzac Day picture in their sleeping bags.