Thursday, 23 April 2015

In memory of those who died on the rocky Mediterranean peninsula

GALLIPOLI 1915 ...

‘Things were awful, dead and wounded men for our companions at all times. I saw so much suffering and death that it appeared to me to be the only thing to look forward to and expect at any minute.'
My word, our chaps are savage when they are fighting. I think the Gurkhas are ladies compared with Australians in a charge with their blood up.’

‘We live in dugouts cut in the side of the hill just like rabbits.'

'We are giving the Turks all the fight they want. They are very frightened of the bayonet. They squeal like blue hell when they get a touch.’

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and above are extracts from letters written by men who fought there, taken from my book Letters from the Trenches. Much will be written about the barbaric fighting on that rocky peninsula, the merciless Turkish enemy, and the huge toll levied by heat and disease during the campaign. So below are two letters from my book that reflect upon aspects of Gallipoli that are perhaps less talked about. One defends the Turks as honest, clean fighters - an opinion voiced by other soldiers too. The second reveals that the Mediterranean winter weather was every bit as severe as the scorching summer.

Private Ernest Hough
Australian Private Ernest Hough was a tram driver from New South Wales who enlisted at the beginning of the war when he was 30 and served as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli. In a letter home, he poured scorn on reports in Australian newspapers that the Turkish enemy was committing atrocities, and suggested such reports came from men who had experienced little of the fighting: 'Most of them were written by chaps that were on the shore from six to 24 hours before being wounded,' wrote Hough, adding sarcastically 'and they saw more than we, that have been now four months continually fighting.' He continued:

'We often read, for instance, of how our wounded have been mutilated by the Turks, and that is all rot, I can tell you in all sincerity, and I am sure the men of the battalion to which I belong will tell you the same, that is, the members that have been right through [the fighting]. The Turks have fought a good clean fight and are still fighting that way. I know of several instances wherein our wounded have been treated kindly by the Turks, and in no case to my knowledge has one case been proved where they have done anything offside. I think in justice to our enemies, that this should be said of them. Of course, I know what the Turk is capable of, but I do not think he is game to start, for he realises as well as we do that he will  receive just as much as he sends with compound interest added.'

The second letter was written in December 1915 by Private Sydney Town, a British soldier of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He describes to his brother the atrocious winter weather that troops endured at Gallipoli at the end of 1915, shortly before the peninsula was evacuated. A heavy rainstorm struck on 26 November and lasted three days, flooding trenches, drowning soldiers, and washing unburied corpses into the lines. It was followed by a blizzard at Suvla in early December, during which more men died from exposure. Like so many Great War soldiers, Town put a brave face on things:

4 December 1915

'Dear Brother, a line or two just to say your parcel arrived here the last day of Nov ... The apples had gone soft but not bad and had a spirity taste. The other cakes were hard but toasted all right. I am glad to say that I am keeping well. We had a bad storm here last weekend. The rain came down in torrents and the trenches were running with water 7 or 8 inches deep. Next day we had frost and snow and for three nights the weather was very severe.'

Private Town talked of men suffering from frost-bitten feet and rheumatism, and continued:

'They say this is only a taste of what we are going to get but at all events it won't be as sudden. We were enjoying almost summer weather during the week, cold only being noticed after sunset. The fly ointment arrived with the death of about the last fly on the peninsula. I hope you are all in good health at Wakefield and that you like you new house. With love and kisses to the children and with my best wishes to you.'

Although Town survived the horrors of Gallipoli, he was killed in France in September 1916 during Battle of the Somme. Private Ernest Hough survived the war and returned home to Australia. This post is written in memory of all those who fought and died at Gallipoli during the First World War.

Copyright © 2015 Jacqueline  Wadsworth / Sharon Fewings / Valerie Gilbert

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