Anzac Day at Gallipoli 2015: “Lest we forget”

_MG_4909Every year as children attending school in New Zealand, we learned about Anzac Day. This story which has so strongly influenced our cultural and national identity is entrenched in the minds and hearts of every New Zealander, evidenced by the crowds which turn up to dawn ceremonies all over the country every April 25th.

Anzac Day is not only a day to remember the fateful landings at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915 and the brave campaign fought there for months on end by the New Zealand and Australian soldiers, but a day to honor all men and women who have served our country, defended our freedom, left their families and comfort to fight or peace-keep in far off lands and a day to celebrate who we are as a nation._MG_5030

In the early hours of the morning on April 25th 1915, Britain launched its attack on Turkey. The idea was to take over the Dardanelles straight, opening access to Europe (in particular Russia), to necessitate diversion of enemy resources from the Western Front and to aid in victory over Germany. The British war office deemed the Ottoman forces to be weak, likely to be easily overcome and sent in the Anzacs – a new fledgling corps made up of young men from New Zealand and Australia. These young men had been promised travel and adventure overseas, easy victories and that they would come home heroes. They knew very little about the realities of war, and Australia and New Zealand were excited to contribute to the war effort – one of the first times they would internationally be recognised as countries in their own right, not just colonies of Britain._MG_5028

From the beginning, the Gallipoli campaign was a tragic failure. To start with, the soldiers were deposited not on flat open expanses of beach but at Anzac Cove, a narrow stretch of sand surrounded by cliffs. As the soldiers landed at dawn, they found atop these cliffs thousands of Turkish soldiers armed with machine guns. Hundreds of our men lost their lives within the first five minutes of landing on Turkish soil. Despite this, the men roared up the hills, scrambling over bushes and rocks in an attempt to storm the Turkish troops. In the months to come they gained a reputation for their raw bravery, tenacity and perseverance despite being so outnumbered. For months on end the soldiers lived in shallow trenches they had dug themselves, exposed to horrific disease due to the sanitation conditions, and becoming increasingly weak thanks to inadequate supplies of nutrition and medical care being shipped in.

The surrounding terrain at Anzac Cove

The surrounding terrain at Anzac Cove

Many times the message was relayed that this battle was hopeless, the conditions were terrible and the army should withdraw. Bodies piled up day after day yet those in charge issued the command that they were to keep fighting. The news that reached British, Australian and New Zealand newspapers was that the war was going marvelously, and Turks were falling at the hands of the Anzacs – that it was a big success. Further misinformation resulted in the death of more young men… such as the directive to empty their guns of ammunition and charge the Turkish forces with bayonets instead as this would be much faster. After the first wave of 100 men to attempt this were gunned down by Turkish machine guns, three more waves were forced to run to their certain death.


Remains of some of the trenches

There are many more stories such as reinforcements arriving too late or bombardments being called off too early which make one seethe with the incompetence of those in charge. Still, we choose to celebrate instead our men’s bravery and successes, which were significant. _MG_5033

During the 8 months of this campaign, the Anzacs and the Turks gained a mutual respect for one another. Turks would throw cigarettes to the Anzac trenches (sometimes only a few meters away) and the Anzacs would throw food or other supplies back. They wrote notes to one another and on one occasion called a truce so that each side could finally bury their dead. The Turks couldn’t understand why the Anzacs were so far from home, fighting for another country and they themselves were only defending against our attack – they hadn’t chosen to enter into battle. The humanity of both sides is brought home with such stories, and we remember that they were all men with hearts, not machines and not evil forces.


Ataturk, the first president of the Turkish republic’s message to us: Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Eventually, after briefly capturing Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair, the Anzacs were given permission to withdraw. Overnight, every single soldier was safely evacuated – making it the most successful evacuation of the war. The Turks celebrate Anzac Day also, as for them it represents a turning point in history – they defended their country and owe their freedom to their troops and the battles won at Gallipoli.


Anzac Cove

Back to the present day, and each April 25th at 5:30am, New Zealand and Australia remembers the Anzacs. Dawn ceremonies are solemn affairs, with prayers, poems and speeches performed as well as hymns being sung. The flag is raised to the tune of the Last Post played on a bugle or trumpet and service men march in formation. Often Air force planes fly overhead, and members of the public lay wreaths and poppies (the symbol of Anzac Day due to the fields of blooming poppies where so many men died) on local war memorials. This day is a public holiday in both countries, and is one of 4 days out of 365 where shops aren’t allowed to open (before noon anyway).

Each year the same ceremony is performed at Gallipoli itself, and many young New Zealanders and Australians make the pilgrimage to Turkey to honor the fallen, and partake in this patriotic display of thanks and pride.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Since so many people were expected to want to attend, the Turkish government limited attendance to 10,000 people – 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders. This represents less than the number of men killed at Gallipoli from each country, which when considering that the populations of our countries were 4 million and 1 million respectively were significant. Over 120,000 men were killed at Gallipoli and many of them (including 74% of NZers) remain unidentified and lie in unmarked graves.


Early in the day, when there was still plenty of space

People who wanted to attend the commemorations had to apply via a ballot process, and James was lucky enough to win a double pass. Whilst many of our compatriots travelled all the way from Australasia, we were fortunate enough to only have a 3 hour flight from Frankfurt.

Shortly before 6am on the 24th, our Top Deck tour group left Istanbul and drove 4.5 hours to Gallipoli. Here we went through a number of security check points and I have to say I am utterly impressed with the military organisation of this years commemorations. We spent some hours at Mimoza beach in a waiting area, after which time we were allowed to walk 2km along the coast to Anzac cove and through another security check point. The cove is maintained as part of a national park, and there are no buildings or permanent structures. We were allowed only to bring a backpack, with no camping gear permitted.

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Upon arriving at Anzac cove, the first thing that struck us was the sheer faces of the cliffs towering above the beach. We could only imagine the surprise followed by confusion and then finally dread the soldiers must have felt upon realising the position they were in. The small grassed area was surrounded by plastic seating, but we managed to grab a spot on the grass where we could stretch out for a few hours at least. As night fell, the temperatures dropped, the mood became somber and more and more people filed in. By 3am it was standing room only throughout the cove. 10,000 Nzers and Australians kept an overnight vigil, during which time films, speeches and stories were played on the big screens erected at the site. We heard untold stories, were reminded of facts we had previously learned, watched teary interviews with veterans, heard heartfelt performances by school children and listened to letters and reports from the battlefields. The army band played at regular intervals._MG_4970

We felt a mixture of pride for the bravery of our soldiers, and anger at the senselessness of their deaths. It was heartbreaking to hear gravestone inscriptions written for men by their mothers – because they were too young to have wives and were really only boys of 17 or 18. When “dying for a worthy cause” was mentioned it really was difficult to reconcile this with the thought of young men being slaughtered fighting someone else’s battle. We were reminded of the bravery and dedication of the Red Cross nurses who spent sleepless weeks caring for wounded and diseased soldiers whilst shells fell all around their hospital ship, and heard of the reporters who tried valiantly to get the real stories published.


The ocean behind the podium was a peaceful scene


At 5:30am, the place was _MG_5008silent. All we could hear was the lapping of the ocean on the shore, and the air was eerily still and thick with anticipation. At this moment, it was not hard to imagine the soldiers dropping into the sea with their heavy packs (many of them drowned at this point) and coming ashore to the very spot where we were standing, to meet their death. The bones of thousands of unidentified soldiers lay under our very feet.

The ceremony was a moving affair, with speeches from our Prime Ministers, Prince Charles and representatives from Turkey. We sung our national anthems with pride and reflected more deeply than we ever had before during the annual two minutes of silence.

Once the dawn ceremony was over, it was time for the next part of our journey. We filed out of Anzac cove and began the trek up the steep 6km track towards Chunuk Bair (where we were security screened twice more). After 3km we left the Australians at Lone Pine for their own ceremony. Along the way we visited some of the many cemeteries dotted all over the Gallipoli national park, and stood in the remains of the trenches trying to imagine how life must have been for the soldiers. It was near impossible to do so.


At Chunuk Bair we had a 3 hour wait while the Turkish scouts commemorated their own victories, and the cold hard ground has never felt so welcoming! Our group lay down a blanket and slept solidly for these 3 hours after which time we were allowed to enter the site. The New Zealand service was somewhat more uplifting than the dawn ceremony, with more of a focus on celebrating the accomplishments and bravery of our soldiers. Prince Harry spoke at this service as well as John Key once again, and youth ambassadors from NZ entertained the crowd with New Zealand songs – from Crowded House to Pokarekareana. As we sung the national anthem and the service ended with a prayer, the emotion in the crowd was palpable and we felt very much at one with our countrymen.

Still smiling after a sleepless night. Feeling proud to be NZers

Still smiling after a sleepless night. Feeling proud to be NZers

After our service we were incredibly fortunate to be one of the first buses called up to drive back to Istanbul – many others were waiting until 9pm. Throughout the waiting and the services we were reminded that no matter how cold, or tired or hungry we were, our ancestors and predecessors endured much, much worse. Their actions and the sacrifices of their families determined our future, by way of contributing to the Allies’ victory, and in shaping our identity as a doggedly determined, remarkably resourceful and tremendously tough nation.

My own great grandfather fought at Gallipoli, and was one of the fortunate few who made it home. This makes the connection I felt with Anzac cove even stronger. There is something uniquely special about setting foot on such sacred ground, especially when it is somewhere we learn about, talk about and see pictures of every year. It was an incredible privilege and an indescribable experience to have visited this site which is such an important part of our history, and to remember the Anzacs in the very place where they lay down their lives._MG_5035

Extravagance, elegance and experience! From United Arab Emirates to France in March

This month, James travelled overseas alone to Abu Dhabi, where he had the perfect holiday. After months of daily _MG_4275 German courses, homework and study being fitted in around his other part time job, not to mention the short days and icy temperatures, he was well overdue for a break and what a place to spend it. James’ parents Michael and Jennene were in Abu Dhabi for a conference, and since it is only a 7 hour flight direct from Stuttgart (like flying Auckland to Perth), it was an opportunity not to be missed for James to catch up with his parents after nearly a year of being away from home._MG_4354

After the ancient cities of Europe, Abu Dhabi was like another world, one where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred and the level of opulence is realms beyond any other country we had ever visited. James was awestruck from the minute he landed, with the scale of the buildings, the brightness of the lights, the modernness of the interiors and the sheer luxury which was everywhere. The streets could have literally been lined with gold and noone would have blinked an eye.

All of this luxury comes at a price however – which James learnt on the first night after ordering a single glass of whiskey…and receiving a bill for 75 euros! The hotel where the Brosnahans were staying was directly over the famous Formula One track, and they breakfasted whilst watching Ferrari’s zoom around the track below them. James and his mum visited Ferrari world, riding the roller coaster and ogling the cars.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Sheikh Zayed mosque. The mosque itself covers an area of 12 square hectares, and was intended to be a symbol of unity, to represent_MG_4270 the cultural diversity in the UAE and the world. Materials and pieces of art from many different countries are included in the _MG_4197design, notabu dhabi james least the huge chandeliers made from Swarovski crystal, imported from Germany. The carpet in the main prayer hall is over 5,500 m squared and is one single piece woven from wool sourced partly from New Zealand.

Marble and precious stones abound inside the mosque, with inlays of pearl and gold everywhere. In order to enter the mosque tourists must respect the religious and cultural beliefs of the local community, therefore James was required to don a full length garment to hide his bare legs.

A day trip saw the family plus some friends from the conference, including a good friend Justin from New Zealand, visit nearby Dubai. Here the Mall of Dubai held hours worth of entertainment, with an aquarium (complete with sharks) in its midst. Other sights included the Gold markets, spice markets and a boat tour along the Dubai “creek”, as well as a view of the world’s tallest building towering above the other skyscrapers.


At first distracted by the shining attractions, James later did notice that this sparkling oasis is still in the middle of a desert. We wonder what life would be like when the majority of daily life is conducted indoors, and main attractions include shopping (especially important since a lot of emphasis does seem to be placed on wealth and status in these cities). On the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the unspoken seedier side of the UAE was evident, with poverty stricken immigrants lining the streets, on their way to 15 hour work days and certainly nowhere near the clean, beautiful streets of the main cities. _MG_4425_MG_4433

In general, 5 days in the sun and heat, relaxing by the pool and partaking in the extravagant lifestyle that is life in the UAE, were a complete delight for James. He returned home raving about Abu Dhabi and we can’t wait to go together one day! Seeing his parents after so long was also fantastic and he enjoyed every minute of his holiday.


Although Abu Dhabi certainly counted as a country for our goal of visiting a different land each month…. I wasn’t there so we needed to get me across a border as well! In the last weekend of March we headed to Strassbourg in France. From Stuttgart, Strassbourg can be reached in just over an hour with the TGV however this convenience does not come cheap. We instead took advantage of the Baden Wurttemberg ticket which allows us both to travel on all commuter transport in the state for 24 hours, for just 28 euros. We set off from Tubingen at 7am and 3 hours later crossed the border into France (our ticket got us as far as Kehl, from where it is just 10 minutes to Strassbourg). It was a stunning sunny day, perfect for exploring the pretty Alsace town. Even the main train station was distinctly more French than German, however we were relieved to find that German and English are spoken widely. I have never met such friendly French people as I did in Strassbourg and was grateful for the hospitality of the cafe owners, shopkeepers and tourism operators .


After strolling through the old town and stopping off at the numerous chocolate shops, we stopped at a cafe, where we enjoyed a coffee and a spot of people watching in the sunshine. Having stimulated our appetites we proceeded directly to lunch – at a creperie of course! Being able to enjoy both a savoury and a sweet crepe was as always a treat for me since the French make their ‘Galettes’ with gluten free buckwheat flour. Afterwards we made our way to the Cathedral… but not before picking up some macarons from a very sweet and elegant patisserie.

The Strassbourg Cathedral is a magnificent site, and was the world’s tallest building until 1874. Its gothic architecture is so intricate, and thousands of carved figures adorn its sandstone outer walls. Inside the wonderment continues, with high curved ceilings, stained glass windows and an astronomical clock.

In complete contrast to this building from the middle ages is Strassbourg’s more modern claim to fame – the headquarters of the European Union and Parliament.

We took the quintessential covered boat tour, which cruised along Strassbourg’s canals and took us past these sights. The Parliament building holds an amphitheater with 750 seats, and is surrounded by gardens which create a wall of green. The court of human rights of the EU is also here, and is a symbol of conciliation and peace. We floated past the Rhine Palace, Fisherman’s Quay and half timbered houses – which used to be like furniture; non-permanent fixtures to be moved around at will. Many of the buildings along the canals have a rich history, having over the years housed hospitals, then convents, then schools, then prisons. The four canals along which we rode are on two levels, and we had to go through Locks where 360,000 litres of water flows in to raise the water level 1.8 metres, allowing boats to access the next level of canals. We passed under many covered bridges where gunners took their positions during battles throughout time – the bridges were covered not to protect the gunners from the elements however, rather the gunpowder!_MG_4591 _MG_4594 _MG_4597

The waterways have many stories associated with them and form part of Strassbourg’s identity. One such example is that the washing of the rich was done upstream of the poor, but if something from the rich escaped the washerwomen and floated downstream, they had to pay the poorer women to get it back! The old tanneries next to the water which are now closed in, used to have open roofs to dry the skins, and criminals were tortured in cages hung from the bridges around the city. The contrast of medieval history, centuries old buildings and churches (with tombs dating back to 1180) with the modern concept of the European Parliament mean that Strassbourg has an interesting and ecclectic collection of sites. Combined with its German influences and French culture, mixture of locals and tourists and of course the crepes and macarons, this gem in the Alsace is certainly a place we will visit again.

Making the most of our travel ticket, we crossed the border again and headed slightly south back into the Black Forest, to stay the night in Freiburg. We didn’t check out too many sights in this attractive student town, but I ran in my first European race which was a real experience! I have never run in an event with so many participants, where for the first few kilometers it was impossible to find elbow room and where I was never wanting for company.

_MG_4626_MG_4661This March update has been somewhat delayed… thanks to the adventure that has been moving house! That story deserves a blog post in itself, but suffice to say we have been kept extremely busy and are looking forward to our next mini-break overseas.