Thousands honor Gallipoli dead at dawn service
Emotional centenary service marks campaign that saw emergence of modern Turkey, Australia and New Zealand

Thousands gathered on Gallipoli Peninsula on Saturday for an Anzac Day dawn service to mark the centenary of the landing of Allied troops.

Around 8,000 Australians and 2,000 New Zealanders, whose forebearers spearheaded the assault, made the trip to the former battlefields overlooking the Dardanelles Strait for the annual sunrise commemoration of the start of the disastrous eight-month campaign.

Most rose from their hotels at midnight to attend the one-hour service, held to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of those who fought and died.

Others had stayed out overnight at the commemoration site and, huddled in sleeping bags and blankets, waited quietly for the service to start as they watched footage and interviews on the military folly that ended with the deaths of around 44,000 Allied and 86,000 Ottoman troops.

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key was among those to address the crowd as the sun’s rays peaked across the Sea of Marmara.

"The campaign waged here ensured that the name of this place would be written into the histories of New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Turkey, and the many other countries that fought here -- never to be erased," he said.

On April 25, 1915, nine months into World War I, Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Gallipoli as part of a plan to open the Dardanelles Strait to Allied fleets, allowing them to threaten the Ottoman capital, Istanbul.

The Allied troops -- from Britain, France, India and Newfoundland as well as the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps -- encountered strong resistance from the Ottoman soldiers dug in on the peninsula and around Canakkale to the south of the strait.

For Australia and New Zealand, as well as Turkey, the battle marked the emergence of a new national consciousness.

Describing the resonance of Gallipoli for New Zealanders, Key paid tribute to "the names and stories of more than 2,700 New Zealanders who died here, and the parents, wives and families who grieved for them and the friends who said goodbye and didn't know it was forever."

Thanking to "the generosity of Turkey" in welcoming New Zealanders and Australians every year, Key said the annual service symbolized "the healing power of time, forgiveness and diplomacy."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke of the sacrifice of those who fought at Gallipoli and in battles over the following 100 years.

"We aren't here to mourn a defeat or to honor a success, although there was much to mourn and much to honor in this campaign," he said.

"We aren't here to acknowledge a legacy in this country, although Gallipoli shaped modern Turkey as much as it forged modern Australia and New Zealand.

"We’re here to acknowledge what they have done for us -- and what they still do for us."

He added: "In volunteering to serve, they became more than soldiers. They became the founding heroes of modern Australia."

Britain’s Prince Charles also spoke of the heroism of soldiers during the emotional ceremony.

Irish President Michael Higgins -- Ireland was then part of the U.K. -- and Turkey's EU Minister Volkan Bozkir were also present to mark the bravery of their troops.

A 1934 tribute from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- a key Turkish commander during the battle who went on to establish modern Turkey -- to the Allied troops he faced was read out: "Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

"Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours…

"You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they become our sons as well."

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Last Modified: 2015-04-25 12:46:07
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