The Queen Elizabeth anchored quietly off ANZAC Cove in the early hours of the 24th of April. She was there to represent the Cunard Line, which had lost a number of ships and many crew members in the First World War.
The ship’s arrival was more than 24 hours before the official formal commemorations ashore but in the pale early dawn we could see activity around the cove as preparations were underway for the crowded days ahead on the 24th and the dawn of the 25th on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Commemorations on board Queen Elizabeth were a solemn affair. Down aft we had 300 shivering people who were determined to be part of the dawn ceremony in memory of those who fought and particularly in memory of those who died in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign.
The stern of the ship was turned towards the backlit outline of Chunuck Bair as the sun rose. With the Poppy Wall as a key feature, the formal ceremony began in the chilly pre-dawn light.
One hundred years ago to the day, HMS Queen Elizabeth had been the flagship of the invasion fleet and had used her 15” guns to bombard the shore batteries that protected the entrances to the Dardanelles.
The significance of the name of that ship 100 years later was a fitting reminder that the naval campaign was as much a part of the whole attempt to exploit what was supposed to be the ‘soft under belly of Europe’ as Churchill so eloquently called it. He could not have been further from the truth as the ANZACs found to their detriment.
It is appropriate to acknowledged all the sailors of the Allied and Turkish navies who had fought and died in the bloody conflict.
The ANZAC ceremony began with a formal march on deck of Queen Elizabeth’s officers followed by an address from the ship’s captain. I was called to deliver a keynote address about the impact of war on the Christophers family and an overview of the Christophers boys and their involvement in World War One.
I don’t know that I have ever felt so empowered. This was justification. This was payback. This was honouring my debt of gratitude to my family. A very personally held conviction but lived out in a very public forum. Standing and talking about the family felt so right and it was something long overdue but not something that could have been done easily at any other time.
Each Christophers boy was given an appropriate sense of dignity as I spoke. Such a personal thing for me needed to be shared. My feelings of loss and respect and sadness are reflected in the feelings of many New Zealanders. These feelings remind us never to forget the tragic circumstances that the war delivers in such a cruel way.
Messages from the memorial book were read out by Marguerite and other passengers to represent the diverse heritage of people on board the ship and to acknowledge people’s gratitude to their forebears.
We pulled up anchor as the sun rose and sailed away towards Istanbul with one last wreath floating on the water in memory of those who dies 100 years before.
Later, we drank warm rum and milk and ate ANZAC biscuits.