Extracts from letter to his mother, written 19th May from hospital ship ‘Seang Choon’ at Lemnos island by Platoon Sergeant Lisle M Lane (4th Battalion), who was wounded on the 26th April, but is now at the front again fighting the Turks.
We left Lemnos Island on Saturday afternoon 24th April, and sailed up towards Turkey. We anchored north of this island and waited there till after midnight, and then set off for the shores of Turkey. We could see the land as soon as day broke, and by then some of our boys were ashore and we could hear the guns going, and as soon as daylight came along came the Turkish shells, throwing shrapnel (one of our worst troubles) everywhere. This caused a lot of casualties before we had started to take the surrounding hills at all… Our turn came at last and we were towed ashore. We were not subjected to much firing on landing, but got it as soon as we landed, shrapnel bursting all around us. We lost men straightaway…
… We got into a valley and we got the order to throw off our packs, and, this done, we commenced to charge, and we took two hills at the point of the bayonet., under heavy fire all the time and with men falling all around us…That Sunday’s work was a marvel. When we look now at the hills we scaled, at the positions we took all along the line, and the distance we travelled, we marvel how it was done. We lost a lot of men in every Brigade doing it; some were killed before they touched land, for the Turks had maxims [heavy machine guns] and field-guns mounted right close to the beach. I think Australians made a name for themselves that Sunday that will never be forgotten. (Lisle Lane, as published in the Orange Leader 1 July 1915)
From his boat waiting to go ashore on 25 April 1915 young Lisle Lane, grazier and surveyor of Orange could hear the bombardment, could see his fellow soldiers falling under fire as they struggled of the beach and to gain a foothold on the steep cliffs at the beach at Ari Burnu, later to be known as Anzac Cove. ‘Rather north of Gapa Tepe than was originally intended’ British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett somewhat wryly commented when writing his account of the landing.
Lisle was one of the first to leave Australia, enlisting just three weeks after war broke out. The early AIF recruits had left Australia in October 1914 heading for Europe. However, they were diverted to Egypt to meet the threat of the Ottoman Empire, and to help blaze a path to Constantinople. After training at Mena near Cairo at the foot of the pyramids, they departed by ship for the Gallipoli peninsula together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, France and India.
Within 24 hours Lisle had been shot in the leg, but he fought through, injured, for at least 48 hours more—without sleep—before he obtained medical aid. His leg later turned septic and he was evacuated to hospital, to be patched up so that he could return to the fight.
In the south, Markham Henry Giradot, fighting with the British Army Essex Regiment, had landed at Cape Helles on 25 April. He survived only five days, dying on 30 April 1915.
Walter Eastment had enlisted in January 1915 and embarked for the front in March 1915 as part of the 4th reinforcements 13th Battalion. He arrived at Gallipoli on 27 May 1915, but a poisoned foot took him quickly out of the action from 7 August.
After the first push up into the hills of the peninsula, the advance halted. The troops dug in and the battle became a series of ambushes and sniper attacks, under relentless waves of shellfire. Not surprisingly, Turkish names for hills and gullies were soon replaced by Anzac names: Death Gully, Casualty Corner, Shrapnel Gully, Quinn’s Post, the Sphinx…as well as more militarily bland ‘Hill Q, 60, 70…Even the guns which wrought so much carnage were named, most notorious of which was Beachy Bill, the Turk’s gun emplacement at Gaba Tepe.
In August 1915, the command issued orders for concerted campaign aimed at decisively breaking through the Turkish lines. These attacks centred around a number of key locations, that have become inextricably intertwined with Australia’s understanding of Anzac: the Nek, with the absolute slaughter of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising the 8th, 9th, 10th Regiments), and Lone Pine; the attacks on the Sari Bair range, at Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, and from the north British landings at Suvla Bay and attacks at Hill 60.
Lone Pine—originally intended as a diversion from the New Zealand and other Australian attacks—resulted in more than 2,000 casualties. It was a fierce battle of desperate hand-to-hand fighting and step-by-step advances to capture the Turkish trenches. Losses were extremely heavy on both sides.
Last seen during the charge at Lone Pine on 6 August 1915 was 28 year old Henry Herbert (Bert) Bartrop, former clerk from Sydney and fiancée of Bess Dodds. He had arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula only two days before, on 4 August, as part of the 3rd Battalion AIF.
Jo Hardy from Wellington, New Zealand, serving with the Wellington Regiment NZEF vanished into the rain of fire in the charge on Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915, where NZ briefly made ground before the advance was overcome by the Turkish forces led by Mustapha Kemal (Atatürk). Jo was just one of New Zealand’s enormous losses on this day.
The August offensive halted by the 27th, with limited gains having been made. Thereafter stalemate reigned.
George Chesney had also enlisted in May of that year, in South Australia. Aged 26 and by occupation a draper, he found himself at Gallipoli in October 1915 involved in the numerous skirmishes under fire that occurred what was otherwise a quiet time (in terms of specific action). He became ill and was treated by the 7th Field Ambulance (whose members included Reginald James Godfrey and Asdruebal James Keast, and whose writings are excerpted in the libretto for An Australian War Requiem), before returning to his battalion. George later received a gunshot wound to his wrist, and, though this was not deemed ‘serious’, he was evacuated out.
Garibaldi Bitossi, aged 24, who left New Zealand on 14 December 1914 as part of the 2nd reinforcements Wellington Infantry Battalion landed at Gallipoli and undertook the vitally important role of muleteer. As a ‘mule-puncher’ he provided a lifeline for men in the gullies and on the ridges, carrying food, water, ammunition and medical supplies. Garibaldi (called ‘Garliano’ by his family) spent seven months at Gallipoli before being invalided home due to sudden eye failure.
The situation at Gallipoli remained essentially deadlocked until the end of 1915. Facing the onset of a harsh winter, with poorly equipped troops and deteriorating morale, this was finally recognised to be unwinnable and the withdrawal began.
This was a cunningly executed and very successful withdrawal. It relied on an illusion created by silence—long periods without return gun fire, then just enough to demonstrate an ongoing on presence—and strategic visibility (including well-placed cricket matches on Shell Green) until the final detachments were taken off the beach under cover of darkness on 20 December 1915.
The Gallipoli campaign was one of grinding endurance, through enormous physical and psychological strain. Those who were there write of the difficulties caused by the lack of sleep, the poor food (particularly of the bully beef and hard biscuits), of the dreadful contamination of the drinking water, of the ghastly stench created by the dead of both sides lying unburied. Lice and other vermin were a real problem, exacerbated by the lack of water for bathing. Artillery fire at such close quarters meant that soldiers witnessed sights no one should see, no one could forget.
Australia’s official war correspondent, Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, and remained with the AIF until the withdrawal 8 months later. He wrote:
By dawn on December 20th Anzac had faded into a dim blue line lost amid other hills on the horizon as the ships took their human freight to Imbros, Lemnos and Egypt. But Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity and endurance that will never own defeat. (CEW Bean Anzac to Amiens, 1946, p181)
Lisle Lane and Garibaldi Bitossi – Andrew (tenor)
Markham Henry Giradot –Kate (guest choir)
Henry Herbert (Bert) Bartrop – Roger (bass)
George Chesney – Deb (alto)
Walter Eastment – Catherine (alto)
Jo Hardy – Martin (tenor)
More detailed accounts for some of the soldiers mentioned in this post will shortly be published on our website An Australian War Requiem. Hyperlinks will be added to this blog post as they become available.