APRIL 25TH 1979- I had mixed feelings as I left my hotel room for ANZAC cove today. I’m eighty-two and thought to make my way back to the Gallipoli landing before it was too late. At 5.30, I boarded a courtesy bus, filled with other Aussies making the great pilgrimage to the revered site. Most of the men seated on the bus with me were my own age, wearing their medals on their suits. On the whole, they were silent, probably deep in their own thoughts. A few of them had their wives with them, whispering the occasional word in each other’s ear.
Oddly enough, the severity of the situation only struck me when I saw the younger people excitedly chatting, even laughing. It was over sixty years since I’d last been here, but it felt like I was going off to war again. Just like the young people on the bus, I was excited about coming here on this day in 1915. We were bragging about the adventures we’d have, in a place that few of us could pronounce and even fewer of us could spell. The only difference that I could see between these young men of today and us was that we went there crammed in a ship.
I alighted from the bus and stood where I was directed among thousands, not uttering a word through the entire ceremony. A single bugle played “the last post,” and the silence was such that it would have been heard clearly for miles under the rising sun of the dark horizon.
As the crowds broke away, I found a low ridge were I sat alone to stare out over the distant hills, where the sun began to nudge above the peaks.
My initial thoughts were of dread, that at any moment the whistles would sound and I would have to charge across the plains, committing mass suicide under English command. I imagined the barren plains that had been bombed, stripped of all vegetation, even grass. In my mind’s eye, I saw the line of Aussies in the trench with me, smiling and winking as they were about to die, but the sun rose higher. It illuminated the plains, exposing a lush green expanse. I felt suddenly relieved to see the greenery around me in the leaves of the trees and the grass of the plains. Green stood for life, new growth; I closed my eyes, breathing a deep sigh of relief; it was over at last. When I opened them, I suddenly became aware of a Turkish man my own age, staring out over the one time battlefield beside me.
“Excuse please, but may I sit with you, ANZAC man?”
“Yeah,” I said, offering a weak smile.
“I am Mehmet; I was here.”
I only nodded vaguely as we both stared in silence for several moments.
“What do you see when you look into the battlefield,” Mehmet asked.
I thought for moment before giving my answer. Where there should have been craters or trenches was now only green. I thought of the vegetation earlier in the morning as new life and re-growth, but now that Mehmet asked me the question, a new word came to mind.
“Peace,” I said at last.
“All my brothers died here.”
“I’m sorry Mehmet,” I said on the verge of tears, genuinely filled with remorse for his loss and at the same time hoping I wasn’t the one who had killed them.
He only smiled and patted me on the back.
“It is alright; we are friends now.”
“Yeah,” I whispered at first. “Yeah, we are,” I said with more conviction, shaking his hand.
“It was a waste; was it not,” Mehmet posed.
“No mate, it wasn’t,” I said, giving him a knowing smile. “I reckon, if they could see us sixty years later as the mates we are, then they would have said, it was worth it.”
Mehmet beamed delightedly.
“On this, I must agree, son of Australia.”
“Come on,” I said getting up. “I’m going to shout you all the beers you can drink.”
“But you are a guest in my country; I insist that I buy you the beers.”
I guffawed at him.
“Are you sure you want to start another battle; you remember who won the last one,” I joked.
The two of us walked off, laughing, both assured in the few years we would have left, that we would enjoy a friendship few people could rival over the space of a lifetime.
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