April 24, 2008 12:00am
IF the courage and sacrifice of the Anzacs 93 years ago could be replicated in peacetime, Paul Ritchie and his squad of 46 men and women would be on the front line.
The group of Australian firefighters and supporters arrived at Anzac Cove yesterday to prepare for an endurance charity marathon of more than 4500km aimed at embodying the spirit of what it means to be Australian.
The group of 24 runners and supporters plan to run from Gallipoli to London through some of the Australian battlefields of World War I including the former front-lines dug above the Dardanelles in Turkey and the Somme in France to remind younger generations of the sacrifices made by their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
“I thought it would be good to stir a bit of patriotism and what better way than to be here at Gallipoli, the birth stone of our nation,” Mr Ritchie, a leading firefighter from Melbourne, said yesterday.
“We want to do our thing to remember why we live in such a great country.
“We wanted to trigger some of the qualities of the young men who came to Gallipoli more than 90 years ago, to stir national pride and, in a small way, give something back.”
The Turkish authorities were initially surprised at the idea but when they saw the fully equipped fire truck at their border post, on loan and driven from a brigade in Scotland, they realised the group was serious.
“It’s just a practical reflection of the character that has made Australia what it is today,” Mr Ritchie said of the effort to bring a truck and massive support crew to the Gallipoli peninsula for the month-long marathon.
The fire fighter thought-up the idea two years ago following a charity run from Canberra to the MCG that coincided with the annual Anzac Day Aussie Rules clash
The group’s marathon, which made the Guinness Book of Records in 1982 and 1991 for running non-stop around Australia, plan to run the relay in three groups of eight runners for 72km a day.
Counterparts in France plan to honour the group in a ceremony at the Arc de Triumphe with the run to end at Hyde Park in London on May 18.
Funds raised from the marathon will go toward Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital burns unit which last year saved fire fighter Richard Zapart’s life after he was critically burned in a chemical fire.