April 25, 2015 / 4:28 AM / 2 years ago

Thousands gather at dawn ceremony to mark Gallipoli centenary

GALLIPOLI PENINSULA, Turkey (Reuters) - Leaders and dignitaries from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey led thousands at dawn ceremonies on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula on Saturday to mark the 100th anniversary of a World War One battle that helped shape their nations.

The Gallipoli campaign has resonated through generations that have mourned the thousands of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) cut down by machinegun and artillery fire as they struggled ashore on a narrow beach.

By the time allied forces withdrew, defeated, after eight months, the fighting would eventually claim more than 130,000 lives, 87,000 of them on the side of the Ottoman Turks, who were allied with imperial Germany.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Britain's Prince Charles laid wreaths as bagpipes played at Anzac Cove, just north of where ANZAC soldiers first landed, in front of more than 10,000 people.

Abbott told the crowd, many of whom spent a cold night in their sleeping bags to secure a place at the grounds, of lives lost in a campaign that helped forge Australia's identity.

"Like every generation since, we are here on Gallipoli, because we believe that the ANZACs represented Australians at our best," he said. "It’s the perseverance of those who scaled the cliffs under a rain of fire. It’s the compassion of the nurses who attended to the thousands of wounded."

TURKISH PRIDE

For Turkey, Gallipoli is also a national touchstone, heralding the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who as a young officer led the defense. He later founded modern Turkey, the secular republic that emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman empire.

Young Turks marched the route the Ottoman Turkish 57th Regiment, the first in action, took at dawn 100 years ago before suffering terrible losses in one of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) pauses after laying a wreath during a dawn service at the ANZAC Commemorative Site in ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, in this April 25, 2015 handout courtesy of the Office of the Prime Minister.Brad Hunter/Office of the Prime Minister/Handout via Reuters

The battle's former foes now face a common threat from Islamist militant violence and security was tight, particularly after a police raid in the Australian city of Melbourne last week targeting an alleged plot to attack local celebrations there.

"These ceremonies are making us Turks very proud. These lands that hosted battles 100 years ago have become the symbol of peace today. Tens of thousands of people visiting their ancestors here is a source of pride for us all," said Isa Ayaz at the ceremony.

Gallipoli marked the first time soldiers from Australia and New Zealand fought under their own flags and is seared in the national consciousness as a point where their nations came of age, emerging from the shadow of the British empire.

Slideshow (10 Images)

"To us, Gallipoli is also a byword for the best characteristics of Australians and New Zealanders, especially when they work side by side, in the face of adversity," said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in his speech at the ceremony.

The peninsula has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia and New Zealand in particular, who honor their fallen in graveyards halfway around the world on ANZAC Day each year.

"The dawn service - it's such an amazing place to be. With those people there you feel so lucky to be part of such a moving service," Colin Dale, a tour leader from Australia who brought 150 Australians and New Zealanders said.

The Allied forces also included British, Irish, French, Indians, Gurkhas and Canadians. Approximately 58,000 Allied soldiers died, roughly half of them from Britain and Ireland, according to the Gallipoli Association.

Only 11,000 have known graves on the Gallipoli peninsula. Others simply have their names inscribed on memorials.

Britain’s Prince Harry accompanied his father in Gallipoli while the Queen, her husband and grandson Prince William attended a wreath-laying ceremony at London’s Cenotaph war memorial on Saturday.

(The version of the story has been refiled to include date and tag in dateline)

Writing by Matt Siegel in Sydney, Dasha Afansieva and Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Kate Holton in London and Mehmet Emin Caliskan in Gallipoli; Editing by Nick Macfie and Nick Tattersall/Mark Heinrich

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