Helen Clark: Speech to dawn service at Anzac Cove

At dawn, at ANZAC Cove, on 25 April, history speaks to us.

We sit, in awe, wondering how we would have felt as young troops, coming ashore on landing craft, not knowing what the new day would bring.

We look at this challenging terrain, with its steep hillsides, and marvel at the courage it took to move across it under fire, with fellow soldiers falling victim all around.

Later, as we move to the hill top, to Lone Pine, and then along the ridge to Chunuk Bair, we come to understand so much more about the carnage of this seven month campaign which ultimately ended in failure for the allied forces.

We know that all sides bore devastating casualties. For New Zealand, the Gallipoli campaign saw the highest percentage of casualties in any campaign in our history. Back home in our towns, cities, and rural districts, few families or communities were left untouched by the tragedy.

As the battle unfolded, the troops had to come to terms with a reality we can hardly imagine. Day and night, no-one was ever safe. Even between battles, people died from sniper fire, sometimes in mid-sentence. To add to the difficulties, there was no replacement clothing, too little food and water, and no sanitation.

As well, the ANZACs often lacked enough of the fundamental tools of combat. Field telephones, artillery shells, and timber and corrugated iron with which to build trenches were all in short supply. The men had to learn to make their own hand-grenades out of empty jam tins.

That the soldiers accepted and dealt with all this seems, from today’s perspective, a triumph of bravery, ingenuity, and endurance.

It was in such conditions that a lasting bond was formed between the New Zealand and Australian soldiers. Australia’s official historian, Charles Bean, wrote of the fighting in the first few days of the campaign that:

In this fierce test each saw in the other a brother’s qualities. As brothers they died; their bodies lay mingled in the same narrow trenches; as brothers they were buried…Three days of genuine trial had established a friendship which centuries will not destroy.

And so it has proved to be. The ANZAC spirit has manifested itself time and again in our history. In recent times it has seen our military forces work together in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and in disaster-stricken South East Asia after the tsunami. We know that, as in the past, we will be called on to work together again in the future.

But Gallipoli has significance for both New Zealand and Australia in another sense too. It was here that our young nations began to become of age. It was from here that we began to think of ourselves as not just servants of the British Empire, but as distinct national entities. Thus, out of catastrophe, each of our nations emerged with a new sense of certainty about our own destiny and our place in the world.

For Turkey, too, Gallipoli was a turning point. The invasion was repelled, albeit at great cost to human life. The commander responsible for the defence of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was to rise within a few short years to be the founding President of modern Turkey. His legacy to his people has been immense.

Today as we commemorate the ANZACs and the soldiers of other Allied nations, we also commemorate the Turkish soldiers who fell defending their homeland.

The words on the wall before us are those of a Turkish veteran, Adil Shahin. He wrote simply: "Their duty was to come here and invade; ours was to defend."

No joy can be found in what happened on the killing fields of Gallipoli.

But amidst death and disaster, there was courage, there was honour – and there was respect between adversaries which laid the foundation for reconciliation.

We do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to Turkey for setting aside this land as a peace park, and for welcoming us each year as we commemorate this deeply significant part of our history.

As the successors and descendants of the soldiers who fought here, it is our responsibility now to reflect on their service and sacrifice, and to work for a world in which future generations will not face the horror which these brave men faced with bravery and with honour.

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