A teenager’s An­zac pil­grim­age

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KATE MANI

Two weeks be­fore An­zac Day, 2013, and an­tic­i­pa­tion hangs in the air at Gal­lipoli. As a 17-year-old sur­vey­ing the steep gul­lies, rocky hills and bar­ren cliffs that have be­come en­trenched in the Aus­tralian psy­che, the tem­po­rary metal bleach­ers seem abruptly out of place. My cam­era tries to dodge the grand­stands and red plas­tic seats over­look­ing An­zac Cove where up to 15,000 peo­ple will gather be­fore dawn on April 25.

Fur­ther up from the beach on the plateau of Lone Pine Ceme­tery, the drilling and con­struc­tion of an­other set of bleach­ers shakes the re­flec­tive mood. But as my study tour en­ters the tiny, mar­ble Lone Pine chapel with the then Aus­tralian con­sul in Canakkale, Ni­cholas Sergi, the out­side din sub­sides to a dif­fer­ent noise.

Lone Pine Ceme­tery com­mem­o­rates sol­diers known to have died on this bat­tle­ground but whose bod­ies have never been re­cov­ered. In post-war years this me­mo­rial be­came a place of pil­grim­age for griev­ing fa­thers, moth­ers and wid­ows who didn’t have a grave to kneel by.

We learn the story of Mrs Ir­win, an early pil­grim who ven­tured to Gal­lipoli in 1926. When her son, Ge­orge, was re­ported miss­ing in 1915 she re­fused to be­lieve him a casualty of battle. Nine years later she is re­ported to have ar­rived at the sa­cred ground upon which I stand and, on see­ing his name en­graved on a com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque, ex­claimed, “He is not lost, he is found.”

I’ve been asked to sing Amaz­ing Grace to pay homage to sol­diers such as Ge­orge and the lyrics — “I once was lost but now am found” — res­onate deeply. Our tour party is still and all re­move their Akubras as the melody bounces around the small stone space. As a stu­dent study­ing the hor­ror of war I see this me­mo­rial as a place of mourn­ing and loss, yet for moth­ers such as Mrs Ir­win, Lone Pine brought clo­sure.

As the sun sets over the Aegean Sea, we re­turn to the homely Kum ho­tel in Ece­abat on the coast of the Saros Gulf. Its prox­im­ity to An­zac Cove, only 8km across quiet farm­land, al­lows tourists and pil­grims to linger for days and cover the bat­tle­fields. Although a whistlestop tour of Gal­lipoli from Istanbul will al­low you to tick An­zac Cove off the bucket list — vis­it­ing more than 30 Al­lied ceme­ter­ies and memo­ri­als — ab­sorb­ing the dra­matic land­scape and ev­i­dence of a gen­er­a­tion lost war­rants the luxury of time.

While Aus­tralians cling pos­ses­sively to the An­zac leg­end, a trip to Gal­lipoli re­in­forces that it’s not just our story; 14,300 French died here, rep­re­sented by hun­dreds of ver­ti­cal black crosses in the French war ceme­tery perched high above Morto Bay. Fur­ther north at Su­vla Bay, the Bri­tish me­mo­rial of Hill 10 and the pre­dom­i­nantly Bri­tish head­stones at Lala Baba and Az­mak ceme­ter­ies re­mind us that cap­tur­ing this penin­sula wasn’t only “our” cam­paign.

Re­turn­ing south, we visit the much smaller ceme­tery of Plugge’s Plateau, a grassy pocket with 13 head­stones. I’ve pre­pared a com­mem­o­ra­tive speech to hon­our Syd­ney Smith from Dart­moor in south­west Vic­to­ria af­ter dis­cov­er­ing his story through an “Adopt-A-Digger” re­search project. En­list­ing on Au­gust 31, 1913, in the 6th Bat­tal­ion, Smith sailed with the first con­voy of Aus­tralian troops to Egypt, be­fore mov­ing on to Gal­lipoli on April 25. Within hours of land­ing on the penin­sula, Smith died mak­ing his way up Pine Ridge, sep­a­rated from his fel­low troops in the fran­tic con­fu­sion of the land­ing.

It’s easy to see the car­nage of World War I in broad brush­strokes, a mul­ti­tude of loss. But on reach­ing Smith’s grave in Plugge’s, the name and ser­vice num­ber on the pages of my re­search be­come more than two-di­men­sional facts. The con­nec­tion I feel with him in this emo­tive land­scape may as well make him my great-grand­fa­ther.

Kate Mani is a law/jour­nal­ism stu­dent at Monash Uni­ver­sity, Mel­bourne, and the win­ner of the Boroon­dara Lit­er­ary Award 2014 in the Courage in Ad­ver­sity cat­e­gory. She trav­elled to Gal­lipoli and the West­ern Front in 2013 as a re­cip­i­ent of the Vic­to­rian Pre­mier’s Spirit of An­zac Prize.

Me­mo­rial at An­zac Cove, top; Lone Pine Ceme­tery, above right; the writer, above left

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