Gallipoli sprung up as a tourist hot spot seemingly overnight, with the ANZAC legend drawing in young travellers to the forefront of the stories.
The attraction isn’t surprising given the surroundings: blue waters lash jagged cliffs, and soft waves from the Mediterranean blanket a sandy coastline. It sounds like paradise, except for the ugly history and heavy silence which form a devastating backdrop. These waters are treated like a cemetery. All swimming and fishing is banned and boats cannot come ashore.
Australian soldiers, under British order, unsuspectingly landed at Gallipoli the dawn of 25 April 1915. Instead of an easy stride up the beach as expected, they found themselves on a 600 metre stretch of sand with only a very steep hill in front of them – and gunfire coming from one seriously high vantage point. Many didn’t make it further than the boat. Kiwi soldiers sidestepped the dead and were wounded just hours later. This landing paved the beginning for Australia and New Zealand’s most famous war history.
Fez Travel is responsible for the largest convoy of coaches every ANZAC Day. They send around 2000 people each year and 2011 is expected to be no different. After all their experience organising tours to and from the site, they’ve gained a remarkable amount of knowledge about the landing.
Fez’s Dean Hunter, originally from Melbourne, has worked with Anzac Day for over 15 years, living in Gallipoli for ten of these, and has seen many changes. He estimates around 75% of twenty-somethings make up the entire number of visitors.
“Nothing makes me as proud as our young people who come over here. There’s no other event in the world where four to five thousand young people travel half way across the world to commemorate an event that took place, getting on 96 years ago. Especially as they often arrive not knowing much about it,” said Hunter who has personally attended the dawn service four times.
“I’ve seen big Maori rugby players and big Aussie army soldiers crying, and that’s what happens when your emotions are getting hit from opposite sides at the same time.”
He says the most common response from visitors when they leave is ‘I just didn’t realise’ and believes there’s something engrained in our genetics that inherently draws visitors to Anzac Cove like a magnet. Approximately 80,000 Aussie and Kiwi visitors in total tour Gallipoli each year, mainly in the summer season. In winter Anzac Cove can often be found completely empty, a frighteningly silent experience itself. West Australian couple Brad Forrester and Gemma Stuart found the site exactly that.
Leaving their coastal city Geraldton for a European holiday they made certain to include Turkey in their Itinerary, specifically Gallipoli, saying they couldn’t venture this far from home and not go. It’s a familiar story that many young people find themselves relaying.
“I kept making the comment that I couldn’t believe we were there,” said Forrester, who was somewhat lost for words trying to explain his feels. “It’s hard to explain, there’s a few different emotions. Obviously you feel proud, but also bad for what these guys went through.
“I would tell others to definitely make it a stopping point on the way home. It wasn’t convenient but people can work it into their trip at some point. It makes people realise not to worry about the little things.”
The Fez Travel tour begins in Istanbul before being driven to the landing site, followed by a trip to Lone Pine where more than 2000 Australian troops lost their lives in just four days of gruesome battle. Now the spot of the Australian Memorial, this small stretch of land was made famous in the film Gallipoli, which Fez’s Dean Hunter says helped spark interest in the day. He also says the Australian government has also played a large role in keeping the sacred day at the forefront of our young nation’s mind.
Major interest spawned from 75th anniversary services when living veterans returned to the exact landing location they faced as boys. The emotional and moving images were a driving force behind the pride our nation feels today.
“There was only about 100 or so (veterans) left and they were worried that the memories would die with them and there would be no interest. But since the 75th anniversary it’s actually grown, and that’s just so great,” said Hunter, who seems genuinely happy to share his ANZAC stories.
The numbers in attendance at the Gallipoli dawn service every year is equal to the number of lives lost. Camping out in the cold, a big screen is a vivid reminder of how young and brave soldiers were. Photos and diary entries are relayed in darkness prior to sunrise.
Tourist numbers are guaranteed to increase in 2015 for the 100th anniversary. Fez Travel expects to send their biggest convoy of coaches with enquiries and bookings already flooding in. While the interest is exciting, Hunter says the numbers should be restricted.
“It is a concern for all authorities involved. The infrastructure can’t be improved very much, like the road going from Lone Pine to Chunuk Bair, because if you widen it you are digging into Australian or Turkish trenches.”
While memories and stories may disappear with the Anzacs who served in Gallipoli, it’s safe to say that coming generations have no intention of letting their memories fade. The past may be bleak, but it’s this very darkness that encourages new generations to embrace their bright futures, and be grateful for them.