One hundred years after the infamous landing at Anzac Cove, the NSW government has given 100 students the opportunity to travel to Gallipoli.
Four students from Pittwater High School on Sydney’s Northern Beaches were lucky enough to be included in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Mr Stephen Kovacs, a history teacher at the school, submitted the school’s application never expecting they’d be chosen.
“I was just sitting there one afternoon and I said to another a teacher, ‘Should we do this?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, if you want, we never get those things, it’s like the lottery’,” Mr Kovacs said.
“But we’ve managed to win. The morning we found out I couldn’t believe it. I was blown away. The principle came into the staffroom looking like she wanted to talk about something nasty and then she went crazy, jumping up and down and waving her arms.”
Among the four students chosen is Hamish Wickman, of Year 11, whose great-great uncle was among the many men who lost their lives on the Gallipoli peninsula. Lieutenant Colonel George F Braund was a successful businessman and politician in the NSW Parliament. He was put in charge of training the second battalion and eventually became its commanding officer. Upon landing at Gallipoli, Lt Col Braund led his troops up steep goat-tracks to a vital position. Here they withstood the main Turkish advances for three days and nights with no rest until reinforcements arrived. Returning to his battalion’s rest camp one night after visiting troops that were under his command, a young sentry shot him due to confusion. His final resting place is now known as Braund’s Hill.
Hamish only recently discovered this link after his cousin happened to mention it over dinner one night. This inspired Hamish to find out more and the Gallipoli 2015 School Tour provided him with the opportunity to research his family history and be given the chance to travel to Gallipoli.
“I think it’s important that people keep going to Gallipoli to remember and commemorate all the soldiers that not only gave their lives but were effected after the war,” he said.
“Even the soldiers that survived didn’t really survive, as many of them suffered with post traumatic stress disorder that effected them for the rest of their lives.”
In order to be considered for the tour, students had to submit a body of work that ranged from research tasks to art works, and they were given two weeks to complete them.
“I chose to write a diary entry from my great-great uncle’s perspective and also I decided to do my perspective on him and my perspective on the war,” Hamish said.
From the several assessment submissions the school received, teachers had the hard task of narrowing it down to nine entries for the interview process. Hamish made the final cut, along with Jessica Ratcliff, from Year 11, Noah Coopey, Year 10, and Kathleen Parkinson, from Year 12.
Noah, a keen history student, decided he wanted to apply due to his family links and his love for history.
“I want to go because it’s going to be such an amazing experience; it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime trip and it’s going to be so emotional and it’s a lot of history so its really important to me to go,” he said.
“It’s such an important part of our history that should never be forgotten. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this experience.”
Noah’s great great-grandfather, who was English, attempted to sign up for war when he was just 15 but was turned away. But he successfully signed up at the age of 16 and was sent to Serbia and the Balkans.
“The Gallipoli campaign was very important to him,” Noah said.
“I recently got a few journals of his from my granny in England and he talked a lot about Gallipoli and how if they won it would help him and his campaign.
“A family member from my Australian side also tried to sign up when he was 16 and he was sent to the Western Front but was gassed and had to come back.”
In order to be considered, Noah submitted a detailed and personal essay: “I submitted an essay about the ANZAC spirit and how it connects to Australia now and how I connect to Gallipoli.”
Jessica chose to tell the story of the Indigenous Australians involved in the Gallipoli campaign.
“I did a research task on indigenous Australians, as my aunty is a member of the central land council and my grandma went on the freedom ride in 1965, so I was interested in the indigenous side as their side of the story is very much untold,” she said.
Jessica decided to apply due to her love of travel and her desire to remember those who fought so bravely for our nation.
“We need to keep paying respect to the soldiers who did fight and to acknowledge the people who fought for the freedom we have now.”
Kathleen, who is currently in her final year of high school, is another student with a clear love and passion for history.
“In 2012 I went to the western front so I also wanted to go to Gallipoli,” she said.
For her submission, she focused on why Gallipoli is seen as the birthplace of the Anzac spirit as opposed to the Western Front and got the idea from a local historian, Jonathan King.
“He is very much into remembering Gallipoli but also commemorating the Western Front because the majority of the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, who survived, went back to Egypt to be retrained and were then more or less shipped off to the western front. This was a shock because at least in Gallipoli they had the terrain and they had the height and some cover and the trenches but at the western front it was just flat,” she said.
Kathleen also wanted to show both sides of the war and said it was important to educate people about all perspectives. “It’s important to also acknowledge not just our side but also the Turkish side,” she said. – Erin Kenneally
Top photo by Stephen Kovacs.