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The Press – News column Apr 28

Keep the ANZAC torches burning

Despite all the chatter and twitching over ISIS-fuelled fanatics targeting the ANZAC Day Commemorations, Kiwis and Aussies stoutly refused to be cowered.  Record Dawn Service turn-outs was the prevailing current back home, while here in Turkey, only 14 of the 10,000 balloted ticket-holders for Gallipoli, were no shows. It was my third time on Gallipoli Peninsula for the ANZAC Day Commemorations, tour hosting an ebullient  group of New Zealanders, undertaking our nation’s great pilgrimmage to sacred, storied soil. Both sides of the Dardanelles were flanked by warships, with highly visible Turkish army snipers, standing guard from dozens of rooftops. At Gallipoli, thousands of tooled-up Turkish soldiers lined the roads and hill tops, while many others furtively patrolled the bush, only noticeable by their occasional rustle. I’ve never encountered such a towering exhibition of steel trap security. When the Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, swept through  Canakkale on Friday, his security detail would have made the White House blush. Sharp-shooters athletically stood on the roof of his bus, as it breezed through town. Although, curiously, Erdogan didn’t attend the ANZAC Commemorations. Our group entered the commemorative site at 4pm on ANZAC Eve, enduring a frigid night’s vigil. I lucked upon a vast diesel generator, blowing out hot air, which spontaneously doubled as a monstrous alfresco fan heater for bone-chilled Antipodeans. The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott,  decided to do a press-the-flesh walkabout after the Dawn Service, because he was too knackered to do it with John Key, the night before. In the process, he unceremoniously managed to delay the entire exodus from ANZAC Cove.  As beautiful and uncomplicated as the Dawn Service was, the New Zealand Memorial Service was a far more evocative affair. Classically Kiwi, it was intimate, with strumming guitars and a welcome splash of informality. Rebecca Nelson was radiant. The Royals were greeted like rock-stars, although it was conspicuously embarrassing that the Abbotts were inadvertently jettisoned, left to themselves on stage, while the Royals were led around the crowd.  Similarly, Helen Clark’s inclusion in the official party wasn’t acknowledged. But ANZAC Day is all about everyday people, and the highlight for our group was hearing and sharing the powerfully poignant family anecdotes about the heart-wrenching Gallipoli campaign. We think we had the youngest living son of an ANZAC soldier aboard our group, while another member s revealed evidence suggesting the famous photograph of Simpson and his donkey, is in fact his father, Thomas Straight. Rekindling those humbling stories, reading the diaries and polishing the medals, faithfully and fitfully every year, keeps the ANZAC torches aglow and the spirit alive.

Mike’s weekly column, first published in The Press. April 28.

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