Last month on April 25th was the Anzac Day of national remembrance. It is one of Australia’s most important national occasions as it marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures today. The Gallipoli campaign took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey from February 1915 to January 1916. Nearly eight thousand troops lost their lives with eighteen thousand casualties. For a country of less than five million people at the time, the numbers of dead were staggering.
In Australia it has become a rite of passage for many Aussies to journey to Gallipoli to attend a dawn service at the Anzac Cove site. We have never managed to get to a service on Anzac Day but a few years ago we booked a Mediterranean cruise and decided to do a side trip to Turkey to visit Gallipoli.
We arrived in Istanbul late in the evening and had to be up at 4 a.m. the next morning to join our tour. We did not sleep a wink as our body clocks were on Aussie time. Two bleary eyed Aussie’s fronted up in reception where we met our tour guide. Gallipoli is about four hours drive from Istanbul.
The Anzac Cove terrain was inhospitable. It was characterised by rocky ground with little vegetation, hilly land, and steep ravines. It is not until you walk the area that you understand how things went badly for the Aussie and New Zealand troops. To walk the trenches and see how close the opposing sides were to each other was staggering. Apparently, they talked to each other. Shared a smoke. Many were young men whose lives were cut short—such a waste of life.
Stories abounded but one that I never forgot was a story of a man and a donkey. By now you know of my love of animals. Private John Simpson was a stretcher-bearer in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance and was killed less than three weeks after arriving. But during his time, he transported wounded men on a donkey from the fighting in Monash Valley to the first-aid station at Anzac Cove. A legend grew up around Simpson, that he saved seriously wounded men. However, it was later disputed that life-threatening head, chest or stomach wounds could not be transported on a donkey. Who knows the truth of it, but it leads to an interesting premise for story.
The wealth of history in Turkey opened a pandora’s box of ideas for story. When we returned to Istanbul, we hired a guide who spent a couple of days showing us the sites. It was not long before I placed him as a future hero in one of my books. He was courteous, gracious, fun, and charming. I love colour and remember one day dressing in multi coloured—lots of orange—trousers and top. I asked our guide if I would be okay dressed this way. He said yes of course, why would you not be? From memory I think my husband was worried I stood out like a sore thumb. I do remember thinking the blue head scarf I wore at the Blue Mosque clashed, but nobody batted an eyelid. Turkey was a surprise. I do not know what I expected but I got much more.
Until next time
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