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Our Anzacs’ Gallipoli pilgrimage

On April 25, 1915, thousands of Anzacs landed on the beach at Gallipoli. Fifty years later 70 veterans of that campaign landed there once again. The Wairarapa Archive’s MARK PACEY recalls the 50th anniversary visit of Gallipoli veterans to the peninsula.

In 1965, they were a group of elderly men with a shared history. Since the end of World War I, they had led lives that were as ordinary as they could manage after their experiences. All over New Zealand there were men that had been on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the first years of the war.

Wairarapa was no exception. One local veteran was known to the locals of Masterton as someone to go and see when you weren’t feeling too well.

John Blyth Austin was born in Invercargill in 1894 and attended Otago Boys High School. He studied to become a chemist and, after the outbreak of WWI, he served with the Ambulance Corps in Gallipoli and France. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he signed up again, this time serving in the Middle East with the Medical Corps. After the war, he came to Masterton and started Austin’s Pharmacy, which he actively took part in until 1985. He died in 1987 at the age of 93.

Another Gallipoli veteran was a farmer, president of the Federated Farmers, Wairarapa MP, and recipient of the Order of the British Empire.

Bertie Victor Cooksley was born at Dunsandel in Canterbury in 1894. He was with the first group of men to head overseas at the outbreak of WWI. After Gallipoli, he went to France and Belgium where he took part in the Battle of Passchendaele and was awarded the Military Medal. After the war he engaged in farming with his father, as well as market gardening. At the outbreak of WWII, Bertie signed up, serving with the Taita Home Guard and later becoming its commander. After the war, he entered politics, standing for the Wairarapa seat in 1949, which he won and held for 14 years. He died in 1980 in Horowhenua.

In early 1965, John and Bertie said goodbye to Masterton and began the long pilgrimage back to Gallipoli with 300 other Anzacs from New Zealand and Australia. From Istanbul in the Republic of Türkiye, the vets boarded the cruise ship Karadeniz and started steaming towards Gallipoli.

Early in the morning of April 25, the Karadeniz anchored in Anzac Cove. Seventy-one Anzacs then went ashore in the ship’s lifeboats. These were men of the “original Anzacs, the group that landed on the day that became our national day of remembrance.

Upon landing, this group was met by Turkish veterans of the campaign. They had left as enemies but now they met as friends. There were handshakes, hugs, and exchanges of gifts between the former foes.

This was to be a brief encounter. The rest of the veterans were still waiting on the Karadeniz for their comrades to return. Before the shore party did, many knelt on the beach and kissed the sand. Others took the opportunity to have a look for souvenirs, digging in the sand in the hope of finding a bullet.

After the veterans were returned to their ship, the Karadeniz sailed to the town of Gelibolu a short distance away. Here, all the soldiers were disembarked and met again by Turkish veterans, many of whom were wearing their old uniforms.

As the Anzacs came ashore a Turkish band welcomed them. Turkish veterans and townspeople all greeted the Anzacs, applauding the men as they made their way down the road to waiting buses. From here they were driven to the Turkish War Memorial, arriving as a party of French veterans of the campaign were holding a service.

A wreath was laid by the Anzac party by group leader Sir Raymond Huish and Masterton’s own Bertie Cooksley. The veterans were then addressed by Colonel Kenan Ersoy, who delivered a speech to the visiting former soldiers.

“We welcome you with open arms and salute you here as men sharing the same sorrows and regrets and we hope that a lesson for the future has been taken,” he said.

After the service at the Turkish War Memorial, the party then went to the Lone Pine cemetery for a remembrance service.

On April 27, the Anzacs bid farewell to Gallipoli, boarded the Karadeniz, and sailed for Greece. From here, some of the veterans returned to Australia and New Zealand, but others continued their pilgrimage, visiting England as well as sites in France and Belgium.

It is hard to imagine today that these Gallipoli veterans, after all they had been through on the shores of Türkiye, would have to endure nearly three more years of war.

In the mud of France and Belgium and the deserts of Palestine, the Anzac troops soldiered on.

It is so important that every Anzac Day we all take some time to remember those that fought and those that died, and that the effort of every person involved in the wars never be forgotten.

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