Observations of ANZAC Day at Gallipoli

Now I am back in Dubai after sitting for hours on buses and spending a day touring Istanbul I thought ‘d write a post about general observations of Turkey, Gallipoli and ANZAC day.

It must have been difficult managing the transit of more than 20,000 people plus all the support crews to ensure people were safe and secure for the centenary. Of course there are issues, but moving that many people down a single road more than 400kms from Istanbul would be a nightmare.

Fortunately it as all handled really well, except for the timings which became frustrating. But we all got there, and all got back so it worked. Why things became frustrating was basically due to wrong or lack of proper information.

For example in all literature it states that travel to and from Istanbul is about 5 and half hours. This is so wrong it became a standing joke. It would be that time in a car with no traffic or security check points.

On the 24th we were picked up at 0600 from the hotel and delivered to Taksim Square to the big bus…we waited there 1 hour. The first of many waits. As we drove to the Blue Mosque we actually drove past our hotel again…so the 1 hour wait was unnecessary and also the early rise.

At the Blue Mosque there were over 300 coaches and we waited there for two hours before moving off. So far we had spent more time waiting than driving. Everything was starting to have a classic army “hurry up and wait” look and feel.

We proceeded out of Istanbul and down the freeways on the peninsula, by this time the bus was rambunctious…with Kiwis and Aussie liberally sledging each other ?with light hearted banter. We had a good bunch of people on our bus apart from one bag…but you always have one in every group.

The five and half hours was long since past. ??

By 2pm we were finally near the battlefields and we started to run into security provided by the Jandarma.

We ended up in Eceabat where lunch was provided. It worked really well, and we all got a feed. But the wait in Eceabat was the longest yet. Finally at about 1630 we were back on the bus and drove back along the road were we had driven in to the first registration point…and joined the queue of buses there. Passes were checked and our bus given a number…we were bus 123…we thought that was good, less than halfway of the more than 300 buses.

Then we drove to the second check point and disembarked there at Kabatepe to go through the first security scans with metal detectors. We waited there amongst the pine trees for nearly two more hours and finally at 1830 our bus group was released to walk up to ANZAC Cove…about 3 kms. Up there it was first in first served and at this point numbers of people were slight, only 130 bus loads had been let through…about 45 people per bus.

We scored a spot just behind the media, against a barrier. The sun set and everyone was in good spirits.

Once the sun went down the cold set in…and it is very cold. Thankfully there was only a small breeze. The free beanie that had been provided was very useful and we hunkered down for the night. And still the people streamed in. Through the last security check points and another metal detector.

Dad and I resting at ANZAC Cove in the cold. Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Dad and I resting at ANZAC Cove in the cold. Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

On the big screens there were mini documentaries playing and every hour something was put on on the main stage. Through out the night we went from lying down attempting to sleep, to sitting to finally standing only for the last two hours…and still everyone was in good spirits. Sleep though proved impossible and as dawn approached we had been on the go for 24 hours with little or no sleep…and still we were happy.

At about 1930 Andrew Little moved through the crowd and I called out to him and had a chat for about 10 minutes. We stayed away from politics and it was polite and convivial…until Neale Jones his EPMU staffer turned up. I was about to get a photo taken with Little and he had agreed to it, we agreed to terms of using it also. But Neale Jones interceded and dragged Little away. Any respect I had for the man was lost right there as he let his staff dictate to him what he could and couldn’t do. In the end I watch as Little stood around with no one really talking to him, then Neale Jones recorded a video of Little making a small speech. I got the impression that Andrew Little really is socially awkward. Still he had the stones to come up and talk to me in front of everyone which more than I can say for John Key.

The dawn ceremony was moving, everyone can watch the video, I don’t need to go into it.

What was awesome though was all the ships, led by HMAS ANZAC and HMNZS Te Kaha all in line astern coming down on ANZAC Cove and the crossing in front of us. There were I think 10 ships in the flotilla.

After the ceremony we were released to walk up to Lone Pine (if you were an Aussie) and past lone pine up to Chunuk Bair for our respective ceremonies.

Me with Anzac Cove in the background, and my free beanie Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Me with Anzac Cove in the background, and my free beanie Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Security remained tight with Turkish Army and Jandarma guarding us all. Every 50m up the 8km walk was a soldier or two carrying their G33 rifles, and in some instances a PKM light machine gun. At various high spots there were also snipers with the SVD rifle. These guys were not mucking around with security and for that I am grateful.

On the walk up the track you get to appreciate just how vulnerable our troops would have been to fire from the heights. Once past Lone Pine the track turns into a road and passes many of the famous sites like Quinn’s Post, The Nek and finally to Chunuk Bair. I went to every single one of the cemeteries on the way to Chunuk Bair.

Some of the cemeteries contain just a few head stones, and even then some of the just say that the solider is “believed to be buried” there. Over 30 cemeteries were built and they contain the remains of 19,000 men, only 6000 of whom were ever formally identified. 2,500 are “believed to be buried” at the cemeteries. Over 27,000 servicemen’s remains were never found.

The terrain is steep and unforgiving…and the trenches remain intact. When you wander around it is rather solemn when you come across a rib bone, or a part of jaw bone lying there. You are forbidden to take anything from ANZAC, it is literally one big graveyard.

The Nek is a particularly nasty piece of ground and on 7 August?1915 600 Australian soldiers attacked across The Nek and were slaughtered without going so much as 50m. 300 were killed and 150 wounded before withdrawing. The site is no bigger than two tennis courts in size. At The Nek woul have a commanding view of the gullies and also across Suvla Bay. It is not far up there to Chunuk Bair, which can see both sides of the peninsula and is the highest point.

The view over Suvla Bay from The Nek Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

The view over Suvla Bay from The Nek Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

The New Zealand ceremony at Chunuk Bair was superb. Again though Andrew Little proved to be socially awkward, standing around with no one talking to him. John Key and Prince Harry though were competing for who could get the most selfies. I think Key won that marginally.

Prince Harry being mobbed at Chunuk Bair Photo/ Whaleoil Media via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Prince Harry being mobbed at Chunuk Bair Photo/ Whaleoil Media?via Spark Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

When the ceremony concluded we were released to the holding areas to wait for the buses to take us back to Istanbul…and waited…and waited…and waited…and waited.

It was here that we realised that bus numbers were irrelevant. It was cold and windy by this point and it we waited for 4 hours for our bus. ?We had been on the go for over 36 hours with little more than a few minutes of sleep. People were starting to get fractious.

The tour company had “lunch” organised in Eceabat again…but by that time most people could care less about food and just wanted to be back in Istanbul. that was not to be as just a couple of Aussie bludgers insisted on their free meal and held the rest of us for more than 40 minutes.

We made it back to our hotel at 0230 on the 26th, nearly 48 hours after we left.

It is certainly an experience worth doing, and I am pleased I could do it on the centenary. But if you are planning on doing it be prepared to have no sleep, be very cold and at to spend hours upon hours waiting.

I am just glad I am very fit now, it made life so much easier.

This isn’t a moan, just observations so people can understand…and this is nothing to how what our troops experienced 100 years ago.

There is a real affinity from Turks today with Kiwis and Aussies…once they find out you are a Kiwi they literally bend over backwards to assist. Anyone else is ignored.

It was a trip of a lifetime, and very special. What was also awesome was the sheer numbers of readers who were there who took the time to say hi.