86 years on from that fatefully still spring morn of April 25, 1915, it became my turn to pay homage and to reminisce, back in 2001.
As dawn broke over the Cove that morning, we all stood proudly, albeit stiffly to attention as the Ceremony began, and I was mesmerized by the enormity of the fact I was witnessing history, there being a record crowd in attendance again.
The minute silence was powerful. Picture the stillest, prettiest, palest blue sea, the calmest, most serene sky, with a backdrop of 15,000 Australians and New Zealanders silent, standing tall, each of us propelled back in time with our respective thoughts of how utterly horrific it had to have been to look upon acts such your best mate being blown away in a bevy of bullets, or to have helplessly faced imminent danger as you charged towards the enemy, your only weapon some ancient pistol, and your birth certificate vouching for only 20 odd years of life so far. And when the first strains of The Last Post began to echo throughout the hillsides, it was all I could do to stop the tears from flowing freely.
And you cannot help but ponder, how on earth could any of them mentally, physically or emotionally survived?
As the Dawn Service came to an emotional end, my fellow Aussies then made the trek to our country’s Memorial site, Lone Pine, to behold another moment of pride for our fallen heroes.
There are almost no words to describe the fervent, patriotic atmosphere present here.
Imagine 12,000 Australians gathered together in close proximity, all unquestionably filled with pride, patriotic juices coursing through their veins, the sounds of exuberant voices singing loud and proud along to traditional Aussie melodies that everyone (sadly) knew the words to (we’re talking Road to Gundagai material here, folks!) , an almost tangible current of electricity permeating the masses. And here was I, lucky enough to be one!
My most treasured memory however, and one that still gives me goosebumps now, will stay vividly entrenched in my mind, reassuring me that the Anzac spirit is still burning brightly. Once the Official Party had arrived, and been seated, an announcement was made by the Emcee that there were still some seats available in the cordoned off area, and if there were any War Veterans out in the crowd, they were welcome to take up the spare reserved seating.
Suddenly, in the distance, a man stood tall and began to make his way to the front of the crowd, then another, who was all bent over with age, came forward, both displaying their various regalia of medals with dignified, quiet pride.
Within an instant, the throng of 12,000 sprang to our feet, and, in an act of unprovoked and spontaneous admiration, we stood and cheered and clapped until our hands were red raw, and our voices hoarse. Then another appeared, supported by a younger lady, and still we stood, applauding, our eyes welling with tears.
It was the single most selfless act of gratitude and awe I have ever seen by a group of likeminded people, and we were all so moved by the impulsiveness that had swept through the thousands assembled, like one of the bushfire infernoes that wreak havoc back home in Oz. It was by no means an outlandish display of behaviour; we were simply, utterly, thankful and wanted these men to know they were appreciated and admired. And at no other moment in my 22 years of life, had I ever been so damn proud to be an Australian, or more certain that the unique spirit of the Anzac had not been extinguished.
I will long cherish my unforgettable sojourn to Gallipoli, feeling so lucky to have experienced such bursting pride for my homeland that became irrevocably instilled within me as I stood in the brilliant sunshine at Lone Pine, and Anzac Cove. And I continue to promote to all my fellow countrymen and women that they should see it as their duty to make the same journey, as we cannot let such an integral part of our Nation’s history fall prey to the trials of time passing, and be forgotten. Because truly, if we ever stop remembering why April 25 is so very significant, then that will be almost as devastating and unacceptable as the war itself.
Anzac Day – lest we should never dare to forget….