THE COLD FACE OF GALLIPOLI
The Gallipoli campaign was brutal and not for the fainthearted. I went in believing I knew what I was in for and somehow came out the other side as the face of Anzac Day 2006.
Anzac Day is all about reflection, so let’s we reflect…
I had been prepared for the emotion of the occasion, but I wasn’t prepared for the coldness of the occasion. It was freezing with an onshore wind blowing off Anzac Cove. The day had been a sunny autumnal day, but this was just a tease. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the temperature didn’t drop, it plummeted.
After a 5 hour bus trip from Istanbul (which they showed Mel Gibson’s “Gallipoli” on-board to get everyone into the mood) we arrived at Anzac Cove around 6pm on 24th April. Being on one of the first buses (as there isn’t public transport everyone has to belong to a tour group to gain access) to arrive we had options – lie on the grassed area behind the VIPs which would give you a limited view, but with the chance of getting some sleep, or sit in the stand where you would be guaranteed a great view, but very little chance of any sleep. I chose the latter as I thought “seeing” was whole point of being here.
Despite wearing a t-shirt, shirt, polar fleece jumper, windproof jacket, two pairs of Explorer socks, jeans, a beanie (purchased during the night from a local Turk) and all snuggled inside a sleeping bag it was not enough to ward off the cold that had now seeped its way into the core of my bones. I remember thinking I may be uncomfortably cold, but imagine also being wet and coming ashore under the cover of darkness, to a future that probably wasn’t going to end well.
To relieve boredom, every hour, on the hour throughout the night, either a Military band played, or a 15 minute documentary of the conflict, or a detailed description of where the troops were at that specific time back in 1915, or images beamed up on the big screen of the crowd from the closed circuit cameras. It was both entertaining and informative. A constant stream of buses depositing more people added to the carnival-like atmosphere. By 5.30am there was about 10,000 people squashed into Anzac Cove. I am pretty sure there was not one Australian backpacker left in London!
Amongst the crowd were AFL and NRL football jumpers, Wallaby tops, hats with
the Oz flag, the canary yellow of the Fanatics etc and the closest thing to nationalistic I had was an Austereo polar fleece with a capital A on the front. During the night I was feeling so unpatriotic I haggled with a local Turk selling flags – eventually getting a bargain for 4 Turkish Lira (approx. $4.00). I had got a great deal and I felt good. Back at my seat, with chest swelling with pride, I unfurled the flag to discover that it was only printed on one side. Damn you Turks, you got the better of us Aussies again. The reverse side was completely white!
It was at that moment when a camera on the end of a massive boom, swung around zooming in on me. I could see myself on the screens scattered around the amphitheatre. Luckily the wind changed direction so that the Australian flag side was visible; otherwise it would have looked as though I was surrendering by waving the white flag. I remember thinking “look solemn and pensive and resist the urge to make a face or wave maniacally”.
The service itself was quite stage-managed with many speeches by dignitaries. It
felt more like a celebration than a memorial service, so it wasn’t as emotional as I thought it was going to be – that was until the lone bugler played the Last Post and the Reveille – spine chilling stuff.
A few days later I discovered that it hadn’t been a closed circuit tv. The footage was beamed back to Australia and Channel 9 used my image as the opening and closing scenes of their national news bulletin! My cold, but solemn face had been on television every hour throughout the day all over Australia.
I had turned up to pay my respects and walked away from Gallipoli as the face of Anzac Day.