Anzac Day takes place on April 25th and marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by New Zealand and Australian military forces during the Second World War. ANZAC serves as an abbreviation for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. When Britain declared war in August 1914, Australia became its ally. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers set out to capture Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula to open the Dardanelles waterway to their allied navies. The longer term goal was to eventually capture Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, in an attempt to weaken its ally, Germany.
The forces landed boldly on Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25th expecting to quickly knock Turkey out of the war. To their surprise and dismay, they were met with fierce resistance by the Turkish forces and the fighting dragged on for eight long months. By the time the Allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula at the end of 1915, both sides had endured heavy casualties and devastating hardship. Australia and New Zealand lost over 8,000 soldiers during the campaign. Even though the expedition failed, the actions of Australia and New Zealand left a profound legacy known as the “Anzac Legend” which became part of the identity of both nations.
Anzac Day Commemorations
The first commemorations were held on April 25th, 1916 at many ceremonies and marches across Australia, New Zealand, and even in Egypt and London. During the 1920s, Anzac Day was established as a national day of remembrance for the 60,000 Australians and New Zealanders who died during the war. Many rituals were established in the 1930s which still play an important role in the commemorations today, including dawn vigils, memorial services, reunions, marches and two-up games.
Gallipoli Peninsula Commemorations
While many events take place across Australia and New Zealand to commemorate Anzac Day, the experience of attending Anzac Day at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey where the battles took place is an especially memorable experience—providing attendees a powerful glimpse into the day’s history. The event attracts over 10,000 visitors and takes place in the Gallipoli Campaign Historical Site which is a Turkish national park. There is no ballot registration required for the 2016 event and anyone, regardless of nationality, is welcome to attend.
The Anzac Day Dawn Service is one of the most important Anzac Day events recognized around the world. The Anzac Commemorative Site opens for visitors at 6pm the evening prior on April 24th. Note that all visitors must arrive at the site prior to 1:30am on April 25th and no late arrivals are permitted. It is not possible to reserve seating at the commemoration events and seating is available on a first-come first-served basis. Seating is available on the grass section and in large erected grandstands.
An overnight reflective vigil program begins at 8pm and includes interviews and documentaries about the Gallipoli campaign and musical performances by the Defense Force Band. This program runs until the early hours of April 25th. The Dawn Service takes place at 5:30am on April 25th following the overnight vigil. As dawn breaks, soldiers, families, leaders and visitors honour the thousands of Australians and New Zealanders who fought in the Gallipoli campaign during First World War with music, speeches, and moments of silence.
After the service, attendees must walk 3.1km up the Artillery Track and have the option of attending the Australian Service at Lone Pine Cemetery or the New Zealand service 3.3km uphill at Chunuk Bair. While at the Gallipoli Peninsula you will also have the opportunity to walk through and explore the battlefields, trenches, Anzac Cove and Lone Pine Cemetery.
While registration is not required, it is highly recommended in order to receive updates on helpful information and tips on what to expect. Click here for the Gallipoli Registration link. Visitors are also advised to read the travel advisories for Turkey prior to departure.
Note that the park at Gallipoli Peninsula has no infrastructure for shelter. Furthermore, visitors are outdoors for up to 24 hours including overnight. The days can be hot while the nights can be bitter cold, so it’s important to prepare for all weather conditions. The event can be physically challenging as it requires several kilometres of walking on sometimes uneven gravel paths, slopes and stairs.
How to Get There
The Gallipoli Peninsula is a 5 hour drive from Istanbul. There are no towns in close vicinity of the Anzac Commemorative Site. The nearest towns are Gelibolu (45km), Canakkale (30km) and Eceabat (20km). There is no public transport to and from the peninsula.
The vast majority of visitors attend the commemorations as part of a guided bus tour. While you can take your private vehicle, note that private vehicles are not permitted access to the Gallipoli Campaign Historical Park. Instead private vehicles are directed to the Akbas checkpoint where they will have attendance passes validated and receive entry wrist bands. Turkish authorities may allow parking along local roads behind Akbas, but keep in mind this is at your own risk. Note that it is an approximately 20km walk from Akbas to the next checkpoint at Kabatepe. Furthermore, the path to the sites is along heavily travelled roads that are poorly lit and it is therefore recommended to travel with a tour group to ensure your safety.
In the past a small number of attendees have traveled to the site via taxi. The problem is that there are no public phones or taxi stands to hail a taxi after the services. If you make arrangements for a taxi to wait or to pick you up, it is very likely that they may be stuck in a several hour coach queue before arriving. Yet another good reason to join a tour when travelling to the Anzac Commemorative Site.
Where to Stay
Most people visiting Gallipoli Peninsula for Anzac Day opt to stay in one of the nearby towns of Canakkale, Eceabat or Gelibolu. If you plan on arranging this excursion on your own, you will need to book accommodations very early because tour companies reserve most of the hotel rooms in these three towns well in advance. Another option is to take an overnight excursion from Istanbul, but keep in mind that you’ll be on the road for a good 5 hours or more.