From ‘Gallipoli’ by Peter FitzSimons, published by Random House
Leaving Albany, November 1
Every day, for the past five days, it has been the same thing. Rumours have swirled among the 36 transport ships and their three escorting warships at anchor just outside the inner harbour of Western Australia's Albany that the following day the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Force will be on their way to England – but the following day dawns, and nothing has happened.
At last, however, solid, confirmed word has been received of departure on the morrow. And now, after weeks of delays, dashed hopes and false rumours, it is actually happening! For with the grey dawn there is a flurry of activity of tenders and barges among the ships, even as all eyes had turned to the flagship, Orvieto, of the transports – bearing General Bridges and his staff – its massive form illuminated by the red sun that rises above a picturesque island out to seaward, bearing a lighthouse sharply silhouetted against a sky, getting a little foggy as the funnels of all the ships pour steam and smoke from boilers now getting up to steam.
As described by the Special Commissioner with the Australian Troops for The Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew "Banjo" Paterson – aboard the troopship Euripides – the whole scene is wondrously picturesque.
"The sea is dull, still grey, without a ripple. A vague electric restlessness is in the air. What are those coming out of the inner harbour? Two grim, gliding leviathans, going majestically out to sea to take their places as guardians of the fleet."
Yes, Sydney and Melbourne are here and getting into position on the flanks. And the flagship Minotaur will shortly lead them out with Ibuki joining them in two days' time.
"There is something uncanny in the absolute silence with which everything is done. They glide past the frowning cliffs, whose feet are awash with the sea, through the long lines of waiting transports, and are soon lost to sight steaming right out into the eye of the sun."
And now, Banjo, look there!
As the correspondent watches closely, an oily rush of lightly churning water is visible at the stern of Minotaur. Her screws are turning.
"At least a thousand pairs of field glasses," Banjo records, "are centred on her anchor chain. Link by link it comes in- board, and the leader of the fleet is under way. Noiselessly the great ship gathers speed and moves ahead through the waiting fleet; and, as she goes out, the vessels that are to follow her in line get silently under way and fall in line behind her."
They are moving.
"As gracefully as a fleet of swans after some great leader, they drop into place and soon are rising to the sea."
Among all the Australian ships, of course, are the distinctively greyish-black transport ships of the New Zealanders – all of them with all black funnels, and as the ship of Banjo Paterson streams past, the sailors aboard give a rousing haka.
"Ake, Ake, Ake, Kia Kaha," they cry, all with impressive and synchronised gesticulations, their words translating, Banjo says, to "we will fight on for ever and ever."
As opposed to the Australians, a large portion of the New Zealanders are experienced professional soldiers. None more so than Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone, the Commanding Officer of the Wellington Infantry Battalion. A good, God-fearing officer of the Old School himself, he is a 55-year-old French-speaking farmer turned solicitor turned military officer from Taranaki, who plays the piano like a maestro and yet whose major passion is his wife and three young children from his second marriage back in Stratford, and five older children nearby. A strong advocate of compulsory training, he had seen this war coming from a long way off and been appointed commanding officer of the 11th Regiment Taranaki Rifles in 1911. Despite his age, when war broke out he had immediately volunteered his services for a senior posting and been placed in charge of the Wellingtons, who he has been training fearfully hard. (The only saving grace for his soldiers is that the "old man" pushed himself as hard as he did them. And as he is a solid six foot, and hard as nails, no-one was much inclined to grumble too loudly ... just to stay on the safe side.) Malone's men are spread among three ships, while the Otago Infantry Battalion, the Canterbury Infantry Battalion and the Auckland Infantry Battalion are spread across another four ships between them.
As Banjo Paterson noted for his readers – in the Herald eight days later – "thirty thousand fighting men, representing Australasia, are under way for the great war".
In a convoy strung out over nine miles of ocean, they are bound west across the vast Indian Ocean, heading back to the "Old Country," to be trained on England's Salisbury Plains, to get them in shape to get stuck into the Hun. If only the war is not over before they get there.
Now while most of the Australians look with lingering gaze to their homeland slowly sinking below the horizon to the east, one man, in particular, is looking, at least spiritually, to England directly.
Four years earlier at Newcastle, NSW, 18-year-old John Simpson Kirkpatrick had first arrived on Australian shores, and liked it so much from the first he had jumped ship and spent the intervening years cane cutting and doing station work in Queensland, coalmining in the Illawarra, goldmining in WA, working as a steward, fireman and greaser – and even "waltzing his matilda" from farm to farm in Queensland as a swagman.
Now, with the outbreak of war, the strapping young man has quickly joined up under "John Simpson" – to avoid trouble for having previously jumped ship – in the hope, among other things, of getting back to his ageing widow mother, and his sister, at South Shields on Tyne.
Jack's great passion in life, beyond his love for his mother and sister, is animals. No stray dog had ever come into his orbit without getting a pat or a spare bit of sausage if he had one, no cat a caress, no horse a hug. Even now, as he leaves Australia, tucked inside his shirt-front is a baby possum that one of his tent-mates had found in camp, and Jack has effectively adopted, feeding and watering it as if his own baby. But Simpson's possum is far from the only Australian native fauna now heading west, as many other soldiers have smuggled everything from kangaroos to wallabies to koalas, tucked away into great-coats and the like!
As to what part of the army Jack would join, that has been sorted. The muscular 22-year-old with the strong streak of independence is not only physically suited to be a stretcher-bearer, but there is something else besides ...
As one of his comrades, Sergeant Oscar Hookway, would later recount, "he was ... too human to be a parade ground soldier, and strongly disliked discipline; though not lazy he shirked the drudgery of 'forming fours', and other irksome military tasks." So stretcher-bearer it is, specifically as part of the 3rd Field Ambulance.
Reaching foreign shores
Arriving at the docks of Alexandria, Egypt, on December 5, a band greets them with a rendition of a new song that has been getting popular of late, Advance Australia Fair. The men then have to push through hundreds of young Arab urchins, boys and girls, begging them for baksheesh. Just beyond, hundreds of peddlers and hawkers want to sell them everything from wheelbarrows to cart their gear in, to rings and jewellery taken straight from the tombs in the pyramids, to an original piece of the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on, to one of the actual 30 pieces of silver that Judas was paid off with. Yours, for just 50 piastres, a little less than half a pound!
All over the quay are low four-wheeled carts – measuring about 3 feet by 8 feet – attached to what the troops instantly begin referring to as "Arab stallions", but are, in fact, donkeys.
Well, here are some of our animals. Though the koalas and possums smuggled aboard by the Australian troops have perished for want of the right food on the trip over – and at least one of the kangaroos with the convoy had taken one big jump too many, to finish in the middle of the Indian Ocean – here now is a surviving Old Man Kangaroo, who refuses to budge from the wharf. And nor does Old Man particularly care for the large crowd of Egyptians who have gathered to see the newcomers and are now staring with sheer amazement at this extraordinary-looking creature.
Open-mouthed the locals stare, while the kangaroo merely glances at them.
Alas, when the kangaroo takes just a couple of bounds in the direction of the gathered natives it is met with a melee of madness as, with "ear-splitting yells, some hundreds of Alexandrians made record time in seeking safety from the 'ferocious' beast".
Ah, how the Australians laugh.
Into the inferno
At dawn on April 25, 1915, they approach the shores of Gallipoli.
Among the senior Australian officers on the boats, still being towed to the shore by the steamboats, now just after 4am there is confusion. In their briefings, they had been told to expect to see ahead of them a flat sandy beach, giving way to 150-200 yards of flats. But from what they can see in the dimness of the now near shore, there is nothing like that. Instead, the lightly gurgling white water of the lapping shore just ahead looks to be practically at the foot of massive hills, one jutting knoll of which looks all of 200 feet high.
"Tell the Colonel," flotilla commander Commander Charles Dix hisses, "that the damn fools have taken us a mile too far north!"
Some 75 yards from the shore, the boats are let loose from the steamboats, as now the four seamen allotted to each boat take up the four oars and begin hauling, no easy task in such heavy boats.
And stroke. And stroke. And stroke. Floating phantoms on the water, gliding to their goal ...
And then it happens. A single shot rings out in the silent stillness ... as nerves jangle and soldiers instinctively hold their own rifles closer.
Is it a random shot in the dark, or something else?
"Look at that!" hisses a son of South Australia, Captain Raymond Leane, in one of the forward boats, now approaching the Turkish shore. Against the ethereal glow of the eastern sky, on the clifftop, stands the ghostly silhouette of a man ...
An uncertain, inquiring voice rings out, in a foreign language ...
Perhaps 20 seconds later come flashes of rifles in the distance as a volley of shots whistle over them.
"Hullo!" an Australian soldier calls, "now we're spotted."
And then, just as rain follows drizzle, and storms often follow rain, it begins in earnest as for those in boats in front of where one platoon of 70 Turks is positioned, fire is furiously poured upon them, with the bullets beginning to splash in the water very close.
"They want to cut that shooting out," one soldier notes wryly, "somebody might get killed."
And then one of the men in the first boats is killed, slumping forward with a bullet through his head, with some parts of his brain splattering those behind with a sickly wetness. And then another man groans, and slips sideways, as oars are splintered and boats suddenly holed.
Such groans, gurgles, death rattles and impacts are accompanied by the surprisingly melodic hum of bullets soaring overhead, and the staccato rhythm being kept by the bullets splashing into the water all around them. Private "Combo" Smith of the 11th Battalion looks up and quips to Lieutenant "Snowy" Howe, "Just like little birds, ain't they Snow?" The entire boat rocks with the soldiers' laughter, despite themselves.
Notwithstanding the shots now raining on them, if all goes well, it is possible they will be in Constantinople by nightfall. "Make a landing where you can, lads," an officer roars, "and hold on!"
As soon as the bow of the first boats touch the Turkish shore about 4.15am, the first of the Australian soldiers of the 9th and 10th Battalions of the 3rd Brigade jump into three feet of water and begin scrambling forward on the slippery round stones beneath their boots, eager to get to grips on the crunchy, gravelly beach ahead, which extends only about 20 yards ... still looking for the 200 yards of open land they know awaits them before they get to the first steep incline.
But it's not there! There is just this small beach tucked into near-cliffs, from the top of which a "fierce rifle fire", a "perfect hail of bullets", is now sweeping over them.
As they stagger forwards, their clothes and backpacks suddenly heavy with water, many of their rifles are soon choked with sand and gravel.
The first men on the "beach" – though Bondi on a blistering day it ain't – are soon joined by the soldiers of the 11th Battalion, who have landed a little to the north.
Together they help each other – "Here, take off my pack, and I'll take off yours" – while they take furtive looks around.
Nothing of the topography looks the way it is meant to, and in the hurly-burly of landing, all of the platoons have got mixed up – all while bullets from on high continue to be a menace.
Some lucky ones manage to get shelter behind a rough sandbank, while others have been landed in spots where there is no protection at all on the sandy slopes.
But one officer, who with his men has been among the first to land, is particularly quick. "Fix bayonets, lads," he sings out, "and up we go."
Just as they have been trained, as they have done so many times in Australia, in Egypt, and more recently at Lemnos, the soldiers fix bayonets with one smooth movement.
And now they form into a rough line and – "Forward!" – marching as to war, charge at the first enemy trenches, just 50 yards away from where they have landed.
As they charge, the roar goes up from dozens of sons of Adelaide, Whytecliffe, Woodville, St Peters, Enoggera, Brisbane, Kilcoy, Perth and so many places between:
"Come on, Australia!"
"Australia for ever!"
"Come on, boys!"
"Give it to 'em, boys!"
For his actions on the night of August 29, 1915, and the early hours of the following morning, Lieutenant Hugo Throssell will be awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery, leading his comrades of the 10th Light Horse against an overwhelming number of Turks.
Right by Throssell in the trenches, young Frank McMahon, the 19-year-old West Australian who has been such a warrior since coming forward, sights a German officer at a good distance, behind a mass of more Turks, throwing clods of earth at them as he tries to get them to keep moving forward. It is too good an opportunity to miss.
McMahon takes careful aim, as does Ferrier, and they fire simultaneously. The German officer drops on the instant, and of course both men claim the kill.
"It's been my ambition ever since I enlisted to get a German officer," McMahon announces, "and now I am satisfied."
So enthused is he that he half-stands up to get another shot at any officer he can see when his head suddenly snaps back and half explodes. As he falls back, a Turkish bomb lands right on his torso and blows him to pieces.
There is no time to grieve.
For with another collective cry of "Allah! Allah! Allah!" the Turks are clearly preparing for a mass rush forward.
But Throssell has his own ideas. In his view, it is important that the Turks know that the Australians are now here, the ones he fancies the Turks fear most.
"Shout and yell, boys," he calls to his men, "and cooee like the devil." And so they do.
On Throssell's further orders, his men wait until the Turks are just 10 yards away, and then the surviving Australians of the 10th Light Horse stand, some on the parapet, and just as Throssell has instructed, deliver, shouting and cheering to make it sound like they are 300 strong in the dimness of it all.
As the Turks cry "Allah! Allah! Allah!" they are met with equally passionate cries of "Coo-ee! Coo-ee! COO- EEEEEEEE!"
The competing cries fill the night. "Allah!"
"COO-EEEEEEE!" And so it goes.
"We cooeed until you'd have thought we were a mob of drunken bushmen riding home from town on a Saturday night," one of the soldiers would recall.
And it works, too! For suddenly the Turkish charge falters about 10 yards away from the Australians, and some even "bolted back amongst the bushes".
Too late for the rest. For the Australian now open fire at point-blank range, until the carnage is catastrophic.
"We just blazed away until our rifles got red hot and the bolts jammed," Throssell would recount, "then we picked up the rifles left by the wounded and those killed.
Twenty yards was about our longest range, and ... I think I must have fired a couple of hundred, and when we were wondering how we could stand against such numbers, the Turks turned and fled."