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ANZAC Day: "I now truly understand what it means to be an Australian."

Brooke

By BROOKE FALVEY

I have always thought of myself as a proud Australian; I’ve donned green and gold cheered on our sports teams at the rugby and the tennis, I’ve eaten more lamb roasts than I can remember and pulled bindies out of my feet after doing a shoeless run across the front yard to check the mail.

But it wasn’t until I was standing on the cold, dark and unforgiving shores of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli on Anzac Day that I truly understood what it means to be Australian.

As we huddled in the dark some whispered quietly while others, like myself, simply listened as water lapped the nearby shore, taking in the atmosphere of such an emotionally charged event.

The cold had settled over our shoulders like an unwelcome blanket as the rugged cliffs which had been our army’s downfall stood tall behind us. There were no loud voices and none of the embarrassing chants so often associated with Australians on tour.

I stood with a sleeping bag wrapped around my body and the Australian flag draped proudly across  my shoulders. It was April 25, 2009, and I was in Gallipoli.

I’d been living in London for almost a year when I booked myself on a four-day tour to Turkey with The Fanatics, an Australian-based tour company best known for attending sporting events including Wimbledon and The Ashes.

I was keen to see this battlefield for myself and pay my respects to the 60,000 Australian soldiers believed to have served in this small seaside area.

I’d watched Mel Gibson in Gallipoli; I had an idea of what it was all about.

I expected it to be a memorable trip- but what I experienced during those 24 hours will stay with me forever, because no one walks away from Gallipoli untouched.

It had been 94 years since the Anzacs landed on the beach at Gallipoli, yet their spirit lives on as thousands of young antipodeans visit this tragic spot as a rite of passage.

Were it not for the 37 cemeteries and war memorials scattered across its peninsula, the area’s beauty could almost mask its tragic past; where wildflowers grow, blood was once spilled.

Walking through a beachside cemetery on the eve of Anzac Day, I passed a grave honouring John Simpson Kirkpatrick. Although I’m not much of a history buff, I remembered the story of Simpson and his donkey from my days at school.

Gallipoli. 60,000 Aussie soldiers are believed to have served in the area.

Later, as dusk turned to night, thousands streamed into the area, each snuggling down into those around them, adding more layers to keep out the bitter cold.

As the hours passed, the mood, which had been jovial upon arrival, turned sombre as letters that had been sent home by soldiers were read aloud.

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Some spoke of the harsh realities of army life while others, often written by the younger servicemen, were filled with bravado and talk of the great adventures that lay ahead.

As dawn slowly approached we waited, my thoughts with the young men whose lives we were there to commemorate—the thousands who did not make it home and those who did, scarred forever by the tragedy that unfolded over eight months in 1915.

During the service tears flowed freely among even the toughest of men; despite many of us being strangers to each other and far from home, we were joined together by pride.

With the Dawn Service complete, we made the 3.1km uphill trek to Lone Pine, which is where the reality of my pilgrimage hit home. In a drawn-out battle, the Anzacs drove the Turks from the area, but it was a hollow victory.

The Lone Pine memorial honours more than 600 men who died and almost 5000 who went missing on the Gallipoli peninsula.

I cried as I imagined our boys facing enemy lines, so close that guns and grenades were rendered useless. Surely they knew their death was imminent.

Many of the memorials were for boys far younger than my 26 years, so it was impossible not to be moved by their bravery. Each was somebody’s son, husband, father or brother.

Tears ran over my cheek as we sung Advance Australia Fair, aware for the first time that those who sacrificed their lives are the very reason our beautiful country remains able to rejoice ‘‘for we are young and free’’.

What also stood out during my visit was the respect and friendship the Turkish have for the Anzacs. Walking through Istanbul we heard constant cries of ‘‘Aussie. Kiwi. Anzacs’’.

There are also statues and monuments honouring the ties between the countries; each was caught up in a war they couldn’t win, fighting without knowing why.

As the sun set on Anzac Day, I caught a bus back to Istanbul. I was burnt, tired and emotional.

The previous 24 hours had left a mark on my soul and taught me things about Australia’s history that I couldn’t learn in a classroom or in a book.

Lest we forget.

Brooke Falvey is a former journalist, blogger and dreamer. She lives in Brisbane and survives mostly on grilled cheese sandwiches. You can find her online here.

You can donate to legacy, which delivers services to the families of incapacitated and deceased Australian veterans, here.

How will you spend your ANZAC Day?