I went all the way to Gallipoli and they wouldn’t let me in!
In part 2 of my Gallipoli posts (see part 1 here) I’m going to share my extraordinary experience at the Centenary Commemorations at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 2015. Both the good and the bad.
I know some parts of my post are going to sound a little ungrateful, and I’m aware that there are plenty of people who would have loved to have taken the coveted tickets given the chance. But there’s no sense in sugar-coating the reality which was disgraceful for a hundred or so attendees, such as myself.
My main criticisms were:
- Despite holding a ticket, not being granted access to the Chenuk Bair service.
- The ballot system was not weighted correctly, nor was the amount of time to make travel arrangements fair.
- Not separating the Aussies and the Kiwis in the Dawn Parade stadium
- Waits as long as five hours on a bus at the first check point
First I want to explain why the Centenary was so personally important to me; what made the 100th Anniversary more important than an ordinary ANZAC Day.
My paternal grandfather landed at ANZAC Cove with the 6th Hauraki Regiment on the morning of 25 April 1915. In his dairy he recalls that they had only made it ½ mile off the beach before they were very cut up by enemy fire. At 7pm the following day, the Regiment was recalled to the beach and found they were down to 2 officers and only 90 men (out of 227 men and 6 officers). Although, on 30th April he writes that some of the men had gotten so far inland that they had only just been reunited with their companies again. That put the numbers back up to 2 officers and 124 men still alive and relatively uninjured. As he scribbled those words in his notebook, he noted that a machine gun had got onto him and missed him by only an 1/8th of an inch. His scribbled notes continue until his injury and evacuation in June to a hospital in Malta. From there he rewrote the notes into diary format and sent them home as a series of letters to his mother.
My maternal grandfather was too young to go to WW1 (he did fight in WW2) but his older brother Cecil went to Gallipoli with the Main Body, as a sapper. Therefore, he too landed on the 25th April 2015 and lasted until August 11th. Cecil signed up to the Field Engineers with a close friend – a man named Cyril Basset. At the Battle of Chenuk Bair, Cyril had to repair telephone wires day and night under continuous fire. He was decorated with New Zealand’s highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross, and was our only V.C. at Gallipoli. In the same battle, and possibly doing the same job, his friend Cecil was hit. He lay on a stretcher on the beach on August 11th waiting for his turn to go out to the hospital ship, but once on board he was found to have died since he had been triaged. He was buried at sea and his memorial is at Lone Pine amongst the Australian memorials. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction and so it was that his friend Cyril Basset became good friends with my paternal grandfather. They spent a lot of time together in London because Cyril Basset, and two DCM men (my grandfather and one Wellington soldier) were the first three NZ’ers to be decorated at Gallipoli for bravery, and naturally they were called upon to do the rounds of publicity while they were recuperating, retraining and waiting to rejoin their battalions in France.
I grew up with stories of Gallipoli. My paternal-grandfather went on to become the inaugural president of the Gallipoli Association of Auckland. The Gallipoli Association (no longer in existence) was open to membership for anyone who had been to Gallipoli, either as part of NZ Expeditionary Force or offshore in the navy or auxiliary services, such as nurses. It began simply as a party in the Auckland Town Hall, where a senior officer hoped 50 or so people would turn up. Unexpectedly, hundreds of people turned up and many had to stand outside as the town hall was full. There was a general consensus that it should be more than just a party; that they should begin a club—a place where people could share their experiences, and a lobby group for soldier’s rights. Something more specific than the RSA. That night they unanimously voted my grandfather to be the president, which goes to show how popular and respected he was with not only the 6th Haurakis, but also with the 3rd Aucklanders whom he was transferred to during his time at the Western Front. The committee was instrumental in making ANZAC Day what it is today because since 1916 the day had only been recognised by a half day holiday with afternoon religious services and the odd military-band parade in one or two provincial centres, such as Napier. The Gallipoli committee had seen wonderful dawn parades of old soldiers in Australia and huge services in London on ANZAC Day and felt we should have that here too. Already the Wellington Mounted Rifle Brigade had held a one-off parade of old wounded soldiers (it was a protest at the lack of financial support they were receiving) and this parade had been hugely popular.
Granddad always maintained that ANZAC Day was more sacred to him than Good Friday because of all the men who sacrificed their lives.
He went on to organise and/or lead many many ANZAC Day parades at the Auckland Domain.
Why was the ANZAC Centenary so important to direct descendants?
Generally speaking, ANZAC Day is not all about Gallipoli. Grandad used to say that it is a day of recognition and respect to all of the NZ military, in any theatre, who both died and/or were wounded or played and are still playing their part, no matter how small. It is also a commemoration for the families who often felt the sacrifice the most. We have Remembrance Day in November but the 25th of April is the day that the ANZAC’s landed at ANZAC Cove.
It wasn’t just 100 years since any battle. It was 100 years since The Landing of the Main Body.
And the 100th Anniversary was particular poignant to the families of those 2,700 men. It is a strange and very personal feeling that already 100 years had passed since they suffered that Baptism of Fire. It is not so much about the collective, but about the special individual lives of these volunteers that we each loved, missed and knew so well.
In 1997 I made the pilgrimage to the battlefields of Gallipoli. I took a lot of photos and returned home with a glowing description of the place. My father and I made informal plans to return together for the 100th Anniversary of the landing. Maybe the idea was a little eccentric or excessively romantic, but we wanted to be standing on the beach at the exact time that our father and grandfather had stood there exactly 100 years earlier. Little did we know it was never going to be that simple.
During the eighteen years that ensued, ANZAC Day commemorations enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. There are only so many people you can fit into ANZAC Cove, so two things happened:
- A stadium was built, a few hundred metres past the actual Cove to hold the increasing number of people who made the annual pilgrimage. This meant that between 9:30 and 11 am, when the Aucklander’s actually landed, we were nowhere near the beach, and
- It was decided that 10,500 tickets would be issued to limit the crowds who were otherwise expected to overwhelm the limited facilities in 2015.
This meant that my family weren’t free to just rock on up like most years. We had to put our names into a ballot and hope for the best. Together with our spouses, twelve of us put our names into the ballot and none of us were chosen. Neither were any of my cousins.
However, two of us did manage to wrangle double-passes in the end … I’ll explain what went wrong in Part III of this Gallipoli series.