A visit to the Shrine of Remembrance

by Judith Acaster

An annual outing during my childhood was a visit to the Shrine of Remembrance in St. Kilda Rd. Melbourne and also a trip on the train into town to see the Anzac Day march. In later years, I always sat with my grandmother as we both listened to the march on the radio or on television and sniffed into our hankies at the sound of the Last Post. That sound still chokes me up on April 25th each year and my Nanna died in 1979.

In 2006 I jumped at the chance to volunteer with Conservation Volunteers of Australia to travel to Gallipoli and assist with the Anzac Day ceremonies. To me, Anzac Cove was a special place as I had grown up hearing my grandmother tell the story of how my grandfather had landed there, fought and was wounded at Gallipoli. I had heard the stories, seen the footage, been to the War Memorial in Canberra, but nothing prepared me for the emotional experience of actually being there.

The brief for our team was to assist with hospitality at the two entrances to the area where the Dawn Service was to be held, just around the corner from Anzac Cove. We were to greet visitors after they had been through their security check, hand out calico bags containing the Order of Service, a souvenir badge, a booklet containing the history of the ANZACS and a large plastic bag to use and dispose of rubbish. This was because in the previous year, much criticism was given by the Press as to the amount of litter left at the site. We were asked to stress the importance of using the plastic bag, and to suggest people dispose of the bags in the large skips as they left.

As we were setting up during the day, in bright sunshine and with lots of banter between the volunteers, a Turkish soldier wearing a sky blue beret approached and asked about our activities. I explained and asked him if we would like a bag, because we had some printed in Turkish. Off he went clutching his calico bag, looking very pleased with himself. A little later he returned and asked if he could have three more bags. When I asked why, he told me he wanted them for his friends and pointed up the cliff face, overlooking the road. Immediately, three heads wearing blue berets and carrying rifles bobbed up and waved! We were told that they were there to protect us, if there was any trouble.

I could have hugged him and couldn't help thinking that when my grandfather, William Thomas Edward HOLLIDAY had landed on those shores in 1915, the Turkish snipers were there to kill him, and now in 2006, they were there to protect his granddaughter. I was later interviewed by a Sunday Times journalist, along with a Turkish gentleman about my own age. His grandfather had died at Gallipoli and he was very happy to share our stories through a translater and be photographed with me. Unfortunately, I didn't get the promised copy of that photograph. It was a very special and humbling moment, among many from that trip which I shall never forget.