Otago mayor's 'unforgettable' Gallipoli experience

Earnscleugh resident and Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper met one of his 'neighbours' - Aidan...
Earnscleugh resident and Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper met one of his 'neighbours' - Aidan Smith (18), of Clyde, at Gallipoli over the weekend. Aidan, a member of the Air Training Corps, was one of 25 young New Zealand ambassadors selected to travel with the New Zealand Defence Force to Gallipoli. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper says words are inadequate to describe the experience of being part of a 10,500-strong crowd paying their respects at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. His wife Bernice was successful in the ballot for places at the special commemorative service and the couple were still on a high yesterday after attending the event. Mr Lepper sums up his ''once-in-a-lifetime'' experience.

Having laid a wreath at an Anzac service for 25 years, the opportunity to attend the 100th commemoration service at Anzac Cove was always going to be an unforgettable experience for Bernice and myself.

To witness and experience this moving tribute to all who participated in this seemingly futile campaign has helped make sense of the magnitude Gallipoli has had on our countries and the individual families it has affected.

Bernice's grandfather, Robert Noel Paulin, was in Gallipoli for two months, surviving the atrocious conditions and constant fighting and shelling around Courtney's Post before being wounded on August 9 in the capture and holding of Chunuk Bair.

At the end of the war, Robert Noel returned to Clyde and established the Paulin family orchard.

Sharing this experience with so many other New Zealanders and Australians, and of course having the opportunity to experience Turkish culture, history and the Turkish people, has been a truly wonderful experience.

When asked why did our your young men want to fight and die in Turkey, we had no answer.

It is almost impossible to understand what we were trying to achieve and why so many suffered on both sides, so far away from the real centre of conflict. This became evident while trying to explain to a Chinese tourist why we were in Turkey.

Despite this, we come away understanding the bonds created in this tragedy are real, monumental and lasting.

The greetings of ''Kia ora mate'' from people everywhere in Turkey, while commercially advantageous, are genuine and fun.

We are enjoying our time with the large contingent of Australians and Kiwis who are here with us.

As the sun came up, with battleships on the horizon, 10,000 Aussies and Kiwis on shore along with the leaders of our two countries, we kept our promise and we did remember them.

It was a long, cold night that created bonds between strangers, a once-in-a-lifetime event. The walk to Chunuk Bair puts the terrain and the futility of the nine months into perspective.

The speech by the young New Zealand winner of the Cyril Bassett speech contest, Caitlin Papuni-McLellan, was a highlight on a night of highs.

The New Zealand service was so special as it was so Kiwi.

The whole thing was an unforgettable experience.

A rite of passage made special by the scale of the event and all the Kiwis we shared it with, Without exception, people said they were so lucky to have been there.''

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