Almost 500 Australians and New Zealanders took part in a memorial service on the decks of Cunard Lines’ Queen Elizabeth this morning as the ship sailed the waters off the Gallipoli Peninsula.
They were joined by hundreds of other passengers marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the eight-month First World War campaign that cost more than 140,000 lives.
Crew and guests laid wreaths in the water in remembrance of the soldiers who died. A six-foot high poppy wall floral tribute, shaped as ‘100’ to mark the Anzac centenary, formed the centrepiece for the ceremony. The wall was filled with 11,500 red poppies donated by Australians and New Zealanders during Queen Elizabeth’s calls to Auckland and Sydney as part of her current world cruise, with the flowers representing the number of Anzacs killed during the campaign.
Visitors to the poppy wall in Auckland and Sydney also wrote personal messages in a special remembrance book, with a selection of those read at this morning’s service. The book will be placed in the ship’s library where it will remain in memory of the heroes of Gallipoli.
Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the waters of Gallipoli on the eve of Anzac Day comes during her 112-night world voyage. The ship will arrive in Istanbul early on Anzac Day when some guests will disembark to continue their journey to Gallipoli.
Captain Inger Klein Thorhauge said she was honoured to bring Queen Elizabeth’s guests to the waters of Gallipoli for such a significant occasion.
“The Anzac story resonates for all of us at Cunard. Our connection with the armed forces of Britain, New Zealand and Australia runs very deep. Cunard has supported the services going back to the Crimean War. During the First World War, 20 Cunard ships and many of their crew were lost. It is a legacy of service of which we at Cunard are very proud.”
Guests of honour at the service included Herb Christophers from New Zealand and Mark Keys from Australia, both descendants of Anzac soldiers, who travelled on board Queen Elizabeth as custodians for the poppies on their journey to Gallipoli.
Mr Christophers said the voyage was a healing experience, as his family lost four of five sons – including his great grandfather – during World War One:
“The war was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914, instead it lasted four long years. The Christophers family lost a son for each of those four years. This journey is a positive way to remember the sacrifices made by a generation of my family.”
Mr Keys said he was honoured to be part of Cunard’s Anzac voyage and planned to visit the Lone Pine memorial site of his great grandfather, who was killed on his third day at Gallipoli:
“This is the first opportunity for any member of our family to visit Gallipoli and this 100thanniversary will be a long-treasured memory.”
Some popular traditions that live on as Anzac folklore have been taken on board Queen Elizabeth during its cruise to Gallipoli including a friendly game of ‘two-up’ played on the ship’s decks and Anzac biscuits served as part of the afternoon tea in the Queens Room. The ship has also organised a screening of Peter Weir’s 1981 classic ‘Gallipoli’ movie as well as talks from Gallipoli historians.