Anzac Day is 25 April in New Zealand – it commemorates Kiwis killed in war and honors the NZ military. The date is chosen because it is the anniversary of Anzac (New Zealand and Australian) soldiers landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 during World War I. Almost three thousand New Zealanders died in the Gallipoli Campaign, one-sixth of those who landed there.
The Gallipoli Peninsula (in what is now Turkey) was a strategic site in the war because it guarded the entrance to the Dardanelle Strait which led to the Sea of Marmara and then on to the Black Sea. It was thought that if the Allies could break through the strait and capture Constantinople (now Istanbul) then the Ottoman Empire could be knocked out and the war would be over. The Allies sent over a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) about half of which were New Zealanders and Australians.
The battle at Gallipoli did not go on to be a defining moment in the war. The Anzac forces landed at Anzac Cove on accident – the cove has a narrow beach surrounded by steep hills which contributed to the high casualty rate. Overall, 44,000 Allied and 87,000 Ottoman Empire soldiers died at Gallipoli before Allied troops withdrew in December 1915.
My partner is a Kiwi and he has always found it odd that New Zealand takes such pride in Anzac Day. At face value, it marks the anniversary of the start of a failed battle where many lives were lost. But the battle is important because it sparked a sense of national identity in New Zealand – a sense of pride and a feeling that New Zealand showed itself as a distinct nation that would fight hard in difficult conditions. It was the coming together of the country as a country, just 75 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
When I moved to New Zealand, we took advantage of being between worlds so to speak and spent two months traveling around Europe and Turkey. Before the trip, we were delighted to realize that we would be in Turkey during the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day. Unfortunately we missed the ballot to be able to attend the dawn ceremony on the anniversary, so we decided to go a few days after the 100th anniversary instead.
We spent about three weeks in Turkey – the first two on a tour and the last one on our own with a rental car. We drove all over the Western side of Turkey from the white rocks of Pamukkale to the ancient city of Troy, with a few days in Gallipoli before heading back to Instanbul and the flight to New Zealand to start my new job.
The drive around Turkey was bizarre in some ways. The 100th anniversary was a huge deal for Kiwis and Aussies and a lot of them had come to Turkey for it. After a few days of driving the back roads and being some of the only tourists at the sites (April isn’t when most tourists come to Turkey), we got closer to Gallipoli and stopped for fuel in a gas station and a bus load of Kiwis pulled in. We stopped at a little Turkish café for lunch and a bus load of Aussies pulled in right after us and soon filled all of the café tables. And it continued from there, in Gallipoli we went to the Lone Pine Memorial and it was completely full of buses a full two days after the 100th anniversary celebrations were over.
There are many cemeteries and memorial sites around the peninsula – Turkey has done a truly admirable job of respecting those who died in the battle on both sides with memorial sites dedicated to the Ottomans and separate ones dedicated to the Allied troops. At Anzac Cove itself, there are grave markers for those who died that list where they were from and what regiment they were in – and visitors before us had decorated the stones with home-made poppies and country flags. We noted however that most of the flags were from Australia, I mentioned that Kiwis aren’t so big on holding the flag as a symbol. For me, still getting used to the idea that I was moving to New Zealand, it seemed fitting somehow that Gallipoli was the last place I visited beforehand.
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