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Dawn service remembers Anzac heroes

Published 25/04/2015

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry are taking part in events marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the doomed Gallipoli Campaign
The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry are taking part in events marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the doomed Gallipoli Campaign

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry joined more than 10,000 people in a dawn pilgrimage to mark the 100th anniversary of the doomed Gallipoli campaign.

The Australian and New Zealanders in the crowd had sat huddled together overnight to be close to the special site on the Turkish peninsula where a century ago the troops launched an amphibious attack at first light.

The losses were horrific as they hurtled off boats into the teeth of the Turkish defences. What was a terrible defeat for the Allies became celebrated in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac Day - a time for national commemoration.

A trip to the landing site memorial has long been a traditional stop-off for backpackers from Down Under but on this landmark year, an older group was moved to come.

They stayed overnight in a large arena, huddling together for warmth in sleeping bags and quilted jackets, waiting patiently for the dawn service to begin.

Watching the story of the Gallipoli disaster on big screens, they sat in sombre respect beneath the starry, chilly skies.

A ballot to attend was four times over-subscribed as the 8,120 Australian and 2,000 New Zealand tickets were quickly snapped up.

Many of those attending were elderly and organisers said 1,300 of them would need assistance getting around the site, which is by the beach.

Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand premier John Key were at the ceremony near Anzac Cove. Other dignitaries included Irish president Michael Higgins.

James Griffith, a 59-year-old farmer from Sydney, said he was there to honour his great-uncle Sutton Ferrier, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. The lieutenant died after his hand was blown off when he tried to throw back a grenade.

Mr Griffith said: "I have known about Gallipoli since being a child. The whole country is really excited about it."

Kai Karny-Winters, 14, from New South Wales, was visiting with his father.

He said: "It is amazing to come here and to see the sacrifice and to remember."

Karenza Harris, 42, from Auckland, said the dawn services were a part of New Zealand's culture, but few events back home were as big as this one.

"It is incredible how quiet 10,000 people can be," the sales manager said. She was also impressed by the welcome given to visitors, saying: "Everyone in Turkey has been so friendly to us."

The emotion-packed service started in complete darkness and continued through the dawn and on to 6.30am, after the first light was cast onto the sea behind the stage.

Prime ministers Key and Abbott made speeches about the Anzac spirit and the Prince of Wales gave a moving reading about troops weeping as they left their dead comrades behind when they left Gallipoli.

The prince read the thought of a soldier who wrote: "The hardest feature of the evacuation was in leaving those dead comrades behind.

"They had bequeathed us a sacred trust ... as the party stole away from the line they took off their hats passing the crosses and old hard-bitten Anzacs wept silent tears."

The Last Post was sounded and the sacrifice of the soldiers and their families was remembered in a minute's silence.

Afterwards, Mr Abbott said: "The sheer scale of what they attempted to do ... It was impossible but they did so much and almost succeeded."

Gary Hall, 44, from Melbourne, said: "It is almost a pilgrimage to come here and commemorate what they did."

Sue Harris, from Christchurch, said: "I am here because my grandfather fought here 100 years ago, so I have come from New Zealand to represent my family.

"It was very moving, very emotional. It was certainly worth every cent, I am so pleased I came."

The royal party visited the main Australian war cemetery on the peninsula at Lone Pine, described by one soldier as "the biggest bastard of places", Prime Minister Abbott said.

In 1915, the site was the scene of horrendous fighting, some of it hand-to-hand with bayonets, hand bombs and even fists.

At a memorial for Australians, Mr Abbott said 800 of his countrymen died here and 1,500 were wounded. The Turkish casualty list was three times worse.

Some 8,000 Australians made the long trip from the home country to be at the cemetery, which now 100 years on, is serene and beautifully-kept.

It still boasts the single tree which gave its name, although it is leaning and showing signs of ageing.

Prince Harry said: "In this quiet place, it is difficult to imagine the carnage, the desperation of the fighting that took place here.

"But it was in this spot that many acts of valour were witnessed and despite the number of Victoria Crosses awarded for the fighting here, most of these acts went unrecognised.

"Great valour was a common virtue.

"The most sacred bond between soldiers is the unspoken pact that if the situation demands, they will lay down their lives for each other."

The Prince of Wales and his son visited The Nek, scene of a grim battle in which heavy casualties were inflicted on the 3rd Light Horse Brigade when the men attempted a tragic dawn raid.

Dr Glyn Prysor, historian for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, showed the Royal party around the cemetery which was sited on a mass grave.

Some 320 Commonwealth troops were killed at the site, only 20 of them were in identified graves.

In August 1915, the Allied and Ottoman trenches were just 30 yards apart at The Nek, a ridge overlooking the sea.

One wave of Australian attacks was thwarted but a mistake with signalling meant another wave was sent in, and they were also mown down. The battle features in the Mel Gibson film Gallipoli.

During their brief visit, the princes chatted to a group of New Zealand backpackers and a family.

Scott Fitzpatrick, 27, from Dunedin, New Zealand, said: "We were just walking up here and they came in as we were walking out so I said to my friends 'I'm sure that's the royal princes'.

"I know he is training with the Australian Army Corps so I asked 'how's the outback going?'

"He said it's going well."

More than 2,000 New Zealanders gathered on the summit of mountain ridge Chunuk Bair - scene of bloody trench warfare a century ago.

Over 2,700 New Zealanders died fighting on the hilltops of Gallipoli, where the trenches are still visible in the pine forests.

The royal party attended the service at the New Zealand Memorial along with dignitaries, military top brass and descendants of the Anzac heroes.

Prince Harry - who next month visits New Zealand for the first time - gave a reading and laid a wreath.

He read a chilling account of the fighting by an unknown soldier of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, saying: "He had only gone a few yards when a shot rang out on our left rear and poor old Jim fell shot through the heart.

"I ran up to him and carried him into cover. He never spoke, except to say, 'I'm done, old chap', and died quietly in my arms in about three minutes."

Wreaths were laid and Last Post sounded before a minutes' silence observed.

Harry and his father's duties on Gallipoli ended and they were expected to fly out of Turkey this afternoon.

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