The Poppy and the Rose© Dudley C. Pye AM JP
Christ! It’s bloody cold standing at the Dawn Service site in the dark. Among what seemed like a million others there for the very same reason, to honour those who lost their lives on this far away shore.
To make this pilgrimage it was necessary to make three flights, a 5 hour bus ride then a 40 minute ferry trip just to get to the pub where I stayed. Pretty ordinary place frequented by backpackers. Basic room with breakfast both plain but acceptable.
After 3 nights eating Doner Kebabs in Istanbul I had arrived in Canakkle on the opposite side of the water to Gallipoli, that is the place where the most accommodation is located. Bloody Kebab shops everywhere and the place full of Turks!
No sooner had I settled in to the Yellow Rose Pension I was notified by the manager that there was a change of plan for the dawn Service tour. Already? The original itinerary had the departure time as 0100 hrs, amended time now 2200 hrs. As I was on my own I had no bugger to whinge with and took the information in good humour.
The day was taken up with wandering around the local scene. Not bad either. Busy coastal town with a lot of sea traffic also held the bus terminal that was going gangbusters unloading an endless stream of Aussie and Kiwi pilgrims. It is fair to say that the locals held both countries in high esteem, however the same could not be said for the Poms. It would appear they are not the flavour of the month in Canakkle.
All that walking makes one a trifle thirsty so I felt it my duty to indulge in perhaps one or two local brews. I was as dry as a dead dingoes donger when I asked for a large beer. Bloody large! Dawn Fraser couldn’t have swan across it. It was deep enough to need a diving board. However, I managed to get it all down and thought I had better return to the Yellow Rose and get a little rest before my departure.
On arrival at the Rose I noticed a bowl with red paper Poppies and a note saying help yourself! I did just that and attached it to my jacket once in my room. For a time I looked at the poppy, pondered the significance of it. How it denoted a lost life on some battlefield. For the first time on the trip I felt sad.
Sitting on the edge of the bed my thoughts turned to how it must have been for all those men about to launch themselves into the worst battle they could imagine. They were not to know that there would be thousands of red poppies before it would be over. I am suddenly tired and emotional!
Looking at my clobber awaiting me I started to get a little concerned about whether I had come suitably prepared. Hanging there was the obligatory navy blue jacket and light trousers. Below them, on the floor a pair of highly polished tan brogues. Typical Anzac Day raiment! Sure, in Sydney and Brisbane but, Turkey, perhaps not. As it was approaching departure time, on with the clobber and head down to the meeting point.
Before me stood fellow pilgrims dressed for a month in the Antarctic. Turning at the sound of my approach it was obvious to me that they thought they were looking at the dill of the day. How could those so young be so right?
Only about 200 metres to the ferry terminal leaving the Yellow Rose behind and taking the red poppy with me toddled off in the shadow of my younger pilgrims. No problem with the ferry it’s clean and comfortable, complete with refreshment area catering for all types, tea, coffee and the ever-present Fosters. Not for me mate! Too cold for Fosters! I settled for a giant mug of Nescafe?
Forty minutes later we arrived at Eceabat, the jumping off place for Gallipoli. 2300 hrs now and getting colder! Into the coach trundle 50 pilgrims some wearing medals of their forebears including a lady wearing her grandfathers Military medal won at Gallipoli. She remained teary eyed for several hours until after the visit to Lone Pine.
I had my medals in my pocket and produced them on request. As I was the only one wearing medals on the left side I spent the ferry ride answering their questions. I felt immensely proud that they were interested in an old Cook with a couple of gongs.
The trip to the dawn service site was uneventful and there was much pleasant banter within the coach. Suddenly, the coach comes to a halt and it’s time to leave the warmth and take on the icy wind outside. I am usually reasonably chill resistant but the wind chill factor brought back refrigerated memories of my time in the Frozen Chosun [Korea]. Whose bloody fault is this?
Called together we are told that the coaches finish here and the service is about 3 ks away just follow the road! I found it hard to keep up with the younger pilgrims who were indeed in a hurry. A couple took pity on me and took an arm each and in a state of semi-levitation was delivered to Anzac Cove. What a sight!
It was now midnight and as black as the inside of a cow until we turned the last corner. What was before me was one of the great spectacles of my life. Thousands of people, Aussies Kiwis and Turks were amassed for what has become a world-famed service.
Three stands were available for those who were first in. One was set-aside for special purpose attendees eg. Veterans, the elderly and the disabled etc. I was approached almost immediately and handed an ID to put around my neck. It appears I qualified for one of the above. Some may say THE LOT.
I declined an offer of a seat in the stand. There were very few seats left and I was certain others might be in greater need than I. Not only that but the only seats left were at the very top and subject to a very cold wind. Some of the older spectators had been given that foil sheeting used to wrap people suffering hypothermia. It was that cold!
Three giant screens gave a perfect view of proceedings and showed documentaries of the Gallipoli campaign then an excellent piece with Andrew Denton interviewing both an Australian historian and a Turkish equivalent. It was good to have both sides of the battle explained. I was now so cold you could have rammed a tomato stake up my Khyber and called me Paddle Pop Pye.
I knew by the amount of power being used there must be a generator and sure enough about 50 metres away there it was. I thawed out a little alongside the hot air vent enough to get me back to my position for the service. This time I found some shelter beside a Wheely bin with a good view of the proceedings. The Poppy that had wilted a little by the generator now appeared back to normal.
After the publicity of the previous year regarding the behaviour of the young people I can honestly say I was very surprised at the obvious solemnity with which they exhibited. I salute them! Also I must praise the Dept of Veterans Affairs for the organization of the event. Superb!
The service was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life and was at one stage so moved I could not control the tears. I was not the only one. During the service a light show lit up the hills behind, highlighting the Sphinx and other peaks where the battle was fought. Brilliant!
The finale brought with it the Last Post and Reveille, another moving moment for me. As the dawn arrived I felt as though the spirits of those men that my poppy represented surrounded us and I touched the flower to remind myself. As I did my glance moved toward the honour guard who had stood at the arms reversed position for so long. I felt for them also.
The sun had peeped over the hill as I moved to lay the wreaths I had brought with me from Sydney. One for Old Faithful [3RAR] and one for The Cooks! I paused at the spot longer than I would have normally because I had a clear view of the landing area at Anzac Cove. It is hard to imagine how bad it must have been. The weather would be similar, they would be wet and under fire. No wonder we revere those Diggers and always will.
Time to move on to the Lone Pine service. I thought I would be transported there that’s how I understood my itinerary. Not so! It’s walk mate! However, there was a “shortcut” of 1.5 km described as a rough track. Mmmmmmmmmmm! The bloody thing was obviously designed by Sir Edmund Hillary who may very well have driven the grader that carved it out.
My little leggies have lost much of their grunt and after about 200 metres I had to stop. Using the excuse I was taking pictures didn’t work as so many young people stopped to ask of my condition. I told more lies on that climb than in all my life, but was comforted by the concern of those young people.
Finally! Lone Pine! More stands for the special needs people. This time I took advantage of the seat. Not for long as the wind from behind was very chilly and I left to meander among the crowd. I stood in the sun during the service surrounded by people of all age groups and from all walks of life. Another moving service performed with due reverence.
The next service was for the Kiwis at their memorial. I fully intended to attend that also however on being told that it was 7kms away and there was no transport I had to murmur sorry to those fallen heroes.
It was easier to walk to Anzac Cove and that is what I did. As I walked I felt as though the spirit of an Anzac joined me, and that he was beside me as I left my footprints in the sand. I hope so!
Finally the coaches arrived to return me to The Yellow Rose Pension. The trip back on the ferry allowed me to rest and enjoy a Fosters with my fellow pilgrims.
I needed to get some sleep for I was to leave at 0300 hrs next morning for the return journey to Australia. As I packed away my medals I was pleased with my trek to honour the Anzacs and the Turks. I felt the need to leave the Poppy with the Rose. Somehow I thought it should be left in the place where it all began. I don’t think the Digger would mind, do you?
© Dudley C Pye AM JP