This year’s Anzac Day at Gallipoli was billed as a dress rehearsal for the 2015 centenary, but a smaller-than-expected turnout made it a very intimate affair.
Some 4400 mostly Australian and New Zealand pilgrims attended the North Beach dawn service 12 months out from the 100th anniversary when 10,500 people will be crammed on to the site.
The crowd on Friday was reminded that reverential silence on the often eerily quiet Turkish peninsula is a tribute to the diggers who died in 1915.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said the soldiers who landed at Anzac Cove 99 years ago were, by their own admission, ordinary men.
“They did not seek glory, nor did they want their actions to be glorified – for it was they who quickly came to know the true horror of war,” the minister said as the sun rose over the Gallipoli cliffs.
“That these ordinary men, however, did extraordinary things is beyond doubt.”
Senator Ronaldson said the Anzacs left a vanquished fighting force but “were victorious in helping forge the identity of our two new nations”.
“As the dawn of this new day breaks over the peninsula our tribute to the spirit of Anzac is a reverential silence,” he said.
Some 8700 Australians died during the eight-month campaign alongside 2700 New Zealanders.
It’s estimated up to 87,000 Turks lost their lives.
Young Australian Erinn Cooper camped out overnight to represent her father and grandfather at the dawn service.
The 22-year-old comes from a military family – her father served in East Timor and Iraq while her grandfather fought in World War II.
“It’s really mind-blowing to be here,” she said.
“Anzac Day is our biggest day of the year. It’s a really big thing in our family.”
Ms Cooper considered applying to attend in 2015 but decided the ballot process was too risky.
“Coming this year was something we could actually make happen.”
After the joint Australian and New Zealand dawn service Aussie pilgrims climbed up to the Lone Pine cemetery and memorial where in August 1915 Australia suffered its greatest casualties.
At the start of the service students read out epitaphs from some of the nearby headstones.
“How much of love and life and joy is buried with our darling boy,” one reads.
Another states: “Could I clasp your hand once more just to say well done.”
Senator Ronaldson noted that Australians and Turks at Lone Pine “battled just metres from one another in a desperate bid to take and hold this high ground”.
Organisers saw this year’s Anzac Day as a dry run for 2015 – hence an additional 3000 grandstand seats installed at Lone Pine went unused.
While the crowd will be much bigger next year it’s possible it will actually be more manageable as the event is ticketed.
Further, the pilgrims will be older on average because 1600 passes were set aside for direct descendants and veterans.
Australian authorities think it’s likely Prince Charles will attend the centenary service in Gallipoli although his spokeswoman has told AAP it is “too early to say”.