On 25th April 1916 the first Anzac Day was held. As Australian forces began to arrive in France, to begin their three years of horror on the Western Front, those at home came together to remember the events of 1915 at Gallipoli. Newspaper reports, long lists of casualties and especially letters from the young men who served enlightened those at home in Australia about the reality of the war. Their letters are just a compelling today as they were in 1915. So before the we begin to relived the slaughter on the Western Front, we should review Gallipoli through the eyes of those who were there.
Leslie Devlin was born in the small town of Corinna on the west coast of Tasmania. He was almost twenty years old when he enlisted in the Australian Army in 1914. He was a gunner with the artillery and landed at Anzac Cove a few days after the first landing on 25th April 1915. His letter describing the landing was posted in Mercury, Hobart on 14th July 1915.
Extracts from a letter from Letter received from Leslie H Devlyn, driver with the 3rd brigade.
Zahiria Camp Alexandria 31/8/1915
“Of Course you all know we have been to the Dardanelles for the last two months and I am quite sorry to have been sent back out of the scene of action. Anyhow we can safely say we have seen war and we have a fair idea of what it is like. The Sunday we got there I shall never forget. It is looked upon as the greatest bombardment that has ever taken place. We were awakened early in the morning by the booming of hundreds of big guns all being fired at once and that night when we went to bed they were still at it. They were blowing up forts and townships by the dozen. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky but it was dreadful ashore. The slaughter was terrible and it was not just Turks that were being killed either. The losses on our side were severe as well but not as severe as the Turks.
Some poor fellows who had met with disaster while trying to land and had been rescued by some Jack Tars and were being rapidly carried out to sea in two life boats which were tied together. They happened to float close enough to us to catch a rope and get alongside. If they had missed us they would have drifted right out to sea. There was only one man fit for duty in the boats and he was a Jack Tar. The rest were either wounded or exhausted for being so long in the water. Those who could were trying to pull the boats. One Jack Tar was quite merry trying to steer one of the boats whilst the fit sailor was trying to bandage his hand which had fingers shot off and the arm broken above the elbow. With his arm shattered that man was as happy as a lark all day. He smoked cigarettes which we made him and that night was sorry to leave us for the hospital ship. Others were not wounded but were cold and half drowned. They had been in the water for several hours. Two were almost dead from the water and two were shot in the legs. Altogether it was a pitiful site. But they were grand examples of the British soldiers and sailors. Our own soldiers have also been doing great work. The charge the Tasmanian infantry made when they landed will last forever in history. With five cartridges and a bayonet they threw off their packs and charged through the water and charged at the Turks on the beach and succeeded in driving them back a considerable distance. Then they had to come back for their packs and ammunition and so lost a little of the ground they had gained. One man has been killed in our battery and four wounded one of which is our commander Major Burgess another is our sergeant major.
Major Burgess is well and has gone back to the firing line again. The Turks have no doubt done some clever work getting ready for this invasion. You cannot believe the work that has been done on the Peninsula. In the last day or two they have sunk two or more warships (the Triumphant and the Majestic), both of which did an enormous amount of fighting. Now that Italy has joined in it will make the old Kaiser shake in his shoes. I wouldn’t be in his shoes for anything. There have been great demonstrations in the streets here by the Italians who are going back to join their regiments in Italy. There are thousands of Italians here…….”
More soldiers accounts of their experience at Gallipoli tomorrow.