My tribute to this life-changing experience in Gallipoli follows closely in the footsteps of the original blog extract used in the commemorative service at Chunuk Bair on 25th April, 2016. It was written by eminent New Zealand historian Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Christopher Pugsley, ONZM, DPhil, FRHistS and movingly read by Second Lieutenant Nicholas Hill.
To the New Zealand Defence Force - and to you all, past and present, who devote their lives to serving their country in the protection of our peace - you are remarkable. Thank you. There will be more words.
I am going to Gallipoli. Flying from the uttermost end of the earth, I will travel the easy way. But, it is still a long haul.
In Singapore, I join the New Zealand Contingent frontline, along with my eighteen-year-old daughter. All we can see is adventure, with no inkling as to the journey that lies ahead.
The miles roll by and exotic destinations become a reality. Decipherable in the light of day.
Very soon, I am able to seek out familiar names: McLeod, Myers-Davies, Trotter, Cockroft, Groombridge, SLOs, Catafalque Guard, MCG and the Bandies. I know their faces and hear their words.
Darryl, Todd lift the heart and soul of the Defence Group, as the Contingent bonds and grows around them. They lead from the front. With infinite warmth and wisdom.
With touching generosity, Kathy extends an invitation to join the haka. She meets with constant cheer, her uphill task to teach.
Quickly, I sense that I am not alone.
On clear, sunlit days, guided by the passion and insight of John McLeod, I walk across tranquil battle sites. And, look out towards the Straits of the Dardanelles. So calm and blue. I start to think about one hundred years ago.
The Turkish response was repeated and ferocious. The Allied commands were cruel. The men soldiered on. Stoic to the end. Taking the next bullet, stepping out in front of their friend.
I cannot comprehend the sights they must have seen. The eyes of the enemy. Do we really die so differently?
Following in their footsteps, all I can feel is despair. And, I must ask myself, whether I am truly worthy of their extraordinary sacrifice…
Commemoration rehearsals now begin. They shift the mood. It is time to advance.
We share with Joby, such a significant moment. He passes on his precious gift. A colour-soaked cloak, woven with ancestral spirits. A labour of love.
As the SLOs map out the details of their strategy, Roger speaks about the exceptional talent of his team. He knows that they will be outstanding, under fire. As will he.
Eager to do my bit, I try to help with speeches. On the coach, on the beach. Colin and Nick. Patient, humble, generous - they are gentle-men. And, do us proud.
I watch the Catafalque Guard, their faces etched with concentration, as they nail split-second timing. I see Joe raising the New Zealand flag, with such tenderness and pride. I hear Hettie singing from her soul, beside the brilliance of the band, whose seamless harmony soothes my fractured spirit. I admire Ross, who, with nerves of steel, sounds the last post with haunting clarity. I stand transfixed by the heart-rending passion of the MCG. And, I start to cry. Again.
It is the 24th of April and the New Zealand Contingent wakes early, once more. We travel our familiar route, getting there by ferry to Eceabat, and then onto the peninsula, which now becomes the frontline for the next two days.
First there are ceremonial duties to perform. At the Turkish National Service, I strain to see our Contingent marching into view. Mesmerised, I marvel at the absolute regularity and unity of their motion. It is like a heartbeat.
I am humbled to meet important figures: the Chief of Air Force and the New Zealand Defence Attaché. The kindness in their smile mirrors the Kiwi essence pervading the experience. I think of the meticulous professionalism. The quietly persistent hard work. The extended hand to a stranger. Of Elaine. JT. And, John.
Eventually, at ANZAC Cove, all is in darkness. Throughout the night, I listen to the sounds of the 35 strong Contingent, giving their all. It is hard going and they are digging in.
In amongst the Reflective Programme, my daughter stands tall to play her part. Mana wahine. Yet to fully comprehend, the magnitude of the moment. And, I wonder where the years have gone.
On the 25th of April, it is light by 5.30am and the horizon becomes increasingly tinged with warmth.
Forward at Hill 261, the SLOs are already manning the outpost, waiting to gather the crowds, who will mass at Chunuk Bair. Very soon, our remaining party work on. And, the epic effort is repeated, all day. It should be an untenable situation, but, through their tenacity, the Contingent position continues to hold.
It is hard to imagine, almost one thousand New Zealand dead. And, I must use my imagination. But, as the breathtaking beauty of the voices and the band soars to the Heavens, I can see the hands of the fallen, reaching down. They are meeting us half-way.
When the seaward slopes are finally quiet, Aaron leads us in the haka, for a second time. It is another chance to consolidate - on the crest of Chunuk Bair, above this magnificent view. Yet again, the incredible surge of sound, carries skyward the heart and soul of the Contingent. It is the mana of Malone. We weep, once more.
The Padre embraces our aching spirits. Eloquently, he speaks of these indelible moments, that will endure the toll of time.
And, I whisper to the wind: Oh, please remember me.
As we make our return journey to Canakkale, there is silence on the coach. The New Zealand Contingent has no more words to give.
War, does not deserve such sacrifice, but despite its tragedy and waste, the courage of brave men, who stood by one another, shines through.
As I look around, I see their spirit in your eyes. And, although it hurts too much they died too soon, I know that they are proud.
The 27th of April. It is early morning and life is stirring in Canakkale. The minerets resound to the echo of loud prayers and I wonder what it is that they have been calling.