They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.
* * * * *
After a night of restless sleep, documentaries and military music, I awoke to a full moon casting it's yellow light across the ocean. As it slowly drifts towards the line where the sea ends and the sky begins, the moon grows red. The line of light across the water is ethereally beautiful and when the moon finally kisses the ocean on the far horizon, I can't help but to stare in tired awe alongside the many sleepy souls who have made this pilgrimage to stand in silence and pay our respects to those men who come before us in a frightful time when the now beautiful land of the Gallipoli Peninsula was a wasteland of shrapnel, disease, deep trenches and fallen bodies.
As the service continues, we are invited to turn and take in the cliff whose peak is known as the 'Sphinx', brilliantly lit by floodlights in the slowly waking morning. The rugged white stone walls that I've been admiring for their raw beauty belies land where bloody battles were fought.
A small light appears further along the hills, not too far from where we stand - the Nek. This is where ANZACs were ordered to mount the walls of their trenches and run for the Turkish trenches on the other side and the shrapnel that would inevitably pierce their bodies; where line after line of ANZACs were order to run to their certain deaths. It was a slaughter so horrible that it's reported a Turkish soldier on the other side yelled across the trenches, "Stop! Stop!" My heart aches.
* * * * *
A few hours on, we find ourselves inside the brilliantly kept Lone Pine Cemetery, where a lone pine (albeit not the original) still stands. Behind us, the Aegean Sea sparkles and the hills curve, dip & rise, but at the time, it was a prison. Everyone was stuck here - there was no way out so the Australian soldiers decided to break out.
The Lone Pine Cemetery stands exactly where the battlefield was. Australians felt their way across the field only to find unexpected tunnels of trenches hidden beneath. They removed the logs covering the underground maze and fought the Turks hand to hand, resorting to the most primitive forms of combat - strangulation, stabbing - for 4 days. At least 7,000 men, reportedly up to 10,000, both Turkish & Australia, died during this time. The grandstands that we are seated in hold 6,000 people. The sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, grandsons and lovers who lie beneath the soil we are walking on outnumber those sitting in these stands. It is impossible to comprehend.
Many years later, an Australian man, who is now presiding over the Lone Pine service, was introduced to an elderly Turkish lady whose father was mortally wounded at Gallipoli, later dying in front of her in a military hospital. Despite holding this memory, she tells this Australian man who she has only just met that she thinks that it is a wonderful thing that Australians & New Zealanders come to Gallipoli every year to commemorate.
The warmth of the Turkish in welcoming us to their land year after year is the singular most gracious gesture I have ever encountered. As the man finishes recounting the tale of this elderly Turkish woman, whose father fell at our forefather's hands, a feeling of awe seems to sweep across the crowd.
* * * * *
I wasn't expecting to feel so emotional. I'm not really an emotional person. I expected to feel sombre, melancholy, pride. I didn't expect to find myself biting back tears, but when I found myself standing in front of the headstone of a 16-year old, then a 19-year old and then a 20-year old, something just welled up inside of me. One of these boys was younger than my little brother, the other was younger than me, the last, my age. It's too young. It's too young.
Even being here now, I still cannot even begin to imagine the horrors of the Battle of Lone Pine, or of Gallipoli itself, although I feel it slowly beginning to sink in. And honestly, I feel a little angry.
This wasn't our war to fight. This wasn't the Turks war to fight. They were somewhat tricked into it. We were called upon by nothing more than empire.
But it happened. 98 years ago, they sent our men into battle and so the ANZAC legend was born. Amongst all the horrors, beautiful stories from the "last honourable war" emerged and we can begin to understand human nature not only at its worst, but also at its sweetest.