Daniel Birchfield was fortunate enough to tour some of the battlefields at Gallipoli during a visit to Turkey a few years ago. He reflects on that experience.
Gallipoli was a place I had always wanted to visit, being fascinated by the subject of World War 1, the role the campaign there played in shaping our nation and, most importantly, the men that fought there and the horrors they must have experienced.
After a false start when our tour bus neglected to pick me and my wife up from our hotel, we headed from Istanbul to Gallipoli.
One of the things I recall about the trip there was how I would feel once I arrived there.
I knew it would be a moving experience with a bit of education thrown in, given we were joined by a very knowledgable tour guide.
Looking back, being at Gallipoli, even if it was only for a day, was a far more emotional experience than I could have imagined.
Setting foot on the hallowed piece of ground for the first time hits you like a wave crashing over you.
The area around Anzac Cove for example, the site of the Anzac landings on April 25, 1915, is today a tranquil, picturesque place. The last thing you imagine happening there is one of the largest, bitter campaigns of WW1.
Directly above the beach is a grassed area with the famous Anzac wall and another, larger wall with information and photographs depicting the campaign from start to finish.
Looking at those, it was hard to believe I was standing in the same place where scores of young men were killed.
Further inland, we toured the Lone Pine battlefield and cemetery, where the Australians lost hundreds of men.
Wandering through what remained of the zig-zag-shaped trench formations of what was once the Australian line and seeing the Turkish trenches about 20m away, at most, was a strange feeling.
I found the atmosphere to be heavy, unlike anything I had experienced before.
During our trip that year, we also toured around Italy.
One of our stops was at the Colosseum in Rome, where thousands of people died many years earlier.
The feeling there was completely different.
What it was, I don’t know.
It’s something I still can’t really explain.
Probably the most moving part of the whole Gallipoli tour was near the end, when we arrived at Chunuk Bair, a place that will forever hold a place in New Zealand’s history.
The trenches there are particularly well-preserved, and looking down from the heights of the battlefield to the steep terrain below was a sight I will never forget.
To think men, New Zealanders and Turks, both held and attacked that position in one of the bloodiest battles of the campaign was remarkable.
You can look at all the photographs and watch all the grainy footage you like, but nothing compares to the feeling of actually being there.
I felt tears welling up a few times, thinking of what transpired there and the legacy it had left.
Every Anzac Day, I think back to my time at Gallipoli and spare a thought for those who lost their lives there and in the other theatres of WW1.