Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day Five: "Gallipoli or Bust" OR "Us and our mate Brendan"

Two hours sleep before waking at 2am to leave for ANZAC Cove and the Dawn Service.

Emre has been working miracles. Not only had he finally confirmed (thanks to the Turkish government) that we had seats in the VIP enclosure, but he also confirmed (thanks to the Australian Government) that we were able to cross on the VIP ferry. But we had to be ready to board at 3am! So we piled onto the bus in various states of wakefulness and drove the two hundred metres required to reach the point at which the ferry was going to leave. We were the first there. Slowly the gendarmerie arrived in ever increasing numbers. The Sydney group arrived on their bus, then more gendarmerie. We were still sitting there by 4am by which time the police were joined by military guards with machine guns...

Then rushing in with flashing lights out of the night came five large coaches full of dignitaries and brass from all over--Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Pakistan, etc. and Turkey, of course. Onto the ferry they went and we went after them a little nervously and a little brazenly--after all, we had no tickets or authorisation papers or anything. The deals had all been worked out over the phone. Every time we were asked what we were doing, Emre sorted it out in Turkish. All we recognised was the word "protocol" which seemed to do the trick every time!

On the ferry now, we were able to go upstairs to the VIP lounge. Brushing ahead of us on the stairs was the Federal Minister of Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson. Tom and Kevin both grabbed his hand as he went past and said "Gidday Brendan" "How are ya?" to which he responded with the usual "Great, how are you?". I thought, gosh they're shameless. Well, we got to the top and went into the lounge to take advantage of the free refreshements--a cup of tea or coffee and a bread roll--and who should we bump into straight away, but Brendan Nelson again. This time Emre was with us, and so he introduced himself and all of the Melbourne party (the Sydney party arrived at this point also, but were not as cheeky as us!). So Brendan spends the whole 25 minute trip over to the Gallipoli Peninsula talking to our team! Off to the side are his minders and the heads of the military. We were not introduced, but Dr Nelson pointed to one guy covered with medals and brass and said that he was head of some part of the military, and then to another "And that young bloke there I can't tell you what he does or they will have to shoot me...". At least we were able to introduce the Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police--that gave our party a little respectability (we were looking very much like gate-crashers who had stolen the guest of honour at this point). Apparently Dr Nelson has just come straight from the middle-east. Tom was making his documentury, so while the Minister was talking about the significance of the ceremony, he had his video camera planted a foot away from his face...

I went outside at one point. A waiter came past and offered me a glass of orange juice. I didn't want it, but I took it and drank it anyway, thinking I could do with the sustanance. Then he came back for the glass and said "Five lira"! I thought it was free, instead I got ripped off! There were police boats with flashing lights darting around the boat. When we got to the otherside, everyone scrambled for their coaches (or minibuses in our case), and we landed and sped off down the peninsula to the Agean side where ANZAC Cove is located. I have always wanted to be in one of those high speed cavalcades where the police are escorting with flashing lights, and finally, here we were dashing along at a mad speed in the wake of the official coaches with police cars and flashing lights behind us. A remarkable sight at 5am in the morning.

We were able to drive right up to where the dawn service was being held, passing throngs of people walking the dusty track the last 3 or 4 kms in the cold night air. This road is the controversial one that is being built by the Turkish government. I can see why it is needed. When we got to the Cove, we were herded off and down the remaining few hundred metres. Gendarmes and military guard all over the joint. We were ushered into the enclosure and sat on the plastic chairs at the back of the carpeted and roped off section. The great unwashed were massed around and behind us wrapped in sleeping bags right up the side of the hill. Many of them were dressed in green and gold beanies and commemorative T-shirts (also green and gold), and wrapped in Australian flags. In front of us were three flags flying half mast: New Zealand, Australia and Turkish. In our section there there many high ranking military, but also other civilians. I noticed an elderly white haired cleric two rows in front of us whom I took to be English and another man next to him of middle-eastern appearance (as they say) with a beard and hair in pony tail whom I took to be an Orthodox priest.

Geraldine Doogue presented a musical and visual "honour roll" of some of those killed during the conflict before the main event began. It was quite dark, lighted by great spot lights driven by generators. Other than the sound of these generators, all you could hear when we were waiting for the service to begin was birdsong and the waves lapping the shore below us.

It was quite still--until the service began at 5:30am and the wind picked up a little, blowing the flags in a respectable manner. It was very cold, but not unbearable. We were all rugged up prepared. The cliffs behind us--iconic of the Gallipoli legend--were lit up with a pale pink light that made it look quite ghostly. The service was quite respectable, with the New Zealand Minister for Culture speaking and Brendan Nelson. A Turkish representative also read from a saying of Attaturk. There were two hymns--"God has spoken by his prophets" (interestingly without verse 2 -- the one about "God has spoken by Christ Jesus") and "Make me a channel of your peace" also missing the last verse. It was too hard to take many photos during the service so I decided I would rely on the other photographers in our team and try to buy a recording of the Dawn Service back in Australia.

When the dawn finally came, we could see the "dark shape of the land" behind us clearly against the brightening sky. Then gradually we could make out the Cove itself and the shore line and I slowly found myself in the landscape that was so familiar from so many depictions I have seen since childhood. I have never been really attached to the Gallipoli story, but my experiences today have certainly helped me to begin to understand its meaning. For many there, including most of our group, this was like a pilgrimage. It was a "right of passage" for the young people, and a symbol that gave meaning to who they were as Australians. As Brendan said in his speech, "No one can call him or herself truly Australian who does not value what Gallipoli means to our nation." Well that might have applied to me before today.

Once the service had ended, Emre worked some more magic: We would be allowed to have breakfast with the VIP's at a Hotel in the southern part of the Peninsula. We had brought packed breakfasts, but who was going to pass this up. As we drove out from the Cove, we passed again the many backpackers and walkers as they made their dusty way out of the Cove. We however were able to have a bit of wash and sit down to a proper Australian breakfast.

While waiting in line to get to breakfast (it was about 7:30am at this point), I saw the clergyman not far away on his own. So I went and introduced myself (if Emre can do it with Brendan...). Turns out he is the Chaplain (Anglican, of course) to the British Embassy in Ankara! Well, the Venerable Geoffrey B. Evans and I had a merry old talk (he had also once been chaplain to the embassy in Rome) while serving ourselves breakfast, and then, when we looked for somewhere to sit together and continue talking, we spotted his middle-eastern friend waving us over to his table. We sat down and I asked if our companion was a priest also. The Archdeacon said: "I always tell him he should cut his pony tail and beard off", and our companion laughed and handed me his card. The Card said: "A. William Buttigieg - British Consul, British Consulate, Izmir". I found him to be a very affable chap who was happy to chat away while he smoked a cigarette at the table. When he heard that we would be in Smyrna very soon, he invited us to come and visit him at the Consulate. I said I would be delighted and would ask our tour leader if we could fit it in. Later on, I was able to introduce Emre and also Gavin to His Excellency and His Venerableness, and Emre said he would speak to his people to see if our people could meet with the Consul's people! We then got into a discussion on interfaith marriage with the Archdeacon who has many such marriages in his pastoral care. Ven. Fr Evans also said that he had had a role in the burial of one of the three murdered Christian publishers last week.

Eventually we got under way and went back past the Cove up towards the Lone Pine Cemetary where the next ceremony was to be held at 10:30am. But first we wanted to help Chris Lay find the grave of her grand-uncle, Private Rickshaw. She knew where he was buried and so we tried to head that way. We were obstructed along the way by even more gendarmes than were about before (or maybe before we couldn't see them in the dark). We were very restricted on where we could stop. But thankfully, Chris's grand-uncle was buried in a small cemetary next to which we could pull up unimpeded. It was a very moving event for Chris and Ken--and for us too as we witnessed it. As Chris said later, it had been over 90 years since he had ever had a visit from a member of his family or even one of his mates. She placed a rose and a small Australian flag on his memorial stone. We left Chris and Ken to walk back to Lone Pine in their own time, and we went on around the circuit to see what we could see.

We stopped at one point on the side of the road where we could get a good view of the Cove and the landing areas. Gavin and I wandered a bit further away than we should have. I started returning to the bus, and, noting that Gavin was a fair bit behind me, thought that I had time to go off to the right to take a quick look at Baby 700 cemetary. By the time I got back, I saw that Gavin had reached the bus and it was being moved on quite insistantly by the gendarmerie. They had to comply and so were moving off with the door open shouting "hurry up, hurry up" and I jumped on as the bus gathered speed. I had always wanted to do that too, you know, the thing with the train leaving the station where you run and jump and catch on to the last rung of the caboose as the train is almost gone... A real day of firsts...

Up ahead of us were two very large Turkish memorials and the Turkish young people were out in strength, waving a sea of red Turkish flags. One lot were a very sizable group of Turkish scouts and guides. Another older group of young men were carrying Turkish flags and shouting slogans and "Allah akhbah"/"God is Great" as they marched along. The guards and military didn't look very impressed. Emre said they were a youth group of a moderately conservative Islamic political party.

We drove back around to the Lone Pine Cemetary. We were expecting to be seated with the VIPs again--and indeed, we were shown into the enclosure and given guest passes--but Emre told Elizabeth (the Australian person in charge of the guests) that we had to leave early in order to catch the ferry to get the next destination. We could not therefore sit in the enclosure after all. No matter, we would go and join the hoi poloi, and get a different experience of the day. On our way out of the enclosure, who should be arriving but Brendan Nelson and his wife. As there was not much room he had to pass by each of us in single file, shaking our hands as he went. "You again, Emre," he said, "I'm seeing more of you today than I am of my wife here!"

One striking thing was that the crowd was sitting or lying down or sleeping among the gravestones. Bodies were lined up along the rows along the lawn surface almost in perfect place over the graves. It was eerie to think that below the soil were buried men who differed hardly at all in age from that of the young people now sleeping on their graves, and to think of this whole stadium of young people wiped out by such violence.

The service was much the same as at the Dawn Service, but with Amazing Grace and O God our Help in Ages Past sung. Tom and I were able to climb up onto the highest scaffolding seats to get a good panorama view of the whole area. It was time to leave then and so we headed back down to the ferry. We caught the ferry just as it came in, but then had a long wait while there were enough customers to fill the ferry before it headed off.

We were therefore a little late for our dinner at Gokkusagi (Rainbow) Primary School, a school in the same tradition as Fetih College and Fatih University. We were very surprised to be greeted with young girls mobbing the doorway as we got off the bus handing us flowers and saying "Welcome Australians"! It was an effusive welcome, and highlighted the fact that our visit to the school yesterday was during a school holiday. The Sydney delegation were already there (they had toured Gallipoli yesterday and had only gone to the dawn service this morning), as was the Mayor of Canakkale, who was the guest of honour. The Children performed a little concert for us after we were seated at our table: a series of Sufi songs and music, a dramatic rendition of a famous poem by a young girl, and a young boy who showed and explained a prize winning painting to us. The lunch was an opportunity for Kevin and the headmaster of Gokkusagi to announce that they would be forming a "sister school" relationship. The documentation is being drawn up right now and will be signed at Dinner tonight.

Well. That is about it for now. I am going to go to bed. It has been a very significant day for me. An incredible way to spend ANZAC day.

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