Anzac Day at Exeter 2009
It is time, ninety four years after the landing at Gallipoli, at dawn on April the 25th, 1915, to pay tribute to the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives on the same soil as Anzac and British troops.
It is true that we Australians never had an issue with the people of Turkey. We were drawn into a conflict with wider implications. It was a case of young Australian troops killing to prevent themselves being killed. It was the same for the Turkish soldiers. That’s what happens in war.
More than 40,000 British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were killed in the months after that dawn landing 94 years ago; but that figure is overwhelmed by Turkish losses. There’s no accurate figure, but most reports say more than 200,000 Turks were killed. A ratio of more than four to one.
The 8,520 Australian dead lie among their British and New Zealand companions, and tens of thousands of their Turkish opponents. They lie together in common humanity.
It is fitting to quote the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk’s words, from his memorial in Canberra and at Anzac Cove Gallipoli.
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
That sentiment is echoed in the welcome Australians receive when they visit the Gallipoli Peninsula on Anzac Day every year.
My son, David, was one of them last year. With no prompting from his parents he wanted to be there for the dawn service last year after learning about it through school. He found it a surreal experience…in the bitter cold, seeing where the troops landed, the conditions they faced, the steepness of the hill they had to climb.
As he shared this commemorative experience with Aussies, Kiwis and Turkish people, he felt a great sense of pride in being an Australian.
Although the tourist backpacks have become potential bomb-carrying threats in these days of terrorism alerts, and Turkish police are on guard, Australians are warmly welcomed and freely walk across the peninsula.
As they do so, they cannot help but be aware of the horrendous losses of both sides in that long-ago conflict. They feel at one with those many young Turks who died at Gallipoli.
Let us pray for all those who died at Gallipoli on the dawn of August 25, 1915 and after---and in all wars, and hope that the horror of Gallipoli, for Anzacs and Turks, is never repeated.
On this day, we remember them all.