Everyone spoke in hushed tones out of respect for the fallen at Anzac Cove, although no one actually said we had to be quiet. The skies were especially blue that day. It was as if the elements knew better than to disturb those who slept, as a comforting calm enveloped the hillside.
For the group of journalists who had the privilege to stop over at Gallipoli as part of Trafalgar’s “Highlights of Turkey” programme end of last year, it was an enlightening tour to be able to witness the battlesite firsthand.
But while it may have been just another educational stop for some of us, the Australians and New Zealanders were particularly moved by the peaceful scene.
Close to 11,000 troops from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) had died in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. There were about 30,000 casualties from both countries combined, and the former landing area of Gaba Tepe was renamed Anzac Cove in honour of their contribution.
At the cove itself, a number of plaques providing the battle history lines a wall on the beach front. It would have been no more than a scenic view of the gorgeous aquamarine sea, if not for the small tombstones nearby, marking the graves of the soldiers, bearing simple, yet heart-rending messages in remembrance of the sons, husbands and brothers who lost their lives.
A short drive further up the road led to Lone Pine which still has a network of trenches, some yet untouched by the ravages of time. It was amazing to see that some of the trenches were only metres apart, making one wonder how it was possible for a battle to have been fought like that.
The sea is also further away now, the beautiful coastline revealing none of its sad past unless you pay attention to the rows and rows of headstones at the cemetery, or make your way to the Memorial of the Missing which displays more names of soldiers.
The Battle of Gallipoli, or the Dardanelles Campaign, was an unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Powers in World War I to control the sea route from Europe to Russia.
A narrow passage connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara in northwestern Turkey, the Dardanelles Straits, in the hands of the Allies, would give them easy access to the Russians in the Black Sea. The plan was to work together to defeat Turkey.
The failed naval attack by British and French ships on the straits and land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25 eventually led to the defeat and evacuation of the Allied forces in December that year.
The fierce Turkish resistance, along with a lack of understanding of the unknown terrain and military intelligence of the opposition, hampered the campaign and led to heavy casualties on both sides.
Since then, on April 25 every year, Australia and New Zealand conduct three commemorative services in Gallipoli to honour the bravery and heroism of their soldiers during World War I. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day, declared the national day of remembrance for both countries to commemorate the Anzac members who fought in the battle.
Due to the high number of people interested in attending the services, and the limited space at the Gallipoli site, the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish governments had agreed on a maximum capacity of 10,500 people for the commemorations, with 8,000 of the places allocated to Australians based on the relative number of casualties suffered during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.
A four-stage ticket ballot was conducted last year, which 42,000 Australians independently registered for. Those who were successful received an offer to attend the Dawn Service at the Anzac Commemorative Site and the Australian Memorial Service at Lone Pine.
The itinerary provided by Trafalgar for this Anzac Day includes departing for Gallipoli just before midnight, with a chance to experience the build-up to the Dawn Service commencing at 5.30am. After the service, visitors will walk to Lone Pine. The Kiwis will make their way to Chunuk Bair to attend the New Zealand Memorial Service.
Seeing how not everyone will be able to make it to this momentous event, those who missed out on the actual day of commemoration are expected to make their way to Gallipoli throughout this centenary year.
Since there is no public transport from the neighbouring towns to the commemorative site, guided coaches are highly recommended as the best way to get to Gallipoli, especially considering how the nearest lodgings are in Canakkale, some 30km away.
For Trafalgar guests, there is the added benefit of having a specialist battlefields guide (a Trafalgar Insider touch) as well as a Turkish travel director to flesh out the events at Gallipoli a century ago.
■ Flights provided by Turkish Airlines. For enquiries, call Holiday Tours (official retailer for Trafalgar) at 03-6286 6288 or visit www.holidaytours.com.my.