Anzac Day. A day of National Remembrance. A day that heralded the beginnings of the spirit of the Anzac. A day that draws together Australians and New Zealanders alike to recall our birth as independent nations thrown into a foreign war. A day that serves as a stark reminder that we should never forget those brave men who went boldly before us, blind to the horrors that they were about to see, to live, to experience perpetually, day in, day out, for the rest of their lives. And also, most importantly, it is a day in which many fellow travellers in the backpacking fraternity make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli to pay tribute to our fallen heroes.
86 years on from that fatefully still spring morn of April 25, 1915, it became my turn to pay homage and to reminisce, back in 2001.
At 1.30am our bus rolled into Anzac Cove, the surrounding terrain already strewn with a sea of sleeping bags, humans huddling beneath them, shielding themselves from the biting cold. By 4.30am, when no more Coaches were permitted to enter this sacred stretch of pristine coastline, there was not a spare pinch of space to be seen on the whole peninsula!
As dawn broke over the Cove that morning, we all stood proudly, albeit stiffly to attention as the Ceremony began, and I was mesmerized by the enormity of the fact I was witnessing history, there being a record crowd in attendance again.
The minute silence was powerful. Picture the stillest, prettiest, palest blue sea, the calmest, most serene sky, with a backdrop of 15,000 Australians and New Zealanders silent, standing tall, each of us propelled back in time with our respective thoughts of how utterly horrific it had to have been to look upon acts such your best mate being blown away in a bevy of bullets, or to have helplessly faced imminent danger as you charged towards the enemy, your only weapon some ancient pistol, and your birth certificate vouching for only 20 odd years of life so far. And when the first strains of The Last Post began to echo throughout the hillsides, it was all I could do to stop the tears from flowing freely.
The exquisite beauty of the morning seemed almost to mock us, and the significance of this day. As I took in my surroundings, I found it hard to fathom such atrocities had taken place in this same spot. But then again, maybe its serenity was now acting to remind us all how far we had come in the world, and how much we truly have to appreciate today.
On the eve of Anzac Day, I had been lucky enough to properly explore this sacred area. Doing so, my mind became immersed in the thoughts of this chilling war, and you could not help but question in bewilderment how such enthusiastic youths with a passion for adventure more so than a yearning to show allegiance to their “Mother Country”, with their whole innocent lives stretching brilliantly before them, could have ever been prepared for such sights of brutality and barbarity…. I strolled along the same beach that they had trodden in trepidation, stared in awe at the imposing cliff faces they were expected to scale in the face of certain death, and crouched in narrow trenches that they were forced to call home….
As the Dawn Service came to an emotional end, my fellow Aussies then made the trek to our country's Memorial site, Lone Pine, to behold another moment of pride for our fallen heroes.
There are almost no words to describe the fervent, patriotic atmosphere present here.
Imagine 12,000 Australians gathered together in close proximity, all unquestionably filled with pride, patriotic juices coursing through their veins, the sounds of exuberant voices singing loud and proud along to traditional Aussie melodies that everyone (sadly) knew the words to (we’re talking Road to Gundagai material here, folks!) , an almost tangible current of electricity permeating the masses. And here was I, lucky enough to be one!
My most treasured memory however, and one that still gives me goosebumps now, will stay vividly entrenched in my mind, reassuring me that the Anzac spirit is still burning brightly. Once the Official Party had arrived, and been seated, an announcement was made by the Emcee that there were still some seats available in the cordoned off area, and if there were any War Veterans out in the crowd, they were welcome to take up the spare reserved seating.
Suddenly, in the distance, a man stood tall and began to make his way to the front of the crowd, then another, who was all bent over with age, came forward, both displaying their various regalia of medals with dignified, quiet pride.
Within an instant, the throng of 12,000 sprang to our feet, and, in an act of unprovoked and spontaneous admiration, we stood and cheered and clapped until our hands were red raw, and our voices hoarse. Then another appeared, supported by a younger lady, and still we stood, applauding, our eyes welling with tears.
It was the single most selfless act of gratitude and awe I have ever seen by a group of likeminded people, and we were all so moved by the impulsiveness that had swept through the thousands assembled, like one of the bushfire infernoes that wreak havoc back home in Oz. It was by no means an outlandish display of behaviour; we were simply, utterly, thankful and wanted these men to know they were appreciated and admired. And at no other moment in my 22 years of life, had I ever been so damn proud to be an Australian, or more certain that the unique spirit of the Anzac had not been extinguished.
I will long cherish my unforgettable sojourn to Gallipoli, feeling so lucky to have experienced such bursting pride for my homeland that became irrevocably instilled within me as I stood in the brilliant sunshine at Lone Pine, and Anzac Cove. And I continue to promote to all my fellow countrymen and women that they should see it as their duty to make the same journey, as we cannot let such an integral part of our Nation’s history fall prey to the trials of time passing, and be forgotten. Because truly, if we ever stop remembering why April 25 is so very significant, then that will be almost as devastating and unacceptable as the war itself.
Anzac Day – lest we should never dare to forget....