Leaving Gallipoli 2

Roland Sherwin was eighteen years old when he enlisted in February 1915. He was appointed to the 7th Light Horse and landed at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli on 24th October. He told of his experience at Gallipoli in a letter to his father, dated 28th December 1915. (The letter was published in ‘The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal’, 18 Feb 1916, p. 4.)

“I am back in dear old Egypt, feeling none the worse for my eight weeks on Gallipoli. What a relief, though, to feel you are safe when you go to bed at night, with the soft desert sand beneath and the brilliant Eastern sky overhead. The Australian papers no doubt are giving you the history of the evacuation of Gallipoli, but I will try and tell it to you as I saw it and took part in it. What I say is pretty correct. First, however, I will start my story from the day I landed at Gallipoli, on the 24th October. It was on a Sunday evening, with a cold wind blowing and intermittent squalls of rain falling, when I first stepped ashore at Anzac Cove. We camped in the renowned Shrapnel Gully that night, and early next morning went into the trenches which the 7th Regiment was holding. We had a pretty easy time of it for the first two weeks, although only a space of 50yds separated us from the Turkish trenches. However, we were in for a busy time during the next fortnight, as we had to assist the 5th Light Horse Regiment at Chatain’s Post. It was all bomb fighting there, except one night, when the Turks attacked us, but their attacking parry melted like snow in summer before the fire of our rifles. Finally we occupied some of their trenches, and after a while things quietened down in that section. About a month after that we had a very heavy fall of snow, which robed the hills of Gallipoli in whiteness. Being well-equipped with plenty of warm clothes, we did not feel the cold much, but the Turks must have suffered terribly. About this time we were ordered on no account to fire a shot from our trenches in order to try and get the Turks to believe that they were abandoned. The ruse succeeded splendidly after a day and a night of silence.

On the second night, which was bitterly cold, accompanied by a strong wind, we had the pleasure of repelling their attack. About 2 o’clock in the morning the Turks were observed advancing to the attack. We let them come quite close to us, and then from the apparently evacuated trench a line of rifle fire blazed out. Their front line fell, completely wiped out, and the second, demoralised by our rifle fire, broke and ran, while our bombs, which fell among them, added to the casualties already inflicted by our rifles. I shall never forget what the cold, grey dawn revealed. There lay the dead Turks in front of us, some lying on their backs, with sightless eyes staring at the leaden grey sky. Others lay face downwards, with their rifles clasped in their hands and still others seemed to be in an attitude of Moslem at prayer. No doubt they had been wounded, and had frozen to death. One of them, a mere boy, lay almost on the parapet of our trench, his rifle tightly clutched in one hand and a bomb in the other. He nearly succeeded in crossing “no man’s land,” which is the strip of ground between us and the Turks. Sometime after that we shifted to a new position down on ‘Holly Spur,’ and it was there we first got wind of the evacuation having to take place. When the eventful night arrived, we marched out of our trenches with our boots padded so as to ensure strict silence. We assembled at the headquarters of the Brigade, and Brigadier-General Ryrie addressed us. Then the silent procession marched of in single file, heading for Anzac Cove. A weird, uncanny silence prevailed, although behind us we could hear the Turks firing at our abandoned trench. It seemed hard to leave behind the graves of those who had so nobly died there. The plain white crosses, which, alas are only too thickly strewn along the wind-swept heights of Anzac, seemed to wave and flicker in the sickly moonlight and beckon to us to stay. Along every path leading to the beach thousands of Australians, New Zealanders, and Ghurkas were pouring, while behind those gaunt, bleak, and barren hills (now immortalised in history by the landing on the memorable 25th April) rose black against the sky. The embarkation was a magnificent piece of work. We marched on to the launches, which took their load of human freight out to the transport ships and then returned for more. It seems almost incredible that 30,000 men were removed that night with but four casualties. Gradually the Turkish firing in the distance grew fainter, and our ship was slowly moving through the water, and then it was ‘Good-bye to Anzac Cove.” We put in a few days at Lemnos, were transferred to another troopship, and after an uneventful voyage arrived in Alexandria Harbor on Christmas Day. We had our Christmas dinner on board, disembarked that evening, came on to Heliopolis, rested there for a few days, and finally arrived at Ma’adi on the 28th December. I got seven letters in the, mail to-day, but did not receive the Christmas Billy winch you say you sent me.”

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