This morning I attended my first ever dawn service for Anzac Day. I’ve attended my fair share of civic services, but I felt that this year (being the centenary of the landings at Anzac Cove) I should make the effort and the pilgrimage to go to a dawn service. Since I live close enough to my local cenotaph to walk I started out at 5.30 as the last stars were fading and light was just beginning to touch the eastern horizon. As I walked up my street house lights were flicking on, people were no doubt starting to watch the coverage on TV, cars were starting up, and a few other people like myself were making the trek up and over the ridge, down to the beach and to the cenotaph.
It seemed particularly apt to be walking to a beach for a dawn service in the cool autumn air with the scent of salt on the breeze. I couldn’t help but wonder what my Grandfather was feeling at dawn on April 25 one hundred years ago in what is now known as Anzac Cove waiting to land on this isolated scrap of a peninsula that was deemed important to hold against the Germans and their Turkish allies. Looking at those stars fading, waiting for dawn, waiting to land, hearing the Turks on the high ground and not knowing what was going to happen.
We know from history that the Anzac landings were a mess and than some, and were some of the worst casualties in one day that the Anzac forces suffered during World War One. Over the next 260 days in the scrabble to hold onto any ground, let alone the high ground, both sides suffered greatly- the Turks far worse than these Antipodean invaders.
As I walked down to my local bay these thoughts fluttered through my mind, trying to gain a sense of what my Grandfather may have felt and thought- a hard task since he died long before I was born. I didn’t even know that he served in World War One until I was an adult. All those years of learning about Anzac Day at primary school, memorising In Flanders Fields for our school service, learning about World War One in 6th form history, going to civic services, and my mother never said anything. It wasn’t until I was in my last year of undergraduate study at university that I learned that my Grandfather not only served in both world wars, but that he was rather badly wounded at Gallipoli. While I was shocked and slightly annoyed at the time, as I get older I feel the loss of not knowing anything about it even more and I plan on doing some research into his war experiences to pass on to the rest of my family.
Joining the streams of people down to the beach I could hear the pipe and drum band leading the veterans, service people and people walking on behalf of relatives through the streets to the cenotaph to begin the service. While I arrived far too late to get a spot where I could see anything, in this case hearing is a bit more important. Over the speeches by various dignitaries telling the story of Anzac and leading us in prayers and hymns I could hear the whistle of the wind through the trees along the beachfront, hear the lap of waves on the sand and feel the chill of the sea air. All of these sounds melded together to transport me in my head half a world away to Anzac Cove and the thoughts of those troops waiting for dawn, and/or waiting to land. As the sun peeked over the horizon in the Gulf The Ode* was spoken:
They shall not grow 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.
And so we do remember them. We also remember our former enemies, who have long since embraced us and us them. As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the first leader of the modern state of Turkey who also served at Gallipoli) wrote in 1934:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying 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.
*The Ode is an excerpt from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem For the Fallen and it is traditionally used to close military memorial services