How Not to Do an ANZAC Dawn Service
Turkey would probably be a relatively little traversed destination for Aussie and Kiwi backpackers if it wasn’t for the ANZAC day dawn service at Gallipoli, which attracts over 4000 visitors each year.
I won’t lie and pretend this is the reason I chose to go to there though, because the reality is I completely forgot about ANZAC day despite the fact I was arriving only a week before the commemoration was to take place. Patriotism at its finest. When it did eventually dawn on me (lol, pun), my initial impulse was to go on pretending I didn’t know, because the idea of standing in a field listening to long-winded speeches in the early hours of the morning really didn’t appeal to me. Then I realised that people I met afterwards would ask if I had been, and what would I say?
So, I jumped on Google to look for a last-minute vacancy with a local tour company. Let me just say, now, and this has absolutely nothing to do with the dawn service itself, but if I have one regret in my life, it is booking this tour. Those fuckers were laughing all way to the bank as they paraded our ignorant asses into every service station and roadside restaurant along the 273km stretch of highway between Istanbul and Gallipoli (and there are a lot) like ignorant bags of western wealth, urging us to spend our money on supplies under the threat of starvation at the Gallipoli site. I kid you not – it took us no less than 12 hours to get to the site because we made five hour-long “supply stops”. I have never seen a more bloated and pissed-off busload of people in my life.
Having said that, there was one good thing that came out of that bus trip – discovering these biscuits:
So we finally got to the gates – the second last bus to arrive, where we joined the huge-ass queue waiting to pass through the security gates. It was briefly reminiscent of a music festival until I noticed the Jandarma (public order military) strolling up and down with AK47s.
We then moved into the main section, which looks like a sporting arena with seating stands set up around the main stage along with a big screen. I look at my watch; it’s only 8pm. This is going to be a long night. Thanks to our fucktard tour company, most of the good seats are already taken, so we find a bench at the back of the stands and settle in. At some point, we become too knackered for small talk and roll out our sleeping bags in the foot space under the benches to get a couple of winks before the sun comes up.
At about 3am, another wave of people arrive and I feel an overwhelming impulse of violence toward them for making me vacate my cosy nook on the ground so they can sit their well-rested arses on my bench. Assholes.
At last, the sun begins to peek over the hills behind us and the dawn service begins. By this point, I’ve been awake for over 24 hours and quite frankly it’s not something I would advise without the assistance of narcotics. I manage to stay lucid just long enough to hear some pretty cool tales accompanied by original footage and photographs on the big screen, and the Last Post is a pretty special thing when you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow countrymen at the site of the battle, looking out over the Aegean Sea as it glimmers blue and silver in the soft dawn rays.
The dawn service draws to a close and I am so fucking relieved I can finally get on the bus and go to sleep. Yeahhhh, no. Apparently, this thing isn’t over. Instead, we have to trek for an hour to the other side of the cove through the bloody hills to the Lone Pine Memorial and stand for another three hours in the now sweltering sunshine. I’m sure the talks which took place there were fascinating and heart breaking, but I have no fucking idea, because I was so delirious the only thing I could focus on was not passing out.
Hilariously, my delirium was mistaken for emotion, and the next day I got an email from the owner of my hostel in Istanbul to say he just saw me in the newspaper and attached this flattering photo:
So, for all those planning to attend next year please heed the following lessons I learned the hard way:
- Book with a tour company who have good reviews and preferably aren’t Turkish (not in a racist way but an Australian/Kiwi company are less likely to have any ulterior money-scamming alliances).
- Find out what time the company departs from Istanbul. If it’s earlier than 10am, find another company – it’s just not necessary.
- Don’t go with The Fanatics because that’s just embarrassing and everybody will hate you.
- Bring caffeine.
- And sunscreen.
- And a shit ton of water.