ANZAC Cove Dawn Service

Speech to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at ANZAC Cove, Turkey
25 Apr 2009

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, 94 years ago, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (who would come to be known as ANZACs) landed on this beach.

None of the soldiers who fought on this beach and the hills beyond remain, but their part in the history of our two nations will always endure. 

As we stand here, we need to remember not only what happened here, but what it means for us today. What lessons can we draw from the experience of those who died?

When war was declared, New Zealanders and Australians in their thousands willingly volunteered to serve their King and to serve the British Empire.  

They were young and they were full of hope and strength. No-one wanted to be left behind.

They believed that they would go to the Western Front.  Instead they came to an ill-planned, ill-prepared and ultimately ill-fated campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

As they waited on the ships offshore, preparing to land, the excitement would have been palpable.  As Sergeant Richard Ward, of the Waikato Company, wrote in his diary: "This I have no doubt will be the greatest day in our lives."

Today, it is difficult to imagine the horror and the calamity that unfolded as the ANZAC soldiers landed here.  Many were cut down in the water.  Those who made it to shore found themselves pinned down on a terribly exposed beach, which was soon littered with the dead, the dying and the wounded.  Of the 1500 New Zealanders who saw action on that first day, about 600 were lost.

Those who lived endured inhuman conditions.  They were short of water, short of food, short of clothes, without sanitation and with almost nowhere to bury their dead. 

From hopeful optimism came a fervent desire for an end to the futile carnage. As Sergeant George Bollinger, of the Auckland Infantry, wrote: "The heat is intense; flies swarm the trenches in millions.  The stench from the bodies of our men lying on trenches in front is choking and nearly unbearable.  The world outside has great confidence in their men but I often wonder if they realise or try to realise what a hell the firing line is and know that every man desires and cannot help desiring immediate peace."

As the death toll rose ever higher, the summer heat was replaced by rain and then by snow.   Torrential rain filled the trenches and turned the land into an unremitting bog. Eight months after landing at Gallipoli, and a few days short of Christmas, the Allied soldiers were ignominiously evacuated.  

Visiting this spot, I am struck by how small the area is. Wresting and holding control of this tiny enclave caused the deaths or injuries of some 560,000 Turks and Allied soldiers. Of the 8556 New Zealanders who had served here, more than a quarter died in combat or from disease, and more than half were wounded.  

The Gallipoli campaign was a disaster, and its awful consequences should remind us to this day of the ultimate futility of war.  Today, we honour all those who served and died here-Allied and Turkish soldiers alike-for their courage, their bravery and their valour.

For Turkey, Gallipoli is the place where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk heroically led his troops in defence.  Within a decade, Ataturk was President, and is remembered today as the founding father of modern Turkey.  The Ataturk Memorial in Wellington, and a similar memorial in Canberra, signify his legacy and his efforts to engender reconciliation between the former foes.  

For New Zealand, Gallipoli stands as a reminder that, from the ashes of defeat, came the first understanding of nationhood. 

New Zealanders lost their innocence at Gallipoli, and later on the Western Front.   But from that loss of innocence, and from deep grief at the loss of so much life, New Zealanders also came to see their nation as more than just an imperial adjunct. 

New Zealand was automatically signed up to this conflict by Britain's declaration of war.   But it was in its own right that New Zealand signed the peace treaty that brought the war to an end. 

The sacrifices of Gallipoli also forged deep bonds between New Zealanders and Australians.   They fought side by side, they died side by side and they were buried side by side.  Like the mesh of barbed wire on which many lost their lives, close friendships were formed.  As Australian official historian, Charles Bean, wrote of the first days of fighting: "Three days of genuine trial had established a friendship which centuries will not destroy."

The ANZAC spirit has endured.   In places such as the Solomon Islands and East Timor, New Zealand and Australian defence personnel continue to work side by side for common goals.

The strength of the ANZAC spirit is also evident in the goodwill of the New Zealanders and Australians who have travelled to Gallipoli to commemorate those gallant soldiers who served and died here.

As we gather this morning, our nation and world are again being tested by forces beyond our control.  Conflict and famine remain, and now we are all being tested by economic turmoil and troubles.

However, I believe that in these troubling times we can draw inspiration from those who have gone before, and from the example that they set. The New Zealanders who fought and died here, and those who have served in conflicts since then, did so to protect our democratic values and our way of life.  They hoped for a better world. 

Because of their service, few of us will ever be called upon to endure what they went through.   That legacy is a mighty gift that we should always cherish.   As we look to the future, we should always remember their sacrifices.  This is a lesson we should never forget.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.

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