Our first day at Anzac Cove - Simpson Prize 2014
Today is always my favourite day of the trip. It is the day that I get to be part of the students' and teachers' first taste of the Gallipoli peninsula. It always reminds me of my first steps here and the enormous and profound effect it had on me. Until that time I had focused my studies on the later action on the Western Front. I never understood why a sideshow campaign with comparatively small losses could be so etched into our collective consciousness. Since that time I have always looked for ways that I can share the importance of this experience. Not to re-enforce legend but to challenge, critique and create understanding. To enable people to truly comprehend the role of the individual in this broad, all-encompassing Anzac story. To share these aspirational ideals and pay tribute to the men who fought for them.
Today we arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula, which was both an amazing and emotional experience. During the drive down I was trying to imagine what the landscape would be like and what sort of effect that it would have on me, but I was unprepared for what confronted us when we reached our destination. To think that I was in a place of such historical and cultural importance was truly mind-blowing.
Our first stop on the peninsula was the Anzac Beach Cemetery, which contained many Anzac graves including that of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the man with the donkey. Walking around the site the enormity of the conflict really hit home, knowing that every one of those markers stood for a life lost and a future shattered and destroyed. It was a somber place, and one for reflection.
A short distance down the road was a monument that contained the words of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk's speech from 1935 when he dedicated the Gallipoli Peace Park. He spoke of the fallen Australians and New Zealanders, men that he had been fighting only twenty years before, with utmost respect, something which has a deep personal impact. This reconciliation that occurred so quickly after such a bloody conflict is, in my opinion, one of the miracles of the Gallipoli campaign, and one of the greatest things that it left behind.
From Ari Bunu Cemetery we were able to access Anzac Cove itself, and walk in the same place that our soldiers would have landed almost one hundred years ago. We were all struck by the beautiful yet oppressive surrounds, and I struggled to comprehend how they managed to scale those steep hills under fire. The short time that we spent down at the cemeteries and the cove had a disproportionate effect on me, and challenged me to think about the true nature of the conflict, not just the sometimes glossy image that we often associate with the landings and campaign.