History's lessons to the fore on the most memorable Anzac tours
As Australians, and much of the Western world, pause for Remembrance Day (Nov 11) this weekend, it’s an appropriate time to consider the many stunning international tours available to mark Anzac Day 2013 (April 25).
We take a look at six sites around the world, where specialist trips enable travelers to pay their respects at dawn services on Anzac Day and where history casts a shadow of battles long past.
Prices vary widely between tours -- factors include departure point, duration and the range of add-ons selected, so shop around to find the best fit.
Australia: Darwin and Katherine
February 19, 1942 saw waves of Japanese bombers fly over Darwin in Australia's north, unloading more bombs than were dropped on Pearl Harbor ten weeks before.
It was the first time mainland Australia came under attack in the Second World War. The raids left at least 240 people dead and several hundrded wounded.
According to the National Archives of Australia, air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943 with the city bombed 64 times.
Touring Darwin harbor we learn about the damage inflicted and see the sonar image of the remains of the sunken USS Peary.
Darwin Military Museum is next, where interactive displays contrast with standing artillery pieces.
Then it's train time, as we board The Ghan on the annual memorial Anzac journey.
There's a stop at the Adelaide River War Cemetery before the regular rail journey is extended by a night in Katherine, so travelers can attend the dawn service there on Anzac Day.
Cruising Katherine Gorge is a highlight.
Further south, the Alice Springs stop offers Whistlestop Tours and we choose to go ride a camel.
In South Australia we experience what transport was like for troops in the war, riding the Pichi Richi Railway behind a steam locomotive.
Experts and special guests on board The Ghan broaden our understanding of it all, before finally the train rolls into the South Australian capital, Adelaide.
Getting there: Great Southern Rail, leaving Darwin April 24, 2013. Bookings -- website or phone: +61 (0) 8 8213 4592.
More on CNN: 6 great Australian train journeys
Sabah, Malaysia: The Sandakan Death Marches
On the island of Borneo lies Sabah, the easternmost state of Malaysia. It was here during World War II that the brutal Sandakan Death Marches took place.
In January 1945, after Allied bombers destroyed the Japanese military airstrip at Sandakan, the Japanese commander decided to move the prisoners of war 260 kilometers westward to the town of Ranau in the mountains.
The malnourished and sick prisoners were force-marched in three groups at different times.
This was considered one of the greatest atrocities of the war and the only survivors out of 1,081 men ordered to march were six Australians who escaped.
Various tours enable visitors to attend the dawn service on Anzac Day at the Sandakan POW Camp Memorial.
Tours to this region vary considerably and include everything from rainforest and wildlife viewing to cultural activities and trekking sections of the Death March route.
Thailand: The Thailand-Burma Railway
To supply their forces in Burma (now Myanmar), during 1942-43 the Japanese built the 415-kilometer Thailand-Burma Railway, or the Death Railway as it came to be known, using forced labor.
About 90,000 Asian laborers and 16,000 Allied prisoners of war died during its construction.
Nowadays, visitors can learn about geography and logistics, as well as the living conditions of prisoners, at the interactive Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum.
The Battle Tours journey includes a cruise in a traditional long-tailed boat, a 40-minute train ride along part of the Death Railway and a walk across the bridge built by POWs and made famous in the film “Bridge on the River Kwai.”
The Anzac Day dawn service takes place at Konyu Cutting, known now as Hellfire Pass -- apparently because the sight of emaciated prisoners laboring at night by the light of bamboo torches resembled a scene from hell.
Also on Anzac Day there’s time to visit Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, where 6,500 former POWs are buried, for a wreath-laying service.
Vietnam: The Battle of Long Tan
While the Vietnam War divided communities in Australia and the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s, those who fought there simply did as they were commanded.
Tour itineraries here include visits to the network of connecting underground tunnels used by the Vietcong in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (now Saigon).
Other stopping points include Nui Dat, site of a major Australian Army base, Vũng Tàu, a popular spot for R & R leave for U.S. and Australian troops, and after the war a significant launching point for Vietnamese boat people fleeing the communist regime, and Binh Ba, where Australians were engaged in close-quarter combat.
On Anzac Day the traditional dawn service is held at Long Tan in Phuoc Tuy Province.
It was here on August 18-19, 1966 that Australian soldiers scored a decisive victory.
Getting there: Again, Battle Tours provides excellent options.
France and Belgium: World War I -- the Western Front
In the Belgian city of Ypres, a large crowd waits silently, as it does every evening, while buglers take their positions.
The nearby In Flanders Fields Museum displays objects of war as well as moving letters from home that were probably never received by the addressee.
Tours of the Western Front vary in duration and sites visited. Several come with exceptionally knowledgeable historian-guides.
Stopping points include Hill 60, riddled with craters, some of the battlefields of The Somme -- including Fromelles and Pozières -- and the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge with its preserved trenches.
The Anzac Day dawn service is held at the Australian National Memorial in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux, which was saved by a predominantly Australian force launching a surprise night attack on April 24-25, 1918.
The Memorial features a tall white tower inside which a circular plaque has arrows pointing to battlefields where Australians fought, as well as to far-away Canberra.
Getting there: Tours are available with a huge range of specialists, including: Boronia Travel Centre, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours, Guidepost Tours, Albatross Tours, Battle Tours, France Tourism and Western Front Tours.
The World War I Allied landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 saw Australian and New Zealand forces confined to a strip of rugged country at Anzac Cove, facing fire from Turkish positions on the ridgeline above.
The campaign that would end as a military failure was to create the Anzac legend, with its tales of heroism against the odds.
In recent years, attending the dawn service on Anzac Day at the Anzac Commemorative Site has become very popular with visitors from Australia and New Zealand.
The place is perhaps best understood when accompanied by an experienced historian as a guide, something several of the better tours offer.
Approaching the cove by boat gives perspective on what the troops on landing craft may have seen and is included in the itineraries of several tour companies.
Once on land, as historian Mat McLachlan observes, “The geography at Gallipoli hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years, making it one of the best-preserved battlefields in the world.
“The same ridges and hills are still there and you can scramble up them like the Anzacs did.”
Later in the morning there’s time to attend the Australian service at Lone Pine or the New Zealand one at Chunuk Bair.