Walking the Frontline - Simpson Prize 2014
Today is always one of biggest days of the trip, it is the day where we walk the line and see the central area from Lone Pine to the Nek. The purpose of the day is to try and help the students understand what it was like, how these Anzac's experienced this brutal campaign. It can be tough physically and tough emotionally and so I was not surprised at how drained we all were on our return. We had a particularly poignant moment at the end of the day when we visited a cemetery that I have never seen, 7th field ambulance. There we stood by an shared in one of the students first visit to their great, great uncle. It was a powerful moment, one that I will never forget.
Our second day at the peninsula left a strong impression, tattooed on on our brains and inscribed into our memory. The scale of this campaign is starting to sink in, washing over me as the day continued, eventually leading to a tsunami of reality.
In the early golden rays of the crisp morning, we climbed Plunges Plateau, walking in the footsteps of our soldiers. The tracks were swamped with thick shrubs, acting like car park boom gates, preventing us from proceeding with any efficiency. In this moment I imagined the ANZACS with their kilograms of equipment strapped to their backs, having no track or light and under Turkish fire. The blow was heavily felt when just up the track we saw the razor back. The utter shock the soldiers must have felt would have been devastating as the realisation of turning back dawned.
We too, made our way back down the hillside, where we arrived at the Shrapnel Valley cemetery. Walking the lines upon lines of graves is overwhelming. It consumes you as you realise that each marker was an individual who had a life. They were people.
Stuart beckoned us over to the grave of Private J. E. Barclay. The inscription read "I've no darling now. I'm weeping. Baby and I you left alone." Stuart told us that Barclay's wife was so devastated by the death of her husband that she eventually gave her child up because it reminded her so deeply of her husband. Many years later author John Hamilton, read this inscription and became determined to find this soldier's son and tell of of his history and his father.
During this trip I to was able to connect with my heritage. I discovered that I had two Great Uncles who fought at Galipoli. The feeling I got when walking in their footsteps was surreal as I felt I now knew them some how. Near Lone Pine we were able to walk through trenches and an erie sensation became apparent. I know another student felt that same way about her ancestors as well. It seemed as if Donald and Herbert were with me and I had access to a part of their lives I would never be able to begin to comprehend through a text book. This was the same feeling I got when listening to the stories of these complicated, flawed and real people. The boy who cried for his mother as he slowly died in no mans land at the Nek, the Chinese Australian snipper, Billy Sing, and the Veitch's, the father who lowered his age so he could protect his teenage son at war.
I've never really admired or felt proud of Australia's Gallipoli experience before, and I certainly don't feel proud of the fact that we invaded this land, but what I do admire is that we are recognising the reality of their experience and that these people were all individuals, none of whom were perfect.
I now understand. Lest We Forget