A trip of a life time!
I’ve been staring at this page for over 30mins not really knowing where to start, I have been home two weeks now and starting to feel less Zombie like and getting back into the New Zealand time zone. My Turkey trip was incredible, a trip of a life time, we worked so hard and learnt a lot about our country and the heroics of our brave soldiers.
BUT I will start at the beginning………
Our trip actually started before we went away, I met with members of the New Zealand Air force band, Sarah Henderson, Asene Latu and Russell Boyle who teamed up with our New Zealand Navy Band contingent Jess Hix, Tom Chester, Fraser Clegg and of course LT CDR Owen Clarke, together we formed the New Zealand Defence Force Band. We were the ones lucky enough to represent our country musically in Gallipoli.
We got straight into rehearsals for the next two days and then headed off to the Air force base to meet the entire team who were heading overseas. To be honest it was scary, I wanted to do everything correctly however I was “that girl”… that lost her hat just before the uniform inspection and the girl who walked into the room singing when the historian had already started his speech.
We had three days on base learning all the music and what to do and not to do while away, then the day arrived and we were off. I kept freaking out thinking I had forgotten something but as long as I had my uniform it was going to be ok. We had a long flight to Dubai with a stopover in Melbourne. Once we arrived in Dubai we had 9 or so hours to kill and could go have a sleep at a hotel, but of course I opted for the other option. THE MALL! Tom, Sarah and I headed out to go have a look – all I can say is WOW! The shops weren’t open, which was a good thing but the mall itself was incredible. IT HAD AN INSIDE ICE SKATING RINK.
5 more hours on the plane and we arrived in Istanbul, we headed out for a quick bite to eat and then off to bed as we had to be up at the crack of dawn for a 5hr bus ride to Canakkale. This is where the sleeping photos all started…. The aim of the game was to take as many photos of people sleeping and then to post them on Facebook! This was too easy
We made it to the hotel after our briefing and settled in. This was going to be our home away from home for the next 7 days. It was really easy to wake up every morning as at 5am they have the “call to prayer” which is heard throughout the entire city. Its amazing to wake up to something so peaceful and beautiful each day.
On our first full day we set off to do our first Battlefield tour, we visited a lot of memorials this day. Cape Helles, Turkish Memorial, Empire Memorial, 12 Tree Copse and the Daisy patch. When at 12 Tree Copse (which is a cemetery for the fallen) the Maori culture group sung us on, it was a beautiful way to say we are here to pay thanks for what you did. We then walked down the road to Daisy Patch, there we stood in one of our soldier’s trenches and learnt how they were told that they were going to do a raid with 15 minutes warning in an open field during broad day light. They had no hope at all and we lost over 600 men within 2 minutes.
It is a surreal feeling standing where all our men died and knowing how scared they all would have been. On the way back there is an impressive statue by the ferry which shows you what it would have been like fighting back then. Some of the trenches were only 8metres apart!
It was a full on day learning and then we headed back to the hotel to do some more rehearsing with the band. We had no space so LT CDR Owen Clarke pulled his bedroom apart and pushed everything out of the way so we could practice. Utilize what you have!
Easter Sunday was upon us and we headed out for another day of Battlefield tours. Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, The Nec, Chunuk Bair, Shrapnel Valley, Quinn’s Post, Walkers Ridge & Hill 60. I could already tell as a group we were starting to feel emotional and the travel had started to creep up on us. We arrived at Shrapnel Valley where CHAPCL Lance Lukin delivered a prayer and the culture group sung us on to the cemetery. Over in Gallipoli you get overwhelming emotions and all of a sudden it hits you. Hearing the beautiful voices of the MCG made me lose the plot! Walking around these memorials and cemeteries brings it home. A lot of the men didn’t last a day and were as young as 17, they were just babies. One of the stones read “Some day we will understand” I honestly don’t know if that day will ever come.
We spent some time reflecting down at Anzac Cove and walked the beach. There our army bagpiper took out his bag pipes and played, it was a beautiful moment which we were all lucky enough to share. Back on the bus and off to Hill 60. This is another memorial for the kiwis, unfortunately it isn’t visited as much as it is quite far away from the others. After paying our respects to these soldiers we were off on a hike. We walked in the footsteps of our men up to Chunuk Bair. It took 3 hours with stops along the way so Ian our historian could explain where we were and share stories. At the New Zealand memorial there is a HUGE statue of Ataturk. This is up there in remembrance of the day we shot him but the bullet hit a pocket watch and he survived. After heading to the other memorials and Loan Pine (Australian memorial) we were shattered and ready to head back to the hotel.
Its was quiet inspiring, all the Turkish people we met were so friendly and had utmost respect for us as New Zealanders and Australians.
The next morning we were off to Troy. I have to say it just looked like a lot of rocks to me. BUT we did get some great pictures while we were there.
From that afternoon on we were in full rehearsal mode. The Australian Air Force Band had arrived and we met with the other singers Roxy (Australian Air Force Band) & Arda (Turkish Opera Singer) and an Australian choir. We had three days to do full run throughs of the services and to get any loose ends tied up. Everything came together rather quickly as everyone was working so hard, we did however still find time to have a laugh which got us through the long days. A lot of “selfies” were also taken, the best one was a selfie of a selfie of a selfie etc…. and when we weren’t working or laughing we were sleeping where ever we could.
During all of this an article was released in New Zealand about who I was and what I was doing over in Gallipoli. I was getting inundated with messages from all around the world. All the support was so overwhelming, I definitely felt the love.
Anzac day was fast approaching and I was lucky enough to be granted a rest day to catch up on some sleep and rest my voice. Someone had been talking too much!!! We then left to head to Anzac Cove at 6pm that night. Once there the band had to set up as we were on stage at 8.30pm for the start of the reflections concerts. This section had the Defence Force band, Australian Air Force Band, MCG, Roxy and myself. The MCG did two wonderful pieces in full Maori dress and I sung Pokarekare Ana and an Anzac Medley that was put together for this event. After this performance I headed to the bus, it was going to be a long night and any sleep would be better than none. I think I managed to get a couple of hours before the alarm went off at 3am. There was so much to do if you opted to stay awake, stories, movies and concerts throughout the night. 3 AM and we’re up, we headed down to watch and support Jack Potaka say his speech. Jack is a 17 y/o boy who won the national RSA speech competition and his prize was to come to Gallipoli and speak on behalf of the young people of New Zealand. After his uplifting speech and a few tears shed, we were off to get changed and warm up. So far the weather gods had been on our side, no rain or wind and it wasn’t too cold. 5am hit and we were seated down the front, BAND READY and the service about to begin. Throughout the service there was beautiful lighting displays on the ocean, readings and prayers. There were a lot of highlights during the service for me – Hearing the beautiful Karakia that Sally and Sylvia performed (from MCG), watching LT COL Rose King MC the service, our Guard being so strong, Jess Hix commanding the drum and hearing Sarah Henderson the first female to deliver The Last Post at the Anzac Dawn Service.
Still at this point I was managing to hold it all together I kept saying to myself “this is what I do, this is my job.” The time had come and we were walking up onto the stage. Arda sung the Turkish Anthem which was so inspirational, I was next. One breath in and away I went. I felt so much pride singing the New Zealand National Anthem at Anzac Day looking out to all the faces knowing they were there for the same reason and having our countries soldiers looking down on us almost brought a tear to my eye. However I still managed to hold it together, this couldn’t have been said after the service. I was approached by some big wigs from New Zealand and Australia and then all of a sudden His Excellency “Sir Jerry Mateparae” was walking over to me. Yes I freaked out! He was so kind and said some beautiful words and then as he turned away, I lost the plot!!! All the emotions that I had held in came streaming out. Thank goodness for Sarah, she rushed over and was by my side. We had become a family and were all there for each other when we needed it.
We were then straight onto the bus and up to Chunuk Bair for the New Zealand Service. Once there we had a little bit of time for a quick nap (oh and a photo with these guys).
We were warming up the crowd when the VIP’s arrived. His Excellency approached me again and asked if I was going to sing another song. Of course I could not say no! He even offered me his hat, he had found out that I was a busker. We sang through the Anzac Medley while he was walking around meeting all the kiwis. This service is a lot smaller in size then the dawn service but it means just as much to us Kiwis. After the service had ended we were out on the grass helping get people into their correct buses, this was a bit of a mission especially when the rain hit. There is nothing you can do about weather and we had been so fortunate that it hadn’t rained throughout the night or in the morning. 3pm and we were finished! We headed home for a shower and then out for a drink with everyone to celebrate and job well done. I couldn’t believe how fast it had gone, it felt like I had blinked and it was all over.
After a night out we were up early and heading back to Istanbul where we got to do some… SHOPPING! The Grand Bazaar is AMAZING, I had so much fun haggling with all the shop keepers. That night we were over Turkish food (they eat a lot of bread and cheese) so headed out for some Thai. Even though this part of the trip was over, us musicians & MCG still had one more performance to do.
We all said goodbye the following day, it was really hard leaving half the contingent behind but we were off to the next stop, the Capital – Ankara to perform at the Palace.
The Palace performance went down a treat, it was so much fun meeting all the guests and being able to sing the New Zealand National Anthem one more time in Turkey. It was a great night and fun was had by all! After some sleep we were on a plane and heading back to Istanbul for a couple of hours (was there enough time to do some shopping you ask YES, YES THERE WAS). More scarfs were purchased but sadly our time had come to an end. After arriving in Dubai we managed to get a couple of hours sleep before heading on our final flight home, which I might add we all slept on! We were shattered.
I am so fortunate to have been asked to represent The Royal New Zealand Navy, the NZ Defence Force and New Zealand over in Gallipoli. I will never forget this trip, the people and the country. We all became so close and shared something so special, everyone did such a fantastic job. I have so much respect for all our fallen soldiers and what they have done for our country. Until next time….
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them”
Lest We Forget