Once we picked up a few provisions from the supermarket (mainly of the chocolate variety, oh and some bananas and a 1.5L bottle of water) and finished packing up back in our hotel, we were collected by our tour bus and taken back across the Dardanelles to Eceabat where we joined up with TJ and some other TJ’s Tour buses which had come direct from Istanbul that day. We were given a souvenir bag containing food for the night and breakfast the next morning (salad roll, bread roll, butter & spread [some people got vegemite and others chocolate/hazelnut spread], cake, juice popper, Anzac biscuits, hard boiled egg) and another run-down on what to expect at the commemorative site (TJ had already told us about it two days prior) before setting off on the twenty minute drive to the Anzac Commemorative Site. Organisers moved the dawn service from Anzac Cove in the 90s as it had grown too big for the site and flowers and headstones were being damaged. Instead, they have now developed a site at the next bay along where they can set up grandstands, stages, audio visual equipment, port-a-loos, generators, etc – everything needed to operate a memorial service attended by thousands of people for over twelve hours.
Our buses had to pass through two security check points, and at the second check point we were greeted by an Australian volunteer who ran us through – again – how the night would run and what we were and were not allowed to take into the site. We were also issued with tags that matched our bus number and had to attach one tag onto ourselves and one tag onto our bags. That way we had no way of forgetting our bus number when we had to meet our bus again the next morning, and if anything got lost it could be reunited with the correct tour bus.
Once through the check-point our bus dropped us off at the pedestrian entrance point, about 700m down the road from the commemorative site. We had to go through security personally, surrendering our bags to be searched, walk through a metal detector and got pat-down. Most of the Jandarma supervising the security point opened the bags, gave them a glance then closed them up again. Note for anyone attending in future: you’re told you can take one ‘small backpack’ onto the site and no ‘luggage sized’ backpacks. I took an 18L backpack and bought a compact sleeping bag small enough to fit inside it along with the jumpers etc I packed. Andre’s backpack was a bit bigger, 25L maybe. Well, I saw people going through security with 40L backpacks and/or holding big regular-sized sleeping bags separately and nobody batted an eyelid. You probably couldn’t take a 60L backpack in but obviously ‘one’ and ‘small backpack’ are open to interpretation! I perhaps wouldn’t recommend pushing your luck in 2015 when the site will be filled to capacity. Once through security the army of volunteers met us to put an armband around our wrists (indicating we had been through security) and handed us bottles of water and a souvenir bag filled with things like a program, beanie, rain poncho, pen, Gallipoli history booklet etc. Then it was a rather scenic walk along the coastline, following the ridge until we reached the commemorative site.
Our group ended up split in three as we searched for somewhere to sit. The entire lawn section was taken up by large international tour groups (eg. Contiki, TravelTalk, Top Deck etc) who had all rolled out their sleeping bags and were basically taking up as much space as possible. Our group (basically all the under-35s from our tour) ended up settling in the grandstand on the right (northern) end of the amphitheatre, towards the back. We got a pretty good view of the stage and one of the screens and also would not have our backs to the ridge at sunrise. Knowing the site would not be filled to capacity we took up a few extra chairs to give us some more space, thinking we could always move in later if we needed to.
Then it was basically just a matter of waiting. It would have been past 7pm by that point and the sun had disappeared below the horizon as we were entering the site, although it was still light. Volunteers came around passing out more bottles of water, not that it was hot. We passed the time by chatting with our fellow backpackers from the TJ’s group and eating the food we had brought in with us. There are food vendors on site not too far outside the amphitheatre but we assumed they would be pretty expensive. Note for anyone attending in future: the seats are not the most comfortable. I’d suggest taking a small cushion with you, either to sit on if you end up in the grandstands or you can use it as a pillow when attempting to sleep (of which there is a higher likelihood if you score a spot on the lawn).
The ‘Reflective Program’ (that is, the night’s entertainment) started at 8pm. By this time we were starting to get rugged up. You are advised beforehand to bring clothing suitable for very cold conditions. Andre has a good thick jacket but I had on my cardigan, hoodie and Gallipoli beanie, and later in the night climbed into my sleeping bag. As there was little to no breeze this was sufficient without the need for my windproof jacket. I also had extra socks in my backpack but didn’t need them as I left my boots on (my sleeping bag has a separate zip at the foot so I could open it like a tube to stick my feet out the end!)
We watched a series of military band performances, WW1 documentaries (including a really good one about the Navy’s involvement in the Gallipoli campaign, about which you don’t hear a lot, and one about an Australian submarine which actually made it the whole way up the Marmara Sea to Constantinople but had to be abandoned on the way back), video addresses from the Aus and NZ Prime Ministers and performances from a Brisbane school choir. One of the most interesting parts of the night was a talk given by a historian who talked about the initial landing and assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula, pointing out geographical landmarks with the help of spot lights outside the amphitheatre. At one point Andre went with one of our newfound friends to buy coffees and hot chocolates for themselves and their wives.
I tried to sleep by curling up on two seats and putting my head on Andre’s lap, but it wasn’t very comfortable for either of us. I think I dozed on and off in that position for close to an hour before giving up and watching some more of the reflective program. After a while I decided to try my luck on the floor. I bundled up Andre’s thin waterproof jacket as best I could to use as a pillow and had a bit more luck, dozing for perhaps another hour. Andre got no sleep at all.
At about 4am we were instructed to put blankets away etc to prepare for the dawn service. At this point you could really tell how much space the groups on the lawn had taken up as their sleeping bags were packed away and big empty patches of lawn were left. The VIPs started arriving a little before then – no sleeping out in the open overnight for them, they didn’t need to save themselves a spot! I packed up my sleeping bag and put on my windproof jacket to replace it, and all the lights in the amphitheatre were turned off for a minute’s silence.
The dawn service itself started at about 5 with an aboriginal playing the didgeridoo. I haven’t heard a didgeridoo for a long time and I always enjoy it. It ran basically like most commemorative services do – national anthems of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, speeches from representatives of all three countries, a few prayers from army chaplains, performances by the choir and military band, and even two hymns, Amazing Grace and another one I didn’t recognise. It ended with a very drawn-out wreath-laying ceremony where it seemed VIPs from all over the world and every possible war-related organisation laid a wreath, and then finally the Last Post.
We still had to stay put until the VIPs were escorted out, and then the public had the opportunity to lay a wreath or just approach the flags and wreaths for photos. After this it was a quick visit to the port-a-loos (PLENTY available and one of the fastest-moving women’s toilet lines I have ever seen!) then we moved out of the commemorative site, and it was on to our respective national services. Everyone takes the same road out that we took in, and after a few hundred metres you turn off the road onto Rough Track for the walk up the ridge. It didn’t take long for people to start peeling off the layers from the night before. Half way up there was a spot to take a break at the Shell Green cemetery which is best known as the location of a ceasefire cricket game between the two sides. More volunteers handing out bottles of water. Eventually we came to a stop when the track became completely clogged full of people, and we knew we weren’t far from the entrance to Lone Pine. Volunteers in high lifeguard-style chairs with megaphones arranged us into two sides to allow the kiwis space to walk past on to Chunuk Bair and issued information to visitors, including the current score from the AFL Anzac Day football match. At this point we farewelled our kiwi friends who moved on to Chunuk Bair for the New Zealand service.
We finally got through into the Lone Pine site after double-checking nobody needed to go to the toilet again as the port-a-loos were located outside of security. We managed to find a spot just big enough for the five of us in a location where we could see both the stage (just) and a screen (although it was partially obscured for Andre and me).
The Australian service ran very much like the dawn service with a few differences. A few Australian highschool students read out some of their favourite (for lack of a better word) epitaphs from the gravestones in the cemetery, otherwise it was pretty similar, with the same drawn-out wreath-laying ceremony at the end by all the same VIPs who laid wreaths at the dawn service (and would go on to do so at the Chunuk Bair service after ours).
After the service we met up with some TJ’s representatives in the middle of the site who advised us TJ had managed to get a bus through early to collect us. Normally you need to wait until the site management announces your bus number over the PA system, at which point you go out to meet your bus. So we went out to meet the bus TJ got through for us – cue more volunteers handing out the last of their bottled water. It wasn’t our bus, but it took us up the hill to the coach carpark where our bus was waiting. Our bus wasn’t able to go anywhere because it was parked in by other buses, but it meant we had somewhere to sit and sleep out of the sun (and rain, when it arrived). Once the Chunuk Bair service finished the buses started moving out, and we were able to collect our New Zealanders and head back to Eceabat.