Set in modern-day Australia and Turkey, Candles at Dawn explores the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War in Turkey 1915 when the British and French were anxious to open up the Dardanelles to Russia. With Turkey allied with the Kaiser, Australia and New Zealand were still tied to the British Empire and troops were despatched to Gallipoli. Australian teenager Ellie and her mother Sandra travel to Turkey to attend the dawn ceremony at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. For Sandra it is a chance to see where her grandfather Frank fought, for Ellie it is a chance to gain answers to her questions on the validity of war. They stay at a boarding house run by Emine and her daughter, Zeynep, a friendship develops between the two girls, who are drawn together when they discover that their grandfathers fought on opposite sides of the same war.
Historical facts are interwoven with fiction to describe in vivid detail the lives and deaths of young Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers where the casualties were heavy on both sides.
Ellie questions the validity of the war. Through the questions posed by the young girls the concepts of war, peace, friendship and freedom are explored.