VOICES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR: GALLIPOLI

At dawn on 25 April 1915, Allied troops landed at Gallipoli in modern Turkey. Their aim was first to capture the Dardanelles and then the Turkish capital. The soldiers went ashore on a series of beaches across the peninsula. Cecil Tomkinson of the Royal Army Medical Corps described the conditions at one of these – X Beach.

GALLIPOLI

I mean we were in these boats, they were pelting you with shrapnel and there weren’t – we didn’t have any rifles fired at us, but shrapnel was fired over us. You know, we were a whole barge load of men; sort of… we didn’t want to be – none of us wanted to go to heaven yet! So we, anyhow we got ashore. All scrambling onto the beach – not a very wide beach. It was very congested, and so far as I can remember it looked chaotic. But we scrambled to the top to see what we could do. And those soldiers who were holding the ridge at the top of the whatsername told us to wait a bit, you know, don’t put your head up.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed further north at what became Anzac Cove. NCO Fred Haig recalled the chaos and destruction there.

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t was absolute schmozzle it was really a nightmare – fellows being killed all round, wounded all round; not enough ambulance people and not enough ambulance transport to get the fellows from shore. It was an absolute nightmare. I know that night I was drinking from a little creek and I thought to myself, ‘This water tastes funny.’ Then I went up a few yards and here was two dead bodies and the blood was coming down the creek, with the water in the creek.

The Turkish defenders were well prepared and fought back fiercely. The result was carnage. Allied troops were cut down and in places struggled even to get ashore. British private Richard Yorston tried to help casualties on his beach.

Some of the infantry had gone ahead and they’d gone up the cliff. So I volunteered to go up and find wounded. And the first man that I walked to he said, ‘Mind me arm, mate!’ I looked down, he had no arm. And it was no blood or anything. I said, ‘Well just stay where you are, we’ll send stretcher bearers for you.’   I went up on the top and I heard a voice, ‘Get down! Get down!’ And he had a brassard on, so I got down, it was a captain with his batman. I said, ‘Shall I send stretcher bearers for you?’ He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m alright but,’ he said, ‘for heaven’s sake don’t stick your head up, or you won’t have one left!’

Determined Turkish resistance contained all the landings, and trench lines developed that remained much the same for the rest of the campaign. Hedley Howe described how the Anzacs failed to advance inland.

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As we topped the rise we came under pretty heavy fire. One of my platoon was killed beside me; a couple of yards further on Captain Aneer from another company was killed. And as we crossed the plateau quite a number of others went down – you could see them falling in the just getting full light. The advance went straight on across the plateau down into the valley on the other side, where we reformed under Major Brockman. He then led us along a valley for about a mile and a half until we were about halfway up the slopes of Battleship Hill. We were driven back all day and we never regained that territory afterwards.

The landings were a complete failure, with the Allies suffering heavy casualties, even on the beaches. At W Beach, British stoker James Leary helped to clear away the corpses.

We had then the job of getting bodies out of the water that had been killed in the boats and that before they could get ashore. And there was people with parts of their head blown off and battered up, laying about 25 yards off the beach. Well we had a steam cutter going along there, and we had a long rope with a hook on it.

And they used to take the hook and get a big boat hook and pull these bodies up towards the surface that was down at the bottom. Because these men had been killed with all their kit on, you know the big thing on their back as they had all their clothes in and all like that, and they’d just sunk to the bottom when they got wet.