Wednesday 23 April 2014

Wednesday 23 April: Rhododendron Walk and Aegean cruise, and nearly the 25th!!

Today was the last day of our tours and explorations before all the hard work starts tomorrow. We went for an amazing walk along Rhododendron Ridge, from Chunuk Bair to Embarkation Pier. Once again we had it to ourselves, although we did meet groups who did it yesterday or were planning to do it this afternoon. 

Near the start of the walk is The Farm Cemetery. We stopped there for another of our soldier profiles, and for a short talk to remember the nurses and other medical staff who played such a big part in the war. I also accidentally left my Anzac Day book there (I'd had it out to show the picture of my Great Great Aunt Louie - Louisa Bird - one of the first WW1 NZ nurses.) 

Alexander Turmbull Library, Ref: EP/1965/1393-F. Four nurses who served in the first and second world wars photographed on ANZAC Day 1965, attending a reception at the Wellington Returned Services Association's Headquarters for Gallipoli Veterans. They are from the left: Miss M Oconnor. Miss I Willis. Mrs M J Clifford. Miss L M Bird.
There might be a chance that the book is still there to be retrieved on the 25th; otherwise it will be my gift to Gallipoli, and hopefully someone has picked it up who wants to keep it!

Last sighting of Anzac Day book at The Farm Cemetery!
The whole walk takes about 2 hours on a narrow path along a steep ridge with sheer drops on either side, and more stunning views towards Suvla Bay. This is the sort of terrain that the NZ troops scrambled up on the first days of the landings. It seems hardly possible,but they must have been fuelled by adrenaline (and probably terror.)

After we'd finished the walk and Baris had welcomed us into the Rhododendron Club, we went on to the Hill 60 CemeteryThis site is on the edge of the Suvla plain, north of the main Anzac areaThere are 788 men buried here but nearly all of them are unidentified. It also contains one of four memorials to New Zealand troops with no known graves, the Hill 60 (New Zealand) Memorial, with more than 180 names. The other NZ memorials are at Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine and Twelve Tree Copse.(The hills were often given names corresponding to their contour height, so there is also Hill 600, Hill 700 etc. - and Hill 60 was therefore not a very tall hill.) 

Poppies by the roadside on the way to Hill 60
After lunch, we went on a 2 hour cruise along the coast, sadly not in the million-dollar yacht moored at the wharf, but on a car ferry that took us up to the ACS and Anzac Cove and even further up towards Suvla Bay. There are so many thoughts that go through your mind in a situation like that - mostly about what thoughts were going through the minds of the Anzac soldiers when they were being rowed ashore. Some of them would have had less than an hour to live when they were sitting out there. And how did they feel when they were being taken off wounded, or when they were leaving in December, and leaving their dead mates behind?

Our wonderful team leaders and guide!
Jane's travelling bear - seeing the world with the Red Coats!

Best mates: Bob's view of the coastline, from at sea!

Today is also a special national holiday in Turkey for national Children's Day, so there were lots of Turkish tour buses on the road. We got back to the hotel to find a giant flag on display - to the dismay of those people who had put their washing out to dry this morning, and now found their verandahs shrouded from any sunshine! Our restaurant is at the very top where the open windows are.

Some of us went downstairs when we heard the Ottoman Military Band marching through town this evening (they came up to our rooftop restaurant to play for us after dinner.) This was their idea - they asked if any of the tourists wanted their photos taken with them!

We are supposed to be getting an early night, but the music and dancing are continuing!Tomorrow morning we have a late breakfast and will be setting off about 10.30am for the Anzac site. After that it will be all on - all through the night - until after the Chunuk Bair service at about 11am on the 25th. Everything seems as well prepared as possible; the only thing that can't be organised in advance is the weather, and we're crossing our fingers that it won't rain.

Best wishes for all the Anzac Day services in New Zealand (and Australia.) We are all ready to go; the 30 of us have melded into a great team and everyone is excited (and maybe just a bit apprehensive!) about what lies ahead.

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