They shall not grow old, as we who 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. These words mean so much more to me now. They are not just words; they are a tribute to those boys. Those men. Those women. Those people.
If you told me that I was going to go to Turkey this time last year I would have probably laughed in your face. I sincerely believed that I wouldn’t be selected. I thought my application wasn’t up to scratch and there would be a lot of people far better than me who had much closer connections to Gallipoli.
On the 9th of September last year I was sitting in my English class reading my emails- after finishing my work- and I received an email telling me that I was accepted to go to Turkey for the Anzac Centenary 2015 by the Victorian and Commonwealth Government, and I was expected to be at Parliament House the next day for the formalities. Well this came as a surprise as I thought they forgot about me. So off I went, to Ms Hoystead then Ms Virgato then finally Mr Holmes in a state of excitement and panic. Those hours were a rush, where my parents were called and my mum screamed with shock- like me she thought I had no chance (that’s why she let me apply).
Now 9 Months later that the experience is all over, I have been on the trip and have learnt something that not many people of my generation understand. This trip has affected me profoundly and now my job is to try to change something in you too. I will do my best.
Once at the Airport you could feel the buzz of 80 students and their minders receiving their jackets and some other few cool things like a shirt, badges, a hiker’s mat? As I checked in and loaded my luggage the nerves kicked in. You see I had never been overseas before this trip so the idea of saying goodbye to my parents and heading to Turkey of all places with people I had only met once or twice before was a little terrifying. But as soon as I had said my goodbyes and headed through those International Gates I was ready to go. I’m not going to bore with every itty bitty detail, the really bad food on the flight or how I was terrified going through customs. But what I am going to say is that during that flight alone I met some of my friends. We as a group were thrown into this experience and we made the best of a nerve raking situation. All 80 bonded because of the experience.
I’m not going to tell you about the 5 hours’ sleep I had on the plane to Dubai or the 0 hours of sleep I had on the way to Istanbul. I won’t tell you why I began to cry because of the lack of sleep, stress and being quite overwhelmed. What I will tell you are my favourite things and places in Turkey.
The first thing is going to sound like such a suck up. MY GROUP. I honestly can’t imagine a better group to go on this trip with. They are my very very close friends because we experienced something together and only we will understand it. This group of people is quite extraordinary in the fact they still talk to me after the trip regardless of my awful selfie skills. Quite remarkable and Unbelievable! (No selfies are in that photo roll.)
Another favourite thing was the intense pride that Turks have in their country and their heritage. While I was there it was their Independence Day so they had flags flying from every window, building and telegraph pole. They also have an amazing level of respect for Australians and ANZAC Day. It’s something they seem to really appreciate as ANZAC Day formed their history as well as ours. I also have a secret suspicion that it may be one of the busiest times of the year for the likes of tourism. Because of this the local stalls get very excited and yell at us random Aussie.
I could also mention my love for the constant hit of spices, spring time, flowers, the food, the lights, and the lack of fences, animals wondering the streets, the people, the beggar’s charm as they try to sell things and the chaos that is TURKEY, but that may take a little longer than I have.
My Favourite Places:
We as a group were very privileged in the fact that we were able to visit so many places that gave us an insight to the culture, religion, arts and history of the country. It is impossible to choose my favourites as the entire trip was my favourite. But the places that touched me the most were the School and a little place down by the Gallipoli Peninsula called REDOUBT CEMETERY.
The High School we visited, Gelibolu Anadolu Lisesi was very different to Sacred Heart College. The students and teachers were so accommodating. To be honest, before this trip the idea of exchange students or being one kind of scared me, so if you were new or were visiting the school id be too nervous to go and introduce myself. I will never be shy again after what those students in Turkey did. As soon as I got off the bus I was greeted by a long row of English teachers and then straight after that I met my pen pal Elif. After thousands of hugs, I was taken to her friends where I received another thousand hugs and kisses and selfie after selfie, group shot after group shot.
The school had organised and entire press conference with the Principle of the School and The Minister of Veterans Affairs. I went up to present the Piece of Plaster Fingerprint to represent our three girls who nursed during ww1 and a Sacred Heard College 125 Anniversary Badge to the Principal of the school and he didn’t speak a word of English but seemed pretty happy. The Minister of Veteran’s Affairs however said it was a lovely gesture, so Congratulations Ms McKee.
There is a little place down the Gallipoli Peninsula. Its name is Redoubt Cemetery. Redoubt Cemetery is one mainly for French and British Soldiers but there were still Australians found in the Cemetery. There are now 2,027 soldiers believed to be buried in this cemetery but only 634 of them are identified. And many of these soldiers are just believed to be buried in Redoubt. Redoubt Cemetery is a very tranquil and quiet place. All you could hear was the birds and the breeze; this was ironic as this place 100 years ago was a place of turmoil and chaos. This quiet and peaceful place was the place that affected me the most.
ANZAC, for me has always been an amazing story about heroic men fighting for our country. The reason why it has never touched us as a generation is because it happened such a long time ago; it’s hard to relate to something that happened 100 years ago. You don’t understand the effect of war or the ANZAC spirit until you are standing on the ground on which these boys, these men fought and died.
For the first time in my life I was walking along a cemetery that was once a place of war, reading the names. It was then I realised that these names weren’t just soldiers- they were people. I found a couple of 16 and 17 year old boy’s graves. This terrified me because that is the age of my friends in my group and here at Sacred Heart, it could have been them. That was the first light bulb moment. When we laid a wreath at the memorial and had a group photo taken in front of it, I sat on the grass, feeling it under my hands and I looked at a grave, then it hit me like I just got struck by lightning. This was the ground that thousands of remains are lying under, there final resting place. This actually happened; it isn’t just a story IT IS REAL. I was brought to tears by this and what was written on some graves. There is one boy who will be held in my heart. Private H. G Michels died 27 May 1915 Age 16 the comment from his family: DUTY DONE. Duty done, for a 16 year old boy?
I just had a hit of realisation. One of the Chaperones Clare said that she could tell that we finally understood it. And she was right because as we walked back to our buses there was an entirely new energy amongst the group. We all realised that there was something bigger than all of us out there and I can’t speak for everyone but it terrified me.
That day was very emotional.
The Dawn Service was also an emotional day. First of all it was tiring. The layout for the 31 hours was this: We left Kesan at 7:30 on the bus. We arrived at the Gallipoli Peninsula at 12:30am. We camped out at Mosai Park until 3:30. We were finally ushered into the sight at around 4:00-4:30. Had the Dawn Service itself until 6:00am. Walked to Lone Pine until 8:00. Waited for the Service at Lone Pine and had Lone Pine Service until 12:00pm. We then waited for buses and had a bus trip back to Istanbul. Arrived in Istanbul at 1:30am Sunday Morning.
We were standing in the standing room only; my view was the screen and the horizon. The atmosphere was incredibly sombre and immensely respectful. During a break of each sequence there was just silence. The only thing you could hear was the waves softly brushing against the shore line. The sea was lit up a royal blue and the cruise ships in the distance had all their lights on so all you could see on the horizon was a deep blue and lights of ships coming gradually closer. Behind me were the cliffs on which these men scurried up the frightful day. At one point of silence I turned around to face the crowd and saw the sun coming up behind the cliffs and the crowd taking photos with flashes. I thought this is exactly what those soldiers saw. The sunrise, the cliffs and flashes, but instead of cameras they were guns and shells.
Before the service we were shown a short film called the Telegram Man. It was a story about what life was like to be a telegram man in Australia during WW1. This man had to deliver bad news to a family- It brought nearly everyone to tears because it was a rotten job, no one likes bad news. We were then shown a slideshow memoriam of a few soldiers rank, name, date of death, age and a comment from the family. There was one which said Mummy’s Little Boy- for a 17 year old boy. Again I was brought to tears.
The dawn service itself was a beautiful tribute to those soldiers.
The Lone Pine service was the same service. I had the privilege of meeting a remarkable man during this time spent at Lone Pine. His father landed at Gallipoli on the 25th of April 1915 and survived. He then went on to the Western Front in France and survived. He then went home to marry his fiancé and have a family. This man’s father had told him to go to every Dawn Service because those soldiers deserved that much. This amazing man has kept his promise all his life and even made it to Gallipoli on the 100th Anniversary.
This experience was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am incredibly thankful and fortunate. It was so important for me to go because we as a generation are the ones to make sure that this legacy never dies. But I wouldn’t have been able to go without the help of Ms Hoystead, Ms Virgato, Mr Holmes and Mrs Elaine Dugdale-Walker, thank you so much for you confidence in me throughout the entire process.
Because of this trip I will always hold those ANZAC’s in my heart and I am proud to say they are the reason I am standing here today. And as John Kee said “We can no longer say Lest We Forget, because 100 years on we have proven that we REMEMBER.”