“Up we rushed – God, it was frightful – the screams of the wounded, bursting of the shells, and the ear-splitting crackling of the rifles. In a very few minutes the gully at the foot of the hill was filled with dead and wounded – these poor lumps of clay had once been my comrades, men I had worked and smoked and laughed and joked with – oh God, the pity of it. It rained men in this gully; all round could be seen the sparks where the bullets were striking.” – extract from the diary of Signaller Ellis Silas, May 1915
It is hard to imagine living, existing, and waking everyday or night to that. Despite all the books I have read or movies I have watched about war I don’t think it would ever prepare me for actually living through it. This past Saturday was the centenary commemoration of the landing at Galipoli in Turkey which left 1000’s of Australians dead in a score of days but also remembering those who took part in the World Wars and any war since then. It began rainy, cold and very early at 4:30 in the morning with a troop of us making our way to the Shrine of Remembrance for the Dawn Service which began just before six in the slightly miserable weather. As we stood huddled with coats and scarves wrapped tightly around us and umbrellas popping up we were thanked by the MC for enduring the weather and then told to imagine this multiplied 10 fold and in muddy trenches for around 3 years. The Shrine of Remembrance is an imposing regal looking building and with the minimal natural lighting, a light on top and mood lighting on the front staircase and pillars it really couldn’t have been any more atmospheric for the occasion. It was a moving and thoughtful ceremony which began with our morning routine being juxtaposed to the morning wake up call of the soldiers who were waiting to land on the shore lines of Gallipoli. Diary extracts were read, a short retelling of the landing left me feeling like I had just watched it all happen in front of me, a young student read In Flanders Fields and music from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Choir filled the air. They even had bagpipes. It will definitely be a service I won’t forget.
The ceremony was followed by a hot breakfast served by service personnel in pop up army tents along St.Kilda Road. I was pretty thankful for my warm cup of tea and Anzac biscuit after standing in the rain for a few hours and even got a quick bite to eat of sausages and eggs. It was such a nice thing to do afterwards and everyone was smiling and thankful for the food. Later that morning, which I admit I slept through the majority of as I crawled back into bed after the ceremony, was a huge parade of 1000’s of veterans, descendants of veterans and current service personnel which started on Swanston Street and moved its way down St. Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance for the 12pm ceremony. At the 6am there were estimated at being over 80 000 people so I can’t even imagine how many people must have attended the 12:00 service. I caught the last 45 minutes of the parade on my way to work and it was impressive and made me slightly emotional, everyone walking in line, service men with their medals of honour marching down the road, old military cars and the sound of marching bands and bagpipes filling the air.
Across the street at Federation Square lay 800m2 of carpets of crocheted and felt homemade poppies. They were started for the 5000 poppies project, a small local project which has turned international with poppies being made from all over and sent to Melbourne for the commemoration of the First World War. There are thousands upon thousands of poppies on display creating a sea of red. It felt like you had walked into Flander’s Fields.
It definitely was a day I am glad I was in Melbourne for and made up for the missed Remembrance Days of late. It says a lot for how patriotic and proud Australians are for the work their service people have done here and overseas. I don’t think anyone could have said it could have been done or commemorated those who were lost or took part any better.