Heroes of the Dardanelles [6 June 1915]

[Editor: An article about the early days of the Gallipoli campaign, including extracts from the letters of Australian soldiers. Published in The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 6 June 1915.]

Heroes of the Dardanelles

Graphic accounts of the fighting at Gaba Tepe — West Australians in the thick of the fight — They behave gloriously — But suffer heavily

By last week’s mail arrived the first batch of letters from Westralians wounded in the landing and early engagements at the Dardanelles. These confirm the idea that the landing at the Dardanelles was one of the most daring operations of the war — daring to the point almost of recklessness — and it was only the dash, brilliance and devil-may-care bravery of the troops entrusted with the work that carried things through.

The Australians were vastly outnumbered, and the Turks, under the guidance of German officers, had no doubt made extensive preparations for the reception of the enemy. Many of our chaps were killed or disabled without firing a shot.

The Australians coolness and good humor never deserted them even in the heat of battle, and many and humorous are the stories told in this regard, chief among them being the yarn of the Australian who, chasing a Turk with a bayonet, yelled out to the fast-fleeing son of Mahomet, “Here, stop you! I want to back you against Postle!” In bayonet work our fellows were superb, and it was fear of the bayonet to a great extent that kept the Turks from employing their overwhelming numbers in crushing our men. Captain Annear, of W.A., was shot dead early in the piece, and many other well-known Westralians shared a like fate. Our losses were heavy, it is known, and the venture a most hazardous one. But it has been the means of writing in letters of blood the glories of the Australian deeds in the grim and bloody history of the worst war the world has ever known.

Hereunder are some of the letters from our wounded, and thrilling reading they make:—

Corporal Fred. Murphy, of the Machine Gun Section, 11th Battalion, writes as under from Palace Hospital, Cairo, on Saturday, May 8, to his father, Mr. F. E. Murphy, musician, of Perth:—

“I am sitting in an empty fountain, of which there are five, in the lovely gardens surrounding Ghezireh Palace. I have been sent down from the Dardanelles with __. Our battalion was the first of the whole troops to land, and we had a very exciting time of it. I do not know if you knew, but we spent 10 weeks at Lemnos Island (about 40 miles from the Dardanelles) on the troop-ship, and I never saw such a collection of ships. There were several battleships, including the Lizzie, and big Cunard liners. The island is inhabited by Greeks. The children are absolutely beautiful, never saw such healthy looking children anywhere, and our idea of Steak-Oyster Greek was shattered when we saw these people. The waiting there got very monotonous, and we were glad when we made a move on Saturday, April 24. We went to Tenedos in the troop-ship, and from there we went on destroyers. I might here state that Captain Dixon Hearder, the solicitor of Fremantle, took Mr. Peat’s place when he was sent back to Australia.

“It was half-past 4 on Sunday morning, April 25, that we saw the dim cliffs of the Turkish coast. We could see other destroyers on either side racing with us toward the shore, and it was getting lighter every minute. When our destroyer got about 50 yards from the shore small boats were brought up alongside, and then we could see the first three boat-loads landing on the shore. The silence was violently broken by furious rifle and machine-gun fire from the cliff overlooking the beach from a range of about a hundred yards. Bullets were hitting the crowded destroyer, and yet somehow or other we took it very calmly and got our guns into the boats alongside.

“We then towed the boats under fire into the shore by a pinnace, but the tow-rope broke, and we had to jump overboard with all our gear on, and the guns and ammunition boxes besides. The water fairly took my breath away, and the bullets were making little spurts all round me. I eventually got on the beach and threw down my haversack and took cover behind it while I got my wind. In the meantime we heard rousing cheers from half way up the hill, and saw our boys with bayonets fixed scaling it as if it was flat country, and the Turks were running for their lives. When we got to the top I took my putties off and tried to dry them. A Turkish battery down the shore was shelling the boats that were then landing, and we were sitting round in groups getting our breath, watching a battleship blow rats out of this battery. The ship found the magazine, and, by Jove, you ought to have seen it lift into the air. No more battery after that! In the meantime the Turks had completely disappeared, so we proceeded down a big gully and up on the next ridge, which we found was entrenched ready for us, only we soon made them to face the opposite way. They did not fire another shot until our aeroplane came up and went over their lines; then they opened fire on it, and, my word, there was a row! Then the fighting started, and we were in the trenches all day, while they tried to blow us out with shrapnel. We had any amount killed and wounded out in the open, and I have to thank God that I never got a scratch. On Sunday afternoon the Turks could have overrun us had they had enough courage. We were being hemmed in, and none of us took any care at all, as we thought the end was coming, and we were consequently just walking round among the bullets.

“Sergeant Hallahan got one through the fleshy part of the neck, a boulder fell on Snowy White’s head, another of us was missing, Webster was firing the gun and Walther kneeling up alongside of him. We were told a place where we could enfilade the Turks, and so Walther picked up the tripod, Webster the gun, and I two boxes of ammunition, and we rushed over the hill under heavy rifle fire. When I reached them Webster was lying on the ground, and so was the gun, and Walther was trying to drag Webster into a shallow trench near by. The tripod was lying on the ground with the legs sticking far up in the air, so I crawled over to it and folded the legs up, for the Turks were taking aim by it, as they knew we were lying near it. I then helped Walther to drag Webster along a few feet, but it hurt him too much, although he was cracking jokes all the time. Taking my haversack off so that I could run better I rushed under fire back to the trench to get a stretcher, and in the meantime M’Inerney went up there, and I found afterwards that they dragged him into the trench, and the three of them lay on the top of each other in the shallow trench for half an hour until dark, when the firing died down a lot, and they were able to get him back to the trench, and from that on a stretcher down to the beach and on to the hospital ship. As far as I know nobody has been killed in our section, although Smith and Walther have accounted for six or seven hundred Turks between them. The gun was in a lovely position when I left, and try as they did to push us out of it with shrapnel and all sorts, we were still going strong on Thursday, 29th, when I got injured. From Sunday to Thursday I was repairing the guns, sending supplies into the trench (water, food, ammunition, etc.) The boys call ammunition ‘Turkish delight!’

“Every night the Turks blow a trumpet, beat tin cans, yell out ‘Allah and Mahomet,’ charge up to about within a hundred yards, and then turn round and run like sheep when they see the tips of our bayonets in the moonlight. Several German officers have dressed up in Australian or New Zealand uniforms, and have got into our trenches, giving orders, etc. They are quickly found out. On Thursday certain forces relieved us in the trenches, but we could not come out with the guns until dark, so I went down to the beach with Rockfort, and on Thursday, 29th (evening), I got the colonel to give me six men to go with me to bring down all our gear to the beach, where the regiment had 48 hours’ rest. We all had to report so that they could get the casualties in the battalion. The colonel told me there were 150 killed and wounded, 450 had reported, and the remaining 450 were missing, but our men were mixed up in the firing line with the New Zealanders and every other battalion, and I am sure that there would be at least another 200 who had not reported.

“I slept all day Thursday in the dug-out near the beach, and in the afternoon went for a swim. When I came out a shell lobbed just where I had been bathing. In the evening, when I was taking six men up, we had to cross a ridge under fire, and I fell into a deep communication trench. The man behind me twisted his knee. I was carried down to the hospital on the beach, where I stayed all night, and the next day I was taken aboard the hospital ship, which was lying about a mile off shore. We came to Alexandria on the same night (Monday, 3rd), and arrived by hospital train in Cairo and by motor ambulance to Ghezireh Palace, which is right on the banks of the Nile, about ten minutes’ ride from the centre of Cairo by train. This note paper was given to me by an English lady. There are a lot of English ladies helping in the hospitals, and they give us cigarettes, matches, note paper and flowers. It is now Saturday, 8th, and I have spent a happy week at the Palace, which is unsurpassed for Oriental magnificence. The ward I am in is a tremendous marble hall, with a glorious centre flower in the ceiling and the most glorious chandelier you ever saw. The floor is covered with tiles and different-colored marble, and the place is surrounded with a magnificent garden with a big grotto and five fountains in it. I suppose the garden would be about four times the size of the gardens at the corner of Barrack-street, and something similar in appearance. We expect at any minute to go to the Alexandria rest home, or convalescent home, where I will be about three weeks. They are inclined to think it will be a long time before I can run about again as I did on the memorable Sunday, April 25.”

Writes another of our boys, “Chocolate Soldier” Jack Williams, to “The Sunday Times,” from Heliopolis, Egypt:—

“It’s not much good my writing from a news point of view because of the censor, but there are one or two things you will be interested, but sorry, to hear. One of the first to fall on landing at the Dardanelles was Sergeant ___, who was shot through the heart, while on the left flank ___ was also killed. Our brigade (the third) was the landing party, and landed under a hail of shrapnel, machine-gun and explosive bullets, but they advanced with fixed bayonets. The brigade consists of 4000 men, infantry, from W.A., S.A., Tasmania and Queensland, and these, brave to a man, drove back 80,000 Turks and German officers for two miles over very rough county. Ian Hamilton said that they almost did the impossible, and that it was the most wonderful feat in history. But it left very few ‘gropers’ standing unhurt. Perhaps the wowsers will now ease off condemning these notorious scoundrels (?) who never knew fear at the Dardanelles, and were sacrificed for the landing of the rest, and took and held an almost impregnable position for the remainder of the Allies. The letters about our chaps’ wrong-doing in Egypt have been disgusting. We know there are bound to be a few go a bit over the odds, but those that make such a song of it and try to ruin the name of such a fine body of good, noble men here to fight for their country’s freedom are worse themselves than the few who played the fool. Dr. Stewart, erst of Perth, is here with the 12th Battalion, in which two W.A. companies are. I know you will be very sorry to hear about ___ and ___; they were both brave fellows. Don M’Leod, from the Nor’-West, carried a lieutenant out of danger. . . . Nearly all our officers fell, and all game. Bob Campbell is here in hospital with me. Also met Ted Arundel, the saddler. He is a sergeant in the Light Horse, and fat as a whale. . . . The boys all call the big Pyramid at Mena Drewy Dyson!”

(In the second letter quoted the names of the two men mentioned by the writer as killed early in the fight are withheld, as though they are both well-known Westralians nothing official has up to time of writing come through with regard to them, and their names have not appeared among either the killed or wounded in any of the casualty lists published to date. — Ed. “S.T.”)

Another Westralian’s narrative of his experiences in the glorious exploit:— “Just a line to let you know that I am still on the planet, though ‘out of action.’ On the Sunday morning, about 1 o’clock, we set sail for the Gallipoli Peninsula aboard battleships and destroyers. All went well until we attempted to land, and then the heavens seemed to belch forth a hail of lead. When the ships got as close as possible to the shore we disembarked into small boats and pulled ashore for our lives. They let us get nearly ashore before they opened fire, and it was by this about 4.15 a.m. Our orders were not to fire a shot before daylight, and these were strictly carried out. There were supposed to be 60,000 Turks ashore to meet us, and they opened fire with machine guns, shrapnel and rifles from the cliffs, which were about 400 yards inland. It was past description! Our chaps were falling everywhere, but we pushed forward and managed to get a little cover. We then fixed bayonets and charged up these cliffs, which had a grade of one in five. These tactics seemed to bamboozle the Turks, and they tried all sorts of means to stop us. We captured a machine gun on the right flank at the point of the bayonet, and turned it on them. Later we managed to set to the top of the cliffs, and had a lot more ‘pigsticking.’ It was great to see our boys after them, and they went for their lives at the sight of cold steel. They used to throw away their rifles and hold up their hands when they were cornered. We then waited for reinforcements, and made another advance to another lot of cliffs. It was while going up these that a bullet struck me through the sole of the boot. It knocked me clean over the cliff, and I fell about 30 feet. I lay there for a good while, and found I could not walk. There was another fellow with me, shot through the foot, and it was while we were lying here that we spotted a sniper only about 25 yards from us. On investigation we found that his left hand was injured, but he was still having a go at some of our lads. We then held a ‘council of war,’ and as he had not seen us decided to sneak up and try and settle him. So we crawled over to him as quietly as we could and cracked him over the head with our entrenching tool handles (our rifles had been previously lost). I managed to get his rifle, and he was soon with the angels! I still have the rifle, and will try and bring it back with me. I was taken to the beach about an hour after this, and then to the hospital ship, where we were treated tip-top. I am now in the base hospital at Heliopolis, six miles from Cairo. Have been under the X-ray twice, and they say I’ve chipped a small piece of bone off somewhere in my hip joint . . . It was pretty rotten getting knocked out so quick after all the training, but I mustn’t complain, as I’ve got out of it very light indeed. Some of my poor mates never fired a shot. The Australian lads have made a name for Australia that will live for ever, and I naturally feel proud to be one of them, especially of the Third Brigade, who were pronounced most efficient and chosen for the landing. And I think we ought to be in Constantinople before long. I hope to get right soon enough to be back with them for that job. The sooner we do this the sooner we’ll get a chance of trying ourselves with those Germans.”

Private Crabbe, stretcher-bearer with the 11th Battalion, writes to us from Kasr-el-Ainy Hospital, Cairo, under date May 5:—

“I thought I would try and scribble a few lines which may be of some interest to you and the public of the good old West. As I write I lie in the above hospital, wounded in the head from a shell, which happened a few days after landing on foreign soil; but now I am getting on splendidly, and I am looking forward to going back into the thick of it all again. The morning we started fighting I shall never forget. It was cruel to see comrades lying around wounded and dead, but we fought on animated by thoughts of victory and honor, which I believe we have got so far, according to our great friends the navy. Our battalion (the 11th) was the advance party for all the Australian troops, which everyone says is a great honor for any battalion to have. So being the first to land in Turkey our casualties were greater than those of the rest.

“It was grand to see our lads chasing the enemy over the hill. We took up a position, entrenched there, and fought on until our reinforcements arrived. Then we gave Jack the Turk what-for. Coming over from Gallipoli in the boat fitted up for wounded the fellows on board could not do enough for us. We arrived in Alexandria safely from the boats, and we were put on the hospital train for Cairo. On the train we were greatly cared for by the Indian A.M.C., who are fine fellows. Arriving in Cairo we were put in the motor ambulance and taken to the hospital, where we were put to bed after having our wounds carefully dressed and something to eat. The nurses are splendid, and do their very best to make us comfortable. It is good to be tucked in bed by a nurse after so much sleeping in the sand. As my head is beginning to ache now I must close with kind regards and best wishes to all the Golden West.”

Our correspondent encloses a few lines, of verse which he transcribed from a London paper:—

Kitchener sat in his London den,
Silent and grim and grey;
Making his plans with an iron pen,
Just in Kitchener’s way.

And he saw where the clouds rose dark and dun,
And all that it meant he knew;
We shall want every man who can shoulder a gun
To carry this thing right through.

Brave Kitchener! Say what you want;
No one shall say you nay;
And the world shall know where our bugles blow.
We’ve a man at the head to-day.

Jellicoe rides on the grey North seas,
Watching the enemy’s lines;
Where their Lord High Admirals skulk at ease,
Inside their hellish mines.

They have drunk too deep to the boasted toast.
They have vowed top mad a vow;
What do they think on their watch to-night?
What toast are they drinking now?

Brave Jellicoe! Call them again;
And whenever they take the call,
Show them the way, give them their day,
And settle them once for all.

And French is facing the enemy’s front
Stubbornly day by day;
Taking the odds and bearing the brunt
Just in the Irishman’s way.

And he hears the message that makes him glad
Ring through the smoke and flame —
“Fight on, boys!” “Stick to them, lads!”
“Jack’s at the same old game!”

So Kitchener plans in his London town,
French is standing at bay;
Jellicoe’s ships ride up and down
Holding the sea’s highway.

And you that loaf where the skies are blue,
And play by a petticoat hem;
These are the men that are fighting for you,
What are you doing for them?

Bravo! then, for the men who fight,
To hell with the men who play;
It’s a fight to the end for honor and friends.
It’s a fight for our lives to-day.

The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 6 June 1915, p. 28

Editor’s notes:
A.M.C. = Army Medical Corps

Cunard = a company specializing in cruise liners; founded by Samuel Cunard in 1840 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company, re-named in 1879 as the Cunard Steamship Company

Drewy Dyson = Andrew (“Drewy”) Dyson (ca. 1858- 1927), a well-known character in Perth (WA), described as the “fattest man in Perth” (a popular Perth expression to describe a fat person was “as fat as Drewy Dyson”) [see: “Andrew (“Drewey”) Dyson” [user-created list], National Library of Australia]

dun = dark, dusky; dull; gloomy (may also refer to a greyish-brown or sandy-grey colour, especially regarding the coat of a horse; may also refer to a horse of such colour)

French = John French (1852-1925), a British Army officer who served in the Boer War and the First World War; he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1913

game = [1] possessing a fighting spirit, plucky; eager, ever ready, or willing to have a go at something new or challenging (as in the phrase “game for anything”)

game = [2] activity; usual practice (as in the phrase “same old game”)

groper = sandgroper (slang): someone from Western Australia (a term arising from the vast sandy deserts of Western Australia; also, “sandgroper” is the name of a burrowing insect found in Western Australia, belonging to the Cylindrachetidae family)

Jellicoe = John Rushworth Jellicoe (1859-1935), a British admiral

Kitchener = Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916), a British Army officer who served in the Mahdist War (the Anglo-Sudan War), the Boer War, and the First World War; he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1909

pigsticking = the practice of hunting wild boar with spears, usually on horseback; in the context of war, it refers to stabbing someone or something with a bayonet (a spike bayonet was informally known as a “pigsticker”, being a pointed spike attachment for a firearm, rather than a knife or short sword attachment)

pinnace = a ship’s boat (may also refer to a light sailing ship)

Postle = Arthur Postle (1881-1965), an Australian professional runner, who held several world records for sprinting

S.T. = The Sunday Times newspaper (Perth, Western Australia)

Westralian = someone from Western Australia

wowser = someone who is puritanical, bigoted, censorious, or overly moralistic, particularly those who aim to force their morals upon others (in the past, the word was especially applied to temperance campaigners)

[Editor: Corrected “my, word” to “my word”.]

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