This year, VIOLI CALVERT was at the dawn service held on the sacred site of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, Turkey. She shares her unforgettable memories from the day.
Every year I watch with awe the solemn dawn service ceremonies held in various parts of Australia. Each time, they involved the same ritual – the solemn laying of the wreath on memorials for the thousands of courageous soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country and the beseeching tune of the trumpet playing ‘The Last Post’.
Then these are followed by marches by now a handful of surviving soldiers, referred to as ‘diggers’, and families of the soldiers who have passed on. Like millions of Australians, I watched within the comfort of our home the television broadcast of this revered historical event.
Violi Calvert at her first dawn service in Gallipoli
This year, however, I had a memorable experience of not only watching a Dawn Service in person but also doing it on the sacred site of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. As media & PR officer of the Australian Handball Federation, I covered the participation of the Australian Men’s Handball Team in the Gallipoli Tri Nations Tournament held during 21 – 24 April 2010. Following the conclusion of the tournament, we had the lifetime experience of attending the dawn service.
The very first steps I took on the land where thousands of soldiers perished brought goose bumps all over me. I felt their presence and felt connected with their spirit. A number of these men were as young as sixteen and seventeen years of age when they signed up for service for their country.
As there were thousands of people expected to attend the dawn service, there were strict rules regarding security checks and entry arrangements. The travel involved a bus ride of half-hour, ferry ride of half-hour, another 20 minutes bus ride to drop-off point and walk of 20 minutes to the entry point. After we’ve gone through security, we were issued with a blanket and an information pack.
We got seated in the area near where the Kiwi team was.Then it was a matter of trying to catch a few winks sitting up on the viewing platform [others slept on the floor] while trying to keep warm, with the temperature only in the vicinity of 10 degrees Celcius.
From about 4 a.m., there were presentations on big screens, information and film clips on the Anzac heroes, cultural presentation by a group of Maori performers and performance by the Australian Royal Navy Band. There was a surreal atmosphere as dawn broke at 5.30 a.m. and the official dawn service commenced. We felt the presence and felt connected to the spirit of the thousands of soldiers who gave up their lives 95 years ago on this sacred ground.The keynote speakers were Governor-General Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC and the Hon John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand: we all felt this was an experience of a lifetime.
The Australian Men’s Handball Team in front of the white stone featuring Mustafa Kemal's poem at the beach of Anzac Cove.
We went to the Australian commemoration service at Lone Pine after. The walk from Anzac Cove to Lone Pine was mostly uphill and took 40 minutes. It was certainly a difficult walk (but certainly would have been doubly so for the soldiers). The Governor-General, the Ambassador to Turkey, the Hon Peter Doyle and Hon Allan Griffin [Minister for Veterans Affairs] spoke at this commemoration service. Again we felt very privileged to have had the opportunity to pay homage to the courageous soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country and its people. At the close of the service, Consul Andrew Koc-McDonald made time to say hello to the team.
Following the Lone Pine service, we made our way to Chunuk Bair for the New Zealand commemoration service. It was another 45 minutes of uphill walk to get there. When we arrived at the venue, we were told that the grandstand was already full and that we could watch the service from the big screen just outside the venue. So we sat at the grassed area, until the service was completed and we could join our bus for our trip back to the hotel.
The following day we sadly left for our various destinations but felt content to hold in our hearts our memorable experience.