Life at Gallipoli
Contributed by Michael Hall, April 2015
After the Anzacs landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 they regularly recorded their experiences of life on the peninsula in diaries and in letters to family and friends at home. This is how our local soldiers experienced it, in their own words.
Alf Love landed with the 14th Battalion late on 25 April. Two days later he was sent to Quinn's Post and somehow found time to write in his diary. It was his final entry.
“Arrived at firing line at 10 o'clock this morning. Having a very bad time of it so far. Machine guns played hell on our men for a start, they are getting hit and killed all around me but I escaped so far.” (The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith, p.86)
James McDonald married a cousin of the McInnes family from Kowen. He was a signaller based at Anzac Cove, a position subject to regular bombardment from the Turks at Gaba Tepe. He wrote home on 17 May.
“For three weeks we have been living in a hole in the ground for safety, earnestly ducking and dodging flying metal of every description when it is found necessary to leave the ‘dugout’. The enemy have the habit of always disturbing us at meal times with a few nicely placed shrapnel shells. We get plenty of good tucker and tobacco. The scarce items are water, shaves and matches.” (Queanbeyan Age, 2 July 1915)
Ernest Murray was with the 1st Field Company Engineers and landed on Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April. You did not have to be an infantryman to be under fire.
“Resetting trenches and came under heavy fire with six shells landing within 20 yards doing a lot of damage and blowing an overhead cover that I was engaged on. I was about 10 foot away at the time and we had to abandon the work for awhile.” (Diary entry, 19 May 1915
Alexander Steele was an instructor at Duntroon and landed on Gallipoli on 25 April as a machine gun officer with the 9th Battalion. He was wounded when the Turks launched a major counter-attack on 19 May.
“Got hit on the 19th May, three weeks four days after landing, so I had a good run for my money. My two guns fired just on 3000 rounds that morning at no more than 400 yards. We had a beautiful position and simply couldn’t miss. I got hit at 5.30am two hours after the action commenced. An expanding bullet (Dum Dum) came from behind, grazed my cheek and I happened to have my arm up taking a belt out of the gun at the time it went through my forearm just above the wrist and left a nasty hole where it spread on coming out.” (Letter from Steele to his mother, 2 June 1915)
Andrew Cunningham landed on Gallipoli with the 1st Light Horse Regiment on 12 May. He went into position on Popes Hill the next day and was wounded on Tuesday, 18 May. He wrote home on 24 May from Mudros on Lemnos Island.
“I got a shrapnel bullet through my knee last Tuesday and am doing the millionaire on an 18000 ton Cunarder among 1600 Australians, English, Scotch, Welsh, Polish, Jews, some French and a couple of Turkish prisoners, badly wounded. On Saturday, 8th May we started to leave Egypt as infantry. Saturday night at 9 o’clock would have seen me like a Murrumbidgee shearer on tour; rifle, pack, ammunition and accoutrements, great coat, tucker, and blankets, riding one officer’s horse and leading another. We passed Sed El Bahr coming up the coast and saw the effect of (HMS) Queen Elizabeth’s fire on fort and village. Tuesday night we anchored off Gaba Tepe and came ashore next morning in Destroyers transferring to open boats. The Turks were shelling the boats and around the landing pontoons, but only wounded a couple of our chaps. We got our stuff ashore alright and proceeded up the valley to the bottom of the ridge where our trenches are camped there the night. Next morning we moved into our trenches, relieving one of the infantry battalions. Poor beggars they wanted a spell badly, they had been there from the first landing.”
Cunningham went on to talk about the next week leading up to his wounding.
“The rifle fire was incessant, and they would do us about three sessions of shrapnel a day, breakfast, dinner and tea, roughly speaking, but doing our regiment at any rate very little harm so far. All the chaps are as happy as kids on holidays and delighted at being free from camp routine, stables, parades, flies and sandstorms. Tip top tucker, bacon, cheese, jam, bully and biscuits, spuds, fresh and preserved, tobacco, matches and baksheesh once a week.”
“We’d been in the trenches a week when one morning the Turks put on a new turn in the form of a 8.2 howitzer or thereabouts, anyway a lot bigger than we were accustomed to. It dug holes 7ft deep and threw tons of dirt about. We were watching them dropping around our ammunition supply and field dressing station, and had forgotten about the 14 pounders when one of the latter’s bullets went through the inside of my knee. It didn’t touch the bone.” (Queanbeyan Age, 17 August 1915)
A month after the landing the campaign had stalled and the fighting entered a new dimension – it went underground. It was up to the engineers and men experienced in mining, like Ernest Murray, to direct the tunnelling. After the Turks exploded a mine beneath Quinns Post, Murray and others were also posted to listen for the tell-tale signs of enemy mining.
“Started to tunnel towards enemy to form new trench...I am looking after work in tunnels driving towards enemy lines…enemy sapping towards our trenches. Our tunnel going well (and) making good progress towards enemy trenches with our tunnels.” (Diary entries, 27 May, 2 June, 3 June, 11 June 1915)
Ernie Mayo landed on Gallipoli with the 13th Battalion late on 25 April. The following day he was sent up to Quinn's Post and was wounded by shrapnel to the head four days later. On 3 June he was convalescing in Cairo when he wrote home.
“I am now in the camp waiting to be sent back to the Dardenelles. I think the landing will be easier the next time. It was terrible to see our comrades getting shot in the boats, but heedless of it all our boys kept on pushing forward till they got a firm footing on shore. It seemed a relief when the shells from our gun boats started screeching overhead in reply to the enemy’s land batteries. I have often wished to see naval guns in action, so my wish has been gratified at last.” (Queanbeyan Age, 13 July 1915)
Somehow Ernest Murray managed to find some beauty in the horror of Gallipoli when he attended a unique afternoon church parade.
“The Sermon was taken from the life of St. Paul dealing with his travels to Macedonia in answer to the ‘Cry from Macedonia’. Chaplain – Captain McKenzie – Salvation Army – ‘Fighting Mac’. Seated on the hill side on a road leading up to the Communication trench of 3rd Battalion. Immediately in front of us was the historic Island of Samothracia close by whose shores St. Paul passed on his way to Macedonia – the land itself right in front (not too sure of this) but too far away to see. A little to the left Imbros Island. As we looked across the water we look at one of the most gorgeous & most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed. The sky being partly covered by fleecy clouds – these were lit up by most beautiful & brilliant light effects in red & gold & silver, while under the shadow of the island itself the sea was marked off in beautiful shades & strips of pearly light. As the night advanced the sun set in a golden glory, the sky effects became darker & the beautiful purple tints appeared, then night & the stars & the Great Bear (which we have been accustomed look at in the North as we used to look at the dear old Southern Cross in the South). While this was happening, a field gun was hurling shells close over our heads into the Turkish lines.” (Diary entry, 13 June 1915)
Andy Cunningham rejoined the 1st Light Horse in early June 1915 where they were still operating around Popes Hill. In a letter written on 14 June 1915 he describes the view of the country from his position and then goes on to discuss the conditions.
“When you reach the top looking inland you see a deep valley lying between where you are standing and the tableland cliff like approaches. The valley is herring-boned with lesser ridges and valleys in most complicated disorder and covered with dense low scrub. It was here our chaps lost most heavily from snipers and shrapnel. Communication seemed to have become almost impossible.”
“Things have been pretty slack, and last week we, the machine gun section, have been having a spell altogether out of the trenches with plenty of swimming on the beach. There is plenty to keep you awake however, watching aeroplanes and the effects of the enemy’s artillery fire on our boats manoeuvering about in the bay. I was watching the Turks shelling one of our infantry trenches on the right flank last night and they lobbed 3 running, apparently within about 20 feet of a chap, digging. You could see the dirt flying off the shovel. The 4th shot right on top of him, but the dirt still kept flying, and then another. Everybody was betting he’d close up for the night but there was a short pause, while he cursed them I suppose, and out came another shovelful. It takes a lot to worry our chaps as they are always as happy as can be and very little sickness. We are still having glorious weather, the flies are the only pest and they are real bad.” (Queanbeyan Age, 18 August 1915)
Tom Newson was with the 1st Field Company Engineers when he became one of the first Australians to land on Gallipoli on 25 April. In a letter written at the end of June he described his experiences of the previous two months. While the infantry were in the firing line, no one on Gallipoli was safe.
“I received a bullet wound in the head about a month ago, but glad to say I have recovered from it; it did not stop me from duty. I have been hit three times now, all slight wounds, and have had some close shaves from shells. I have been buried twice through shells bursting. Well, I don’t think that there is a man here but who have had all but close shaves and some have got hit in places where one least expects. I am writing this in my dug out. I have been in the firing line now over eight weeks, and we have had a very strenuous time. I am glad to say we have got a good foothold in Turkey, and it will take something to drive us into the sea now. We have several of the Duntroon boys with us. I would be pleased if you would send me a few papers on. We have not been allowed to write letters up to the present, and I don’t know if this will pass the censor. Please give my hearty good wishes to all.” (Queanbeyan Age 13 August 1915)
The Anzacs were subject to constant shell fire from the Turks. Ernest Murray was one who received a ‘visit’ during a bombardment.
“Artillery very busy again today and this afternoon. This afternoon the enemy subjected us to some heavy shellfire. Also heavy bombs about 12 inches, from trench mortars, not much damage. One bomb landed right amongst our stores and burst with great force. One fell amongst our men but did not explode. A little before this a large piece from one of the bombs which burst a good way off came straight for my happy home but got tangled up in a shirt that was hanging on a bush outside – then came and knocked a hole through the roof about 1 foot long but did no other damage. I am very thankful to say I wasn’t at home when it happened.” (Diary entry, 24 July 1915)
At the beginning of August, as summer reached its peak, Ernest Murray reflected on the conditions on Gallipoli.
“We have been having very hot weather here lately, hot and sweaty like the coastal weather in New South Wales. There are millions of flies; they get into our dug outs and drive us almost crazy. I think we are doing well for troops on active service – biscuits, cheese, bacon and jam are our usual rations while in stationary camp, with a little bread and fresh beef thrown in occasionally. We have had lot of hard work since landing here, no 8 hours in active service. I have been supervising work in the saps and tunnels for the past five or six weeks. There are many of us now who have been in the firing line for fourteen weeks and we are beginning to feel the need of a spell. I have seen most of what has been done. I have been hit a couple of times with spent shrapnel, and once had a fall of earth of me, and that has been the extent of my casualties. Of course it is inevitable that there should be a deal of sickness in a large military camp like this, but it is really remarkable how free from disease the whole place is. Vaccination and inoculation have proved a wonderful success this year. We have been charged with germs against typhoid and smallpox, and now we are to have a few millions more pumped into us to prevent cholera. By the time we get back we should be immune from every disease under the sun, that is if we can successfully dodge bullets and shrapnel. I have seen several of the Duntroon cadets here. They have had their full share of casualties. Mr. Clarke (George Clarke, chief steward at RMC) is a Lieutenant now, and so is Sergeant-Major Steele (Alexander Steele, instructor at RMC), the latter also a DCM for bravery in handling a machine gun while the enemy were advancing on him in large numbers. I hear Steele is at Heliopolis (in hospital), wounded a second time.” (Queanbeyan Age, 14 September 1915)
Jack Haydon from Bungendore was with the 6th Light Horse Regiment on the southern flank of the Anzac position in early August 1915.
“Right into it again; bags of bullets, spare shells, air crafts, a nice view of the ocean, a little hole to live in, miles of trenches, marmalade jam and plenty of opportunities to become a hero. That is the programme. Bungendore boys, when I last saw them, were well and hearty, also the Queanbeyan lads, all of whom just love to meet and yarn about the old spot. We are getting as much service as a man could hope for; in fact at times it slops over. I am just proud to be among the lads who are as game as bull ants of their native land. The Turks have already felt their sting and have some respect for it. There have been some wonderful escapes here. I have been hit three times already. A 4 point 7 blew my dug out to pieces; in fact I think that it is going yet. It injured my right ear and I had to take my ten seconds on the mat. We are having very warm weather, no rain, and nearly all Pharaoh’s plagues.” (Queanbeyan Age, 1 October 1915)
On 6 August the Anzacs attacked the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. It was a feint to distract from the main objective, the heights of Sari Bair to the north. Lone Pine left a deep impression on Ernest Murray.
“Today has been a very eventful day. Early in the forenoon howitzers and eighteen pounders began a heavy bombardment which became more intense as the day advanced. At times the bombardment of Turkish lines was terrific. About 3pm the 4th Battalion charged ‘The Lone Pine’ and took and held it. Bombardment has continued right into the night.”
Murray had been working on tunnelling towards the enemy trenches and that night he witnessed the results during another feint to distract the Turks.
“About midnight we blew two mines under the German Officers Trench and the 6th Battalion made an attempt to charge it but were met with a terrific fire and partly through bungling here again the movement was not a success. A good many lives being lost for nothing.” (Diary entries, 6-7 August 1915)
Murray visited Lone Pine in the aftermath of the battle of 6 to 9 August.
“I was repairing trenches today, another terrific bombardment lasting all day with only short intervals in between, appear to be going almost everywhere the enemy is established. I was in the trenches captured from the Turks a few days ago this afternoon (at Lone Pine). The sight there was awful. Hundreds of our boys lying about dead and in the open and right on the parapets and a lot even behind the trenches. In some places there were heaps of them. There are a lot of Turks lying about too, but there does not appear to be as many of them as our boys, though was told in the back trenches one could hardly get along for their dead bodies. The stench is awful and altogether the sight is sickening. Our fire trenches and theirs, now, are about 20 yards short and a great deal of bombing is being done. We held our position firmly though. The enemy put over more shells than ever these past two days.” (Diary entry, 10 August 1915)
Roger Moore was a former rugby player with the Queanbeyan Warrigals. He arrived on Gallipoli with the 18th Battalion on 19 August when three days later they were ordered to charge Hill 60. He wrote to his parents in Penrith on 24 August.
“We had our first engagement on Sunday, August 22, and I will never forget it. We marched for 16 hours with our packs to the firing line. At daybreak we had to charge three or four times up the hill and I can tell you it was cruel. The first charge was across a clearing, and the Turks were first sweeping it with their machine guns. Anyhow I got safely across. Most of my mates have gone in wounded. We took one or two of their trenches; then they counter-attacked on our right flank. They mowed us down. How I escaped I don’t know. I kept in my head one of Alexander’s hymns, ‘God Will Take Care of You’ and I’m sure He will. All I wish for is a good wash (none for four days), a shave and a feed and I can do with a little sleep – I have had about four hours out of 60. .. On Sunday I had nothing to eat all day, and was 12 hours without water. The country here is sandy and hilly with thorny bushes. All the hills are entrenched and look like so many pathways. At one place during the fighting I was crawling down a hill and a bullet went under me. I don’t know how many grazed me.” (Queanbeyan Age, 2 November 1915)
Percy Hincksman was the son of the Queanbeyan town clerk and served with the 7th Light Horse Regiment on the southern flank of the Anzac’s position on Gallipoli. After being hospitalised with bronchitis he wrote to Tom Warren in Queanbeyan on 25 August 1915 and describes life in the trenches.
“I am back here again well and strong. Things are very slow at present, we are still in the trenches; all we have to do is our shifts on the machine gun, day and night, two hours on and four off – so we have nothing to growl at, although we are always in the trenches, in our dugouts just at the back of the firing line, when we are off shift. Our menu for the day (cook it yourself, as no one will cook for you) is: Breakfast – oatmeal and fried bacon with fried bread if you can get it. Dinner – stew made out of biscuits broken up, bully beef and an onion or two if available. Tea – well this is the handout feed – eat up all scraps from the days issue, biscuit and jam, and a pint of tea to wash it down. This is the daily fare of the soldier, but I reckon we don’t have it too bad when you consider the thousands of troops here that have to be fed and looked after. Anyhow, you hear very little growling and everybody seems satisfied with what he gets; one cannot expect roast fowl, though how I could polish one off at the moment. We are getting quite a liking to living in the trenches; it will seem strange getting into a soft bed again and sitting at a table, but you would hardy believe how happy everybody seems here. Things go on day after day just the same; you get that way that nothing worries you and the sights you see don’t turn you at all. If a chap gets hit alongside of you, you take it as a matter of course: you get hard as nails.”
“I don’t know how long we are going to be here; I could tell you a lot, Tom, but these letters have to be censored, so you will understand that one cannot write much. (Norman) Royal (from Queanbeyan) got wounded, and (Charlie) Lee is away sick, (Tom) Maxwell is well; have not seen any of the other boys lately. Hope you and your people are well and that the rest of the boys of Queanbeyan are coming over to give us a hand to wipe the wiry Turk off the face of the earth.” (Queanbeyan Age, 29 October 1915)
Harry McInnes, in an extract from a letter to his family (dated 22 June 1916, Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt), reflected on his arrival on Gallipoli with the 12th Light Horse Regiment on 29 August 1915.
“I will never forget the first night that I was under gun fire and one cannot imagine what it is like; I had all sorts of things pictured in my mind and the first salute that we got when we were nearing Anzac was a gunboat shelling the Turk’s trenches right on the water’s edge. We went into our trenches the same evening only to be greeted by rifle and artillery fire. But one soon gets used to all that and takes a sleep whenever he can.” (Queanbeyan Age, 11 August 1916)
Erle Capes from Queanbeyan also arrived on Gallipoli on 29 August, landing with the 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance. A couple of weeks later he wrote to his mother.
“Received two letters dated 14th and 25th August on Sept. 11th. Glad to hear all is well at home. Surprised to know so many of the boys have volunteered: never thought _____ would have a fly. We live in holes in the ground – no tents in the trenches. It is a pleasure to see bread after bully beef and biscuits. Am doing pretty well myself, but one does not know how long it last. We expect to finish them (the Turks) in a few months. It would be no harm to send me some cake: parcels arrive pretty safely, so I might get it, and it would be a treat. Am still with my old pal, we share everything. Tell _____ I envy him in a way but we can’t all stop at home. Send me a pipe please, have plenty of tobacco but nothing to smoke it in. Let me know when the boys leave Australia, so that I can look out for them; also the name of the ship. Dysentery is very bad, there are more leaving sick with it than wounded. Have a touch of it myself, but not too bad at present.” (Queanbeyan Age, 19 November 1915)
Ernie Mayo wrote to his brother-in-law, John Winter, on 15 September. He refers to being in “two charges” six weeks previously – the failed attempt to seize Hill 60, the last major battle of the Gallipoli campaign.
“Am sitting in a dugout about 100 yards behind the firing line, writing this, for protection against any bullets that may be seeking a human target. Our big guns are speaking in the distance, their shells are whistling ‘Home, Sweet Home’ as they go overhead. I’ve been back in the firing line six weeks and in two charges. Hope some day I will be able to relate my experiences in a quieter place than this. The Kaiser is playing a losing game but it might take some time to convince him. I’ve been a fortnight without a wash and have not removed my clothes for ten days. Are we downhearted? No! Was pleased to hear about the new arrival (his nephew, Ernest Winter, born 1915) in your happy home, teach him to shoulder a rifle and I will be able to give him a bit of bayonet practice. The Federal Capital has altered since I left. I hope to be swinging the banjo around some of those stony ridges before long. It would be chance to get away from the noise for a while. I can hear an aeroplane, must have a ‘screw’ to see whose it is – not ours. PS. Must get to it now and make some pan cakes for tea, or what we call flap-jacks; flour and water, very tasty.” (Queanbeyan Age, 19 November 1915)
On 16 September Harry McInnes wrote to his father Gilbert. He refers to several light horsemen from the district.
“Received letters from home yesterday, needless to say how welcome they were. Glad Bywong Ball was such a success. Tell the girls I have received the papers and that the local ones get handed round to all the Queanbeyan and Bungendore lads. We are all close together; I see (Tom) Maxwell, (Michael) Scannell, (Percy) Hincksman (from Queanbeyan) and Nat Smith (from Bungendore) every day, they are O.K. It was reported that Percy Hincksman was wounded but it proved only a yarn, he was as right as rain yesterday morning. We are dodging the shot and shell pretty well so far, although they crack around us very freely sometimes, but we are quite used to them now. It was not true about Harry Tully catching our boat in Melbourne. I have not seen him since we left Sydney. The Sutton lads had hard luck losing the football cup the first match of the year. Tell them Dad that they had better come over and help me with this job that I have taken on, then I will give them a hand to get the cup back after the war. Charlie Lee is away sick and (Norman) Royal (from Queanbeyan) is wounded. Dave Jacombs from Bungendore was killed last night, poor boy. We have a visit now and again from an aeroplane. They do not do much harm.” (Queanbeyan Age, 16 November 1915)
Roger Moore, writing to a friend in Queanbeyan on 21 September, describes conditions as the weather began to cool down.
“We have been here five weeks and I’m thankful to say that I’m still alive, and have a whole ’shell’ so far, although I‘ve had one or two narrow shaves. Have been in two engagements; the first God knows I will never forget it; I lost all my tent mates in that go. One bullet grazed my arm and another hit under my chest; it makes a chap think of all his ‘evil doings’ and all those sort of things when they get that close. I was hit twice with shrapnel, but it never did much harm. On Sunday a bullet exploded whilst I was boiling some tea; bits caught me in the neck and arms just drawing the colour line, so you see I’ve been pretty lucky. The living is rough here, but that is what we expected. Rice is a luxury to me now; never would eat it before. Sometimes we get bread and a piece of fresh meat; still we are not faring too badly considering. We make ‘flap-jacks’ (flour and water), fry it and eat with jam; this is a delicacy among the boys. There are no complaints here regarding the price of butter as it is a thing of the past. Am in splendid health; have got quite brown. We have had very hot weather but now it is beginning to get cold. We have other things to trouble us here besides the Turks, namely flies by day (a chap has to shut his mouth quick while eating or they would follow the jam further) and fleas at night, and I can tell you they keep us busy. Have seen some terrible sights, too horrible to mention. The big guns are just starting to rattle, but one gets used to them; they made me a bit deaf for a while. Rifle fire is continuous of a day, and more so at night. I expect I have to go out tonight.” (Queanbeyan Age, 3 December 1915)
Ernie Mayo wrote home to his mother on 14 October thanking those at home for doing their bit.
“I’ve been out of the firing line for three weeks and in a rest camp with the Battalion. I do not know for how long. It seems quite a change to be out of hearing of the big guns and rifle fire. We will soon be having winter here. The children seem to be doing their share in the Red Cross work. I received the knitted socks safely, am wearing them now. I put them on one night in the trenches while the Turks were amusing themselves firing at our sandbags. Am pleased to see by the papers you sent me that our little town is doing its share for the sick and wounded soldiers.” (Queanbeyan Age, 7 December 1915)
Price Morgan was a Duntroon graduate who served as a section commander with a battery of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade on the southern flank of the Anzac position. On 18 November he was lamenting the lack of mail.
“There is no mail to hand again this week. Everyone here is disconsolate over the sinking of the steamer carrying the outgoing mail being sunk. But I think the loss of the incoming mail is a lot worse. Lost letters have a marvelously depressing influence on troops, almost as a bad as a slight reverse.” (Gallipoli: Untold Stories, p.250)
By November, thoughts of defeating the Turks on Gallipoli had all but evaporated.
“Today our Artillery has not fired a shot. Trying to deceive enemy into thinking we are evacuating – which it is believed he already thinks. Also practically no rifle fire in trenches.” (Diary of Ernest Murray, 25 November 1915)
Ernest Murray had grown up on the Monaro but at the end of November even he could feel the onset of winter.
“Some time last night snow set in accompanied by heavy wind – a few inches fallen and it is extremely cold and everywhere is sloppy. Snowed at intervals all day. Still very cold and ground frozen. On our 7 day reserve ration.” (Diary entry, 28 November 1915)
Tom Maxwell fought with the 7th Light Regiment on Gallipoli from May 1915 until the evacuation in December 1915. He wrote to his father a few weeks before leaving Anzac, as winter set in, and refers to several local soldiers as well as three of his brothers, Jack, Ted and Mick Maxwell.
“It is getting very cold here now. All the Queanbeyan chaps are away back in Cairo. There are only a few of us left who landed here at the start who have not been away, but I think I will go on the sick list and get away for a bit of a spell. This is not the game it is cracked up to be, I can tell you. Jim Guy (from Bungendore) has been away this last three months sick. I get a Queanbeyan paper sometimes from Harry McInnes. Young (Charlie) Lee and Norman Royal (from Queanbeyan) are home in England, Royal got hit very bad, but is pretty well alright now and will be back again soon. I suppose Jack is still at Brindabella, I notice none of that mob ever get their fighting sting out and take on this job for I think there will be a lot of men required before this scrap is over. How is the old mustang doing and what are Ted and Mick up to now?” (Queanbeyan Age, 25 January 1916)
Granville Ryrie was commanding officer of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade. He came from Michelago and represented the seat of Queanbeyan (which then included what is now the ACT) in the New South Wales parliament a few years before the war. He described the deteriorating conditions in a letter dated 4 December 1915.
“The weather has been something terrible, and is just about the limit of human endurance. Last week it rained, snowed, blew a blizzard and froze all at once. There was 3 inches of snow on the ground and the trenches are in an awful state. Many of the troops had no cover, and numbers are suffering from frostbite, and some will lose their toes. I never thought any place could be so cold. All water was frozen into blocks of ice, and stone jars, bottles and tin were burst. When the blizzard was at its height, and it was pitch black, the Turks attacked with bayonets and got right up to the front of our trenches, but our lads beat them off in fine style. So things have been fairly willing. Our fellows are getting played out after seven months continuous fighting in the trenches.” (Queanbeyan Age, 4 February 1916)
On 6 December the 21 year old Price Morgan witnessed a church service.
“I heard one of the battalions conducting the church service just above Shell Green. It was very impressive; the Jack over a rough table and all the fellows scattered about on the hillside listening. One fellow played the hymns on a cornet. ‘Fight the Good Fight’ drifted across the valley and along the beach as clear as could be. No preacher ever had a more reverent and attentive congregation than the hard fighting, hard swearing crowd who listened to their Chaplain.” (Gallipoli: Untold Stories, p.275)
By mid December the decision had been made to evacuate Gallipoli. Ernest Murray noted in his diary how the numbers of men began to dwindle as he too prepared to leave.
“More troops moving tonight. Appears to be troops leaving each night. A lot of work being done preparing winter quarters underground for troops. Large quantities of stores being destroyed. Everything points to total evacuation. Number Artillerymen – 2nd Field Coy. and part of 1st Field, A.M.C., etc left tonight. Had a few parting shots from Beachy Bill (a Turkish artillery battery).” (Diary entry, 13 December 1915)
Perhaps the final word should be left to Ryrie. On leaving Gallipoli, he wrote:
“The saddest I have ever seen were the men under me when they were leaving, as they looked back and saw the thousands of crosses that marked the resting places of so many young Australians who had fought and died for the Empire in vain.” (Queanbeyan Age, 15 February 1916)
Patsy Adam-Smith, The Anzacs, Penguin Group (Australia), 2014
Jonathan King and Michael Bowers, Gallipoli: Untold stories from war correspondent Charles Bean and front-line Anzacs, Random House Australia, 2005
Diary of Ernest Murray, courtesy of the Murray family
Alexander Steele letter, AWM Collections Record 2DR/0409
Queanbeyan Age, 2 July 1915, 13 July 1915, 13 August 1915, 17 August 1915, 18 August 1915, 14 September 1915, 1 October 1915, 29 October 1915, 2 November 1915, 16 November 1915, 19 November 1915, 3 December 1915, 7 December 1915, 25 January 1916, 4 February 1916, 15 February 1916, 11 August 1916