Gravestones are a reminder of Anzac Cove's tragic history.
Gravestones are a reminder of Anzac Cove's tragic history. Chris Gilmore

OPINION: What it feels like to stand at Gallipoli

THE Gallipoli peninsula, like the Anzac legend it helped create, is a thing of terrible beauty.

As it was in 1915, it is an isolated and rugged region of steep hills, rocky ridges and thick vegetation. Even today it is not hard to imagine the horrors it witnessed. Indeed, some of the wooden trenches from more than a century ago are still intact.

And then there's Anzac Cove. It is almost incredible to find a bay of such serenity tucked at the bottom of this unforgiving terrain. It would be much harder to imagine the ravages of war here but for the scores of gravestones scattered about.

What struck me most when I visited in 2008 for the Anzac Day commemorations was the contrast between day and night.

It was stiflingly hot and dry during the day, yet after nightfall, the temperature plummeted and cold winds came whipping in off the Aegean Sea.

The long wait through the night for the dawn service in this bitter cold served to heighten the understanding of the hardships soldiers on both sides had to endure during the eight months of conflict.

The dawn service, and the later Lone Pine ceremony, were perfectly poignant; the sounding of The Last Post particularly moving.

While Gallipoli is indelibly linked to the Anzac legend, the dawn service also served to remind that the region holds great significance for the Turkish people.

Fittingly, the Turkish flag was lowered to half-mast in tandem with those of Australia and New Zealand, echoing the famous words (which are inscribed on a monument at Gallipoli) of great Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal: "There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours."

For many young Australians a visit to Gallipoli seems to have become a rite of passage, and it is certainly worth the visit for those who respect a site of such significance. Unfortunately on my visit some failed to observe the solemnity of the occasion and tried to start a Mexican wave before the dawn service.

Thankfully they were pulled into line quick smart by those with reverence for the sacrifices that were made here.

Lest we forget.

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