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May 17

Gallipoli 2017

The Choir of St James’ was engaged by the Department of Veteran Affairs as the official choir of the ANZAC Dawn Service at Gallipoli on 25 April 2017.




Three choristers have provided an account of their experience of preparing for and singing in the Service.


Sitting in the predawn darkness, shivering despite my three layers of thermals, I thought back to the thousands of men who endured the cold and much worst for months and months on end. While these meditations didn’t stop the violent chattering of my teeth, it did help me concentrate on the task at hand and sing as best as I could. Following the dawn service we hiked up Artillery Road to Lone Pine, via Shell Green Cemetery. Özgür, our wonderful tour guide, brought the picturesque landscape to life for us with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian and Turkish war history. We were also lucky to have our very own security guard, Kadir, who luckily didn’t have to do too much guarding and whose charisma and nous helped us have many unexpected experiences - such as a free meal at 1am before the Dawn Service. We were all very sad to say goodbye to both Özgür and Kadir once we arrived back in Istanbul.

Before this trip I felt many ANZAC Day celebrations were jingoistic and disconnected from modern-day Australian defence experiences. However, after spending a week on the Gallipoli peninsula, preparing for the ANZAC Dawn Service broadcast, I have a newfound appreciation for our service men and women and all the peacekeeping work they do around the world.

Alex Siegers

From first stepping off the plane in İstanbul not long after Easter to saying our goodbyes in that same airport scarcely more than a week later, the Choir of St James’ recent whirlwind trip to Turkey was full of wonderful moments and very special memories. To be provided the opportunity to be part of the Dawn Service was both a great honour and a very sobering and moving experience.

Making it an even more special experience was being joined by a handful of past members, some of whom departed the choir within the last year: David Hayton, Isabella Woods and Helen Hughson from the United Kingdom, and Rob Hansen from New York. These welcome additions accompanying the tour provided a rare opportunity to share in good cheer and music-making with friends old and new. Singing next to choristers-past in rehearsals and performances serves as a reminder of the extraordinary friendships forged both within the choir and the wider St James’ community and that, no matter how wide the St James’ family might spread, we will always welcome to opportunity to sing together again.

Coupling this conviviality with the equal Turkish ‘delights’ of the local hospitality, as exemplified by our guide Özgür and our guard Kadir; the delectable Turkish cuisine; the magnificence of the Old City of İstanbul; and the sombre but affecting Gallipoli experience makes for a trip that won’t soon be forgotten.

Owen Elsley


From my earliest childhood, the solemnity of Anzac Day and its mysterious rituals left a lasting impression. As an adult, I may have become more suspicious of the way this commemoration could sometimes be used by those wishing to insist on a particular interpretation of our national identity; but I also remember the moment of shock when, walking on the beach one Anzac Day at around the age of 18, the thought first hit me: if this was 1915, it would have been me; it would have been my friends dying.

Therefore, I approached the opportunity of a visit to Gallipoli with a mixture of curiosity and ambivalence.  Would the dawn ceremony feel personally moving, or merely platitudinous? Was it okay to visit this place with the eyes of a tourist, eager to see for myself the site of such a familiar part of our history? How would the Turkish people feel about our presence?

Performing with the choir at the dawn service was a unique experience, and it was a great honour to be part of such a significant national event. The thing that will stay with me most, I think, is the sense of place. What I had not anticipated was its sheer beauty. The ferry trip across the Dardanelles at sunset, on our first evening, was majestic and unforgettable. In the many hours we spent on the Gallipoli Peninsula, I could rarely take my eyes off the sea. As we climbed through the bush to the Lone Pine memorial in the morning after the dawn service, I found myself wondering how it must have felt to look out over such tranquil beauty while surrounded by death, violence and misery – consoling? absurd?

The reality of what had happened here would hit me in sudden bursts, and I would have to suppress it quickly in order to carry on with what I was doing. As we huddled waiting in our tent in the pre-dawn cold, I was particularly grateful for the warm presence of fellow humanity, the cheerful company of friends. Moments of laughter and irreverence, rather than jarring against the solemnity of the place, were welcome reminders of life and vitality, and of our incredibly fortunate lives of comfort and safety.

One of the most valuable parts of the experience was gaining a sense of this event from the Turkish point of view: it is part of their history too, and they welcome us on their land with great generosity and respect for our desire to honour our forebears. The sense of shared history is captured so well in that famous speech of Ataturk: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets… they lie side by side.” I first read these words on a memorial in Albany, WA, the town of my birth, which was the last port of embarkation for 41,000 ANZAC troops. Although none of my own relatives fought at Gallipoli, to hear these words spoken at Anzac Cove by a Turkish officer, in both Turkish and English, most fully symbolised the significance of the occasion for me, and felt like a kind of coming full-circle, of finally glimpsing the other half of the picture.

Phil Murray



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