Everybody has an ANZAC Story. These are some of those stories from the three groups I had the pleasure of being Mat McLachlan’s Historian for. We were given advance information on possible war grave visits and any interesting family history of our clients, but the two stories mentioned below unfolded spontaneously.
Please enjoy and send your feedback
Roachie – The Gallipoli Artist
20th April 2015…. A101
We’d had a few days getting to know each other as Historians and finally the big event had arrived. The ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Taksim was filled with the first 1,000 or so pilgrims. We met, we talked, we handed out lanyards, we shared what little knowledge some of the clients had and also shared the stories of families that had come prepared with research of their own Anzac stories.
Each group not only had their Historian but also a local guide to help facilitate the logistics, this combined with an unbelievable back up team from Mat McLachlan’s team to our own local teams with Information Tours and notably Cecilia and Enver from the Tusan Hotel near Canakkale. To carry nearly 2,000 people visiting Gallipoli over the same period was a daunting task and one they did with great care and diligence.
My first group, A101 (which is also the name of a local cheap-charlie supermarket chain here in Turkey) Set off the next day for a walking tour of Istanbul’s magnificent ancient heart, Sultanahmet. It was clear that between all of us we would have to deliver a once in a lifetime experience for all involved (including Roachie!) Everything went pretty much without a hitch. Next day we would travel to the place where our forefathers fought, sometimes died and sometimes survived to battle life back in Australia. The group was made up of sons of Gallipoli ANZACs, serving and retired Australian military, a nurse and even a petite Aussie girl, Sasha, who was a ‘snake wrangler’ and lot’s people who had researched their family’s involvement, were just discovering it or just along to commemorate such an important event.
On that day the Historians were to travel together and do a rekky of the place as some of the guys hadn’t set foot there for years. After a slight hiccup with our driver attempting to take us through Edirne and most probably into Bulgaria we finally enjoyed a great tour given by Mat McLachlan himself with contributions from all of us onboard.
I met up again with my group. We were the only group to be staying on the European side of the peninsula, in the ancient port town of Gelibolu (the Turkish spelling for Gallipoli). All the other groups would spend hours queuing for ferries, dealing with roadblocks, but not us! We were the lucky ones!
Also during our travels at ANZAC we encountered a very old man who to me looked vaguely familiar. It turned out that the famous image of the ‘last surviving Turkish soldier’ at Gallipoli, had a son, and we just happened across him at The Nek Cemetery! photos below
It’s all about people’s stories and right upfront I was inundated with family histories, grave visits, questions. All these heard and discussed over several beers and dinners. In my first group, two stories stuck out more than the others, but no more important than anyone else.
Mack and Cae Rees…..
An amazing softly spoken gentleman from Southern Queensland, Mack and his daughter Cae. Mack’s father had a land selection in the backblocks of Outback Queensland, he was christened Nugent William Craufurd Rees. With the outbreak of WW1 he immediately joined up in the Australian Light Horse in the first contingent to depart from Australia. He obviously survived the war and was to later on father Mackworth (Mack).
Mack had penned a story about his father, his efforts to encourage others to join up (something that would later haunt him as a survivor of the war), his wartime exploits in Gallipoli and then Palestine and his emotional efforts to rejoin Australian society on his return. Something thousands of WW1 veterans would have to deal with in peacetime.
To say I was moved by Mack’s story would be an understatement. Mack and Cae wanted to visit his wartime battlefields and pay homage to the man he called his Father. His story had been picked up by local media and then by national media… his story was already growing. He and Cae kindly asked if it was possible, but not to interfere with everyone’s experience on the tour, if we could coordinate with Channel 9 Australia for an interview. I of course, speechless at the time agreed that we would just have to make time! We’d arranged that while the rest of the group trekked up to Plugge’s Plateau that mack and Cae could meet with the journalists and film crew at Shrapnel Valley Cemetery. His very short but highly emotive interview went to air….. please take a look at this link, scroll onto 1.30 minute and meet Mack. The image will stay with me forever……
Chris and Jamie-Lee Holloway…..
Another Father and Daughter team but from another generation. Chris is a young, full of life bloke from Newcastle NSW. They approached me very much like Mack and Cae and told me of his family’s Gallipoli history and a request that nobody in their right mind could refuse. Chris’ Great Uncle Private John Barr, he was killed at Helles in one of the final actions of the campaign and is buried at Lancashire Landing near (but not close 😉 ) to the Helles Memorial. I’d helped Chris and Jamie-Lee arrange a wreath of flowers through the great manager at the Milestone Hotel Izzet Bey and pondered on how we could get them enough worthwhile time to visit his grave. Luck would have it that we had time to visit an old French gun emplacement in the fields nearby, so I told them ‘Now was their chance!’ Our poor guide decided to accompany them on a cross-country adventure through wheat fields to the cemetery, harrowing by anyone’s standards. The guide later on told me he would seek revenge on me lol.
By the time we’d finished exploring the gun emplacement and boarded the bus we drove the comfortably short distance to Lancashire Landing to pick them up. I really wasn’t prepared for the sight that met me…….
On the road above the cemetery, our entire bus saw a deserted cemetery, one of the largest on the peninsula. Only Chris and Jamie-Lee were bowed at the solitary grave of Private john Barr. Chris was reading the final letter that his Great Uncle had written just days before he died. But what I noticed outside the cemetery will live with me forever.
Two busloads of Mat’s groups have converged on the cemetery and to my surprise, were gathered outside the gate. Nearly a hundred fellow pilgrims waited silently and respectfully until Chris and Jamie-Lee had finished paying their respects….
I doubt I could remember a more moving moment than what I witnessed. When they returned to our bus the group sat in awed silence of the moment, lots of hugs, lots of tears were to follow, including my own….
This group was made up of serving, retired servicemen and women, from all services. There were submarine officers, air crew, soldiers, navy, artillery the lot. This on top of others who just came to be a part of our pilgrimage to Gallipoli.
We managed to finish both days off with well earned refreshments at the world famous Boomerang Cafe, an establishment in Eceabat that has seen me present too many times over the previous 20 years. No visit to Gallipoli is complete without a beer at the Boomerang with Mesut and his rock-chewing hound Boni.
I thank them all!
A101 ended on 24th of April when they were headed off to several DVA and Jandarma checkpoints to take their place on the hallowed ground of our forefathers. I was met by our Istanbul crew and transported to Canakkale. At this stage I met the first two of my A208 group, Brian and Sue. We were to join all the unlucky (ha lucky!) pilgrims to gather for Mat’s alternative Dawn Service at the old Dardanos Fort. I’d also managed access for a few of the local Aussie expats, a fine gathering of Aussie womanhood if ever I’d seen. We were treated to hot coffee and tea, endless supplies of Anzac Biscuits, soup and breakfast to strengthen our resolve throughout the long night. With Eric Bogle belting out his most famous tributes to the Anzacs and his “Man’s blind indifference to his fellow man and a whole generation that were butchered and damned”.
I returned later that morning to Gelibolu to meet up with the rest of my group at the Milestone Hotel. With the anally retentive arrangements put in place by the DVA, my group were lucky enough to check in by 8.30 that night. Many others not getting to their Canakkale hotels until closer to midnight. Full of emotion and adrenaline the A208 group were ready to top off their Anzac experience for the next few days….
Next few days will bring the exploits of Group A208…. hope you hang around long enough to read it all!