This time six years ago, I was huddled on a grassy hill overlooking ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli.
There were thousands of us gathered there in the dark, bundled up in layers and wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. We’d been camped out for hours in the dark, shoulder-to-shoulder, snacking and chatting in an effort to stay awake and warm until the Dawn Service at 5.20am.
The moment the first, familiar notes of the Last Post rang out, all that human noise stopped. Except for the waves rolling onto the beach below, the peninsula was overwhelmingly silent.
It was, undoubtedly, one of the most spine-tingling experiences of my life.
Even if it’s not on your travel wish list, you’ve probably read and heard a lot about the ANZAC Day services at Gallipoli. It probably hasn't left you with the most positive impression.
You probably remember that around 10 years ago, the commemoration was marred by reports of horrendously disrespectful behaviour — piles of rubbish left behind, questionable music choices (the Bee Gees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive’ made an appearance) and a party-like atmosphere.
That in itself would be enough to deter anyone from making the Gallipoli pilgrimage. Yet this year, there's been a far more serious issue at play - the threat of terrorists targeting the event.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, just 700 Australians and New Zealanders registered for the ANZAC Day service this year, a sharp drop from the 10,500 in attendance in 2015. Turkey has also tightened security at the peninsula, with 2000 officers expected to patrol the peninsula.
Attending ANZAC Day in Gallipoli is something I’d always planned to do. Everyone has different reasons for going; for me, it was a personal connection. My great-grandfather Harold fought in the Battle of Lone Pine, and his legacy has always been significant to my family.
When I finally booked my Gallipoli trip in 2011, terrorism wasn't at the forefront of the conversation - but those reports of ‘partying’ behaviour from fellow Aussies certainly made me hesitate. I realise this sounds pompous, but considering how loose April 25 “celebrations” can be here at home - any excuse to get pissed, right? - it didn’t seem entirely out of the question.
However, from what I observed on the day, nobody was there to celebrate. There were Aussie flags being worn around shoulders, but not in the aggressively patriotic way you tend to observe on Australia Day.
As for the ‘entertainment’ preceding the ceremonies, none of it was even remotely tasteless - photographs and footage were projected onto screens in honour of the soldiers who’d lost their lives 96 years earlier, and these tributes were interspersed with performances by army bands.
The only truly cringeworthy moment I noted was when a TV reporter standing nearby commenced his live cross during the recital of the Ode at the Dawn Service and continued into the minute’s silence.
There are plenty of poignant moments and experiences at the Gallipoli ANZAC Day service that you don't necessarily hear or read about in the news wraps.
For instance, there are a number of services held at the various cemeteries around the peninsula after the Dawn Service.
I found the Australian ceremony at the Lone Pine memorial delivered an even greater emotional thump than the Dawn Service. Perhaps it was the family connection; or perhaps it was the descriptions of the famously brutal and bloody fighting that took place there all those years ago.
There was barely a dry eye in the crowd as a group of Australian high school students read out some of the messages on soldiers’ tombstones ("an ANZAC brave in an ANZAC grave" is one that stuck in my memory) and laid wreaths.
The peninsula is also dotted with immaculately preserved cemeteries, memorials and trenches that set the scene for quiet contemplation.
The Gallipoli campaign is embedded in Australia's school history curriculums, but it’s almost impossible to grasp the horror and catastrophe of April 25, 1915 when you’re sitting in a classroom.
Reading a soldier’s tombstone engraved with ‘1900 - 1915’, or standing at the steep, jagged edge of Anzac Cove, makes the story that little bit more tangible. (Of course, visiting these sites would be poignant at any time of the year, not just April 25.)
Spending ANZAC Day at Gallipoli isn't necessarily for everyone — but if you make the decision to go, it's an experience that's impossible to forget.
Have you been to Gallipoli on ANZAC Day? How did it compare to your expectations?