The Choir of St James’ was invited by the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs to be the official Gallipoli Choir at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Anzac Cove, Turkey on 25 June 2017.

Thirteen current choristers were joined by ex-choristers living abroad – three from the UK and one from the USA – and performed in the pre-Dawn Service Reflective Programme, the Dawn Service, and the post-Dawn Service Programme.

With the Head of Music, Warren Trevelyan-Jones, and Associate Rector, The Rev’d John Stewart, the Choir arrived in Istanbul on 19 April before travelling by bus to Canakkale (about a 5 hour trip).  From there began three days of rehearsals with the Combined Forces Band and soundchecks at Anzac Cove.  In between the rehearsals, the Choir was able to take a tour to nearby ancient city of Troy, and the group was offered Eucharist on Sunday morning, 23 April. Fr John presided over a ‘hotel’ version of the Eucharist and the Choir sang Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices from their iPhones!

On 24 April, the Choir took the 11:00pm ferry from Canakkale to Eceabat, and then went through rigorous security checks on approach to Anzac Cove.  It wasn’t until around 1.30am that Warren, Fr John and the Choir got to their tent and settled in for the night until the Choir’s first performance at 4:40am.  Despite layers of thermals, the Choir froze whilst sitting on the platform perched just above the beach. They were visibly shaking when they sang Abide with Me and the Australian and New Zealand National Anthems!

Following the Dawn Service, the Choir had the opportunity to change into more comfortable clothing before walking up Artillery Road to Lone Pine to attend a service. After a ‘comfort break’ at one of the port-a-loo stations, their guide, Özgür, took them to Shell Green Cemetery on the way back down from Lone Pine.

On 26 April, the Choir travelled to Istanbul for a couple of days, sight-seeing and shopping, before returning home on 28 April.

The following is an account of the experience from bass, Phillip Murray.

From my earliest childhood, the solemnity of Anzac Day and its mysterious rituals have 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 whilst 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.

St James’ is proud to announce the Choir has been engaged to be the official choir at the 2018 Anzac Day Dawn Service, an honour and a privilege for all involved.