Leopards return from successful tour in Turkey

The Australian Army Rugby Union Old Boys (AARUOB) Leopards have returned from an historic Turkey Tour that coincided with the 100th Anniversary ANZAC Celebrations. The Tour was conceived two years earlier and despite a lot of translation issues the hard work paid off. Thirty nine men, women and a young man made the trip to Turkey and were rewarded with some fine weather and a wonderful atmosphere. The touring group was made up of members and partners from Townsville, Perth, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Sydney, Canberra, Nowra, Narrawalle, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai and Kabul.

The highlight of the Tour was a visit to Anzac Cove and the battlefields on Thursday 23rd April. Presentations to the four original Leopards and deceased Wallabies were poignant and profound. AARUOB Chairman Murray Harley presented a memorial to Frederick Herbert Thompson – 131 at Shrapnel Valley and the timing couldn't have been better as the touring party walked into a choir group rehearsing the national anthem, last post and minutes silence. We then moved by bus to Lone Pine where Andrew Clarke formerly of the 1st Battalion presented to Edward Rennix Larkin – 38 whilst Leopards Captain Mick 'Pudge' Martin presented to Harold Wesley George – 108. Laminated copies of the tributes were left at the Plot or Panels. We were unable to get to Baby 700 Cemetery where Blair Inskip Swannell – 72 is buried at Special Memorial 10.

Just being at Anzac Cove, Shrapnel Valley, Lone Pine and The Nek was emotional however it was the appreciation of the task at hand and the difficult terrain that made our visit even more emotional. The strategic importance on the Dardenelles and Bosphorus was brought home however the question still needs to be asked as to why we were sent there. I am sure the wives and partners who have not been subjected to the level of military history and research as their husbands and partners, really appreciated the in-depth explanations of the strategic, tactical and operational level of the war and individual battles.

All along the Leopards wanted to celebrate the 100th ANZAC Anniversary with a game of rugby in Turkey and preferably on the Peninsula. Negotiations commenced early in proceedings with the Istanbul Ottomans who were the oldest club in Turkey. A fixture was organised for Friday 24th April in Gelibolu or Gallipoli as we know it and 2.00pm was selected allowing those attending the Dawn Service to cut away in a timely manner. The fixture was played as rugby with only scrums being changed to uncontested.

The fixture was full of pomp and ceremony with national anthems, last post, a minutes silence and presentations to Leopards Captain Mick 'Pudge' Martin from the Mayors of Gelibolu and Canakkale. History will record a 9-9 result in the traditions of Golden Oldies Rugby however a skillful and physical display by the Leopards resulted in a 7 tries to 1 victory. Not bad for a team that only trained four times (plane Mon evening and bus Tues-Thurs) prior to the fixture! Best on ground was Anthony Thomas who was presented with the inaugural Gallipoli Trophy and was closely followed by Andrew Clarke, Kade Greenwood, Russ Lowes, David Harper, James Kiwi and Jason Whitfield. Special mention must go to the oldest tourist Ray Beattie and Men of League Board Member who, at 72, scored a try with his first touch in a rugby international. A speech from AARUOB President and Coach Geoff Jones at the after-match function was followed by the traditional rugby presentation of ties and plaques to the Ottomans at a 300 year old fish restaurant overlooking The Narrows. The evening concluded with traditional Turkish musicians, dancing, beer skulling and rugby songs. For the 3rd Battalion fraternity on tour the local Raki was also consumed at the rapid to celebrate Kapyong Day.

The touring party was split here as not all tourists had been successful in securing ballot tickets for the Dawn Service. The bus continued on to Anzac Cove whilst the majority travelled on the ferry from Ecebet to Canakkale and were accommodated there for the night. Twelve lucky tourists endured a long night of security checks, walking, waiting and standing just to witness the Dawn Service at Anzac Cove and then the ceremony at Lone Pine and then were forced to wait long hours for the bus to pick them up, travel down to Ecebet for the ferry to eventually meet up with the rest of the touring party in Canakkale. The remainder who were not so fortunate had a variety of ANZAC Day celebrations that eventually culminated in a two-up session at a local restaurant that was commandeered for the afternoon and where Anthony Thomas educated both locals and tourists alike in the fine art of Australian two-up customs and traditions.

A number of days heading south to the Aegean Sea spent sightseeing and relaxing were next. Visiting the Naval Museum at Canakkale; Troy; Akropolis at Pergamum; ruins at Ephesus; Blessed Virgin Mary's home and resting place; and Kusadasi were significant. The history across this part of the world is detailed and has a number of twists and turns. Thanks to the tour guide Levent Kayapehlivan (Leve) and bus driver Kenan from Tura Turizm for making the sightseeing and history come together with some timely intervention and explanations.

Back to Istanbul for some sightseeing and shopping. Istanbul is a city of 18million on two continents – Asia and Europe. The Old City is fascinating with traditional Turkish Baths, Mosques, Spice Market and Grand Bazaar as must see tourist activities. A visit to the Asian side also highlighted how Istanbul locals lived and commuted.

To say that the tour was an outstanding success would be an understatement. The Turkish people have a genuine affinity for Australians and have no ill feeling despite what happened 100 years ago. The decision to include wives and partners proved to be an outstanding success and will be the model going forward.

Planning has commenced for a Leopards Victory Tour to Europe in 2018 with either the Anzac Day or Armistice Day period to be researched although the Centenary of Army Rugby in 2019 and the historic AIF Tours may also be considered. I am sure that those who regretted the decision not to tour in 2015 will be among the first on the list for 2018/19 as this will be a tour not to be missed.

Tour Director Kevin Lloyd and his wife Christine did a magnificent job in project managing the tour. A lot of time and effort goes into putting together a tour of this size and for that we, the 2015 Leopards, thank you. Also a massive thanks to Tour Treasurer Deb Booth who although did not tour was instrumental in getting the show across the line. A big thank you must also go to our sponsors Haulmark Trailers, Seabox International and Ruffie Sports who assisted with additional tour kit, plaques, cuff links, ties and banners.

Thanks to the Turkey Tour the AARUOB Leopards now have a mascot in Alby who was kindly donated by CareFlight through Pudge and Linda Martin; a Patron Saint in Bacchus – God of Wine, Sex and Entertainment from our Akropolis tour; a soldiers prayer thanks to Tony Grant that was recited in the amphitheater at Ephesus and a long overdue song thanks to Steve Hladio.

Through our annual Old Boys weekend and Leopards Tours we aim to re-engage with as many former Australian Army Rugby Union players, coaches and administrators as possible. We move to Ballymore and Brisbane for activities on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd May 2015 and encourage all former AARU players, coaches and administrators to attend.

Leopards not because they are rusting outside of RSL Clubs but because they never change their spots!

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