One thing that Gallipoli changes is the concept of distance. The other thing it changes is how it feels to be Australian.
The Gallipoli campaign of WWI was the first major battle undertaken by the ANZACs, and many consider it the birthplace of the Australian nation.
Also see: Anzac Day at Gallipoli – report from the frontline
Gallipoli is a small strip of land on the Turkish coast, where the Allied campaign saw soldiers advance only a short way inland, before being driven back by the Turkish troops, with both sides experiencing huge casualties.
The very vision of the place, especially of ANZAC Cove, looms so large in the minds of Australians — the stories are drilled into us as children — those landscapes of impossible gullies and winding spits of sandy land.
To see them and feel the sand of the beaches and grounds crunch under my feet …it was disturbing and moving and horrific. Every Australian should make the trip to Gallipoli at some point.
Tours to Gallipoli are easy to organise, most of them including travel from Istanbul. The guides are helpful and informative, and it is a great way to meet other travellers while exploring the battle sites, memorials, museums and what is, now, the peaceful and beautiful peninsula.
One place that really struck me was ‘the Nek’, made famous by Peter Weir’s movie Gallipoli. The site of the battle is no more than three tennis courts wide, perched atop one of Gallipoli’s sandy hills. It’s tiny.
The Australian division were massacred on the spot, after commanders sent them over the top into brutal waves of Turkish gunfire. One of the things that you learn at Gallipoli is the endurance and camaraderie of the Australian spirit.
Stories about the Turks and the Allies trading food and cigarettes allow you to remember that these were all just men and boys, some very far from home, and all similar in the end.
The words of Turkish commander, and later president of Turkey, Attaturk, are inscribed in memorial at ANZAC Cove: “Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
It was interesting to watch the Aussie and Kiwi lads on my tour taking in the experience of Gallipoli; there was posing in front of monuments and running around the old remains of trenches.
Gallipoli seems to hold a seductive, “grown-ups playground” allure for young men. In their own way, coming here, doing a tour with their mates, and then heading out to the pub is a pilgrimage that, while may seem crass, is simply a different way of understanding what happened in Gallipoli.
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