Queenslander George Johnson has made his first trip to Gallipoli and also “probably the last” but he hopes young people will keep visiting to pay their respects to the fallen.
The 63-year-old, from Bluff in central Queensland, was impressed with Monday’s dawn service at North Beach which went off without a hitch amidst boosted Turkish security measures.
He was one of an estimated 1200 or more Australians and New Zealanders who attended, many sleeping out overnight in front of the main stage above the Aegean Sea.
“I came to show my respect for what was done and why we’re still here,” Mr Johnson told AAP after the service.
“I just hope the younger people keep coming back and keep it all happening. Without them it won’t happen will it?”
Mr Johnson said he was not at all deterred by security concerns following a spate of terror attacks in Turkey this year and was grateful to Turkish paramedics who tended to his “crook leg” overnight.
Australian Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan, who gave an address at the service, praised the Turkish government for doing an “outstanding job” making sure Australians and New Zealanders could commemorate Anzac Day in a safe way.
“It’s gone without incident which is very relieving for everyone.”
This year security was tightened with airport-style screening taking place, while armed Turkish police and soldiers stand guard at checkpoints into the Gallipoli sites.
A sudden thunderstorm on Sunday night had attendees rushing for the cover of the security tent but that passed and the service went ahead under largely clear skies.
In his speech Mr Tehan said that more than 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders died in the eight-month-long ordeal that was the Gallipoli campaign.
But he highlighted the successful evacuation of more than 93,000 allied troops from the peninsula in December 1915.
“It was the task of moving a city the size of Rockhampton or Bunbury or Palmerston North from this peninsula without the enemy engaging.
“The countless lives that were saved, the untold tragedy that was avoided, has meant that Anzac didn’t end as a story that we remember bitterly,” Mr Tehan said.
New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee told the gathering that New Zealanders came to Gallipoli to remember the sacrifices made and the “terrible toll” of the campaign.
“But most of all we come because the actions of the Anzacs have become for New Zealand our coming of age as a nation.”
Mr Brownlee said the Anzacs’ “resilience and humanity in the face of hardship remain fundamental to New Zealanders’ sense of nationhood to this day”.
“Today we are proud to stand yet again alongside our Australian cousins, with whom we share the enduring Anzac bond.”
Also at the service a Turkish army officer read out a 1934 message from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and a key military leader at Gallipoli, urging Australian and New Zealand mothers who lost sons there to “wipe away your tears”.
Ataturk said their sons were “now lying in the soil of a friendly country” and were at peace.
“After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”