Leaving Gallipoli

In December 1915 the Allies finally realised that they could not defeat the Turks on the Gallipoli Peninsular so, they quietly left. Of the evacuation Richard Bassett wrote-

The afternoon before leaving Gallipoli I was passing one of the cemeteries, and I saw a chaplain busily engaged in apparently attending to the graves. I looked at him questioningly, and he said, ‘I am just planting a few wattle seeds. There will be something Australian when we are all gone.’ I must confess to a lump in the throat as I made my way, for the last time, to our trenches. One does not, you see, lose all sentiment because he is a soldier. …. It does make a man think that Life is a serious thing. A soldier’s life is a fine education, and makes one see with a broader vision. .. There have been some fine fellows left behind on that forbidding land. And I can tell you this (I may be biased), no matter how many men they send from Australia, they can never send finer men than the first division.” (From a letter written 6th May 1916 and published in the Colac Reformer)

Safe on the Island of Lemnos  Richard wrote-

 “We are still resting on an adjacent island, and the chance of a rest was very opportune, in fact it was imperative that we should have one. With seven months in the trenches, the flies, dust, heat, and various other vermin to contend with, together with the hard food, our constitutions were just about played out. We experienced a feeling of great joy the first night we were away from Gallipoli in being able to undress to sleep. We had not been free to do that for eight weeks. Always we had to be prepared for any eventuality, and the Turks were extremely inconsiderate opening a heavy rifle fire in the middle of the night and disturbing our slumbers. Also they, used to throw bombs about very carelessly, one of which burst in close proximity to where I was sleeping one night, and stung me about the back where several pieces of it hit me. I was not damaged, but was very much annoyed at being disturbed, as I had to go on duty in an hour or two, and was having a sleep, preparing for my shift. We always had some sleep, but as (during the last few weeks) we were all compelled to do four hours between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. you can understand our sleep was somewhat broken. During the day it would be almost impossible to sleep for flies and noise. In any case if one did get to sleep there were always shells flying about and one was apt to be disturbed by dirt and pieces of shell and other objects ‘ falling ‘ on one with more or less violence. I was half asleep one day with a blanket spread over me when a great chunk of shell came through and missed me by an inch or so. But it is of very little use telling you of these things. The position I was in at the time was comparatively safe when I think of the others; in other parts of the trenches, and I could tell you (though I couldn’t  make  you realise it) of some terrifying events which occurred, there. I remember one night very distinctly, a night that was very trying, to me for one. I was on the telephone, and about 10 pm I could see lightning flashing about the horizon, and came to the conclusion that it was going to be a very rough night… I was not mistaken in my conjecture.–. . An hour  later the stars were obscured by great masses of hurrying , clouds through which blinding, flashes of forked lightning tore almost continuously, followed by the deafening, reverberating long roll of the thunder which dwarfed the sound of our great guns and made them appear petty by comparison. Suddenly and without warning of any destruction a great storm of wind came down on us, accompanied by clouds of dust, and as suddenly the Turks opened fire with rifle and machine gun. The effect was terrific- and the noise deafening. – A blanket I had fastened over me was blown away, and the bullets were kicking the dirt all over me as they viciously thudded into the earth on the top of the trenches. I grabbed another blanket, and put it over my head so that I could hear on the telephone, and also for the purpose of keeping the dirt from going down my neck. I had a shock when a bottle which someone had providentially placed on the top of the trench (in case someone had something to put in it) was knocked down and hit me on top of the head. There was no rain fortunately but, I must, admit it was a trying time, as I didn’t know what minute I might hear the Turks advancing, and I could do nothing but sit there and wait for orders from Headquarters. My work was important but I had a feeling of helplessness. The Turks didn’t attack that night, so it appeared, they feared we were going to attack under cover of the storm. We were in that position for five weeks, and I was in the same place the whole time, and I put in some rather queer moments there I can tell you. About five every afternoon the Turks used to amuse themselves by firing a few 5-inch howitzer shells at our trenches, and I used to put in some rather stirring moments just then. They used to whistle as they came, and I used to sit there and wait on that telephone expecting to be blown, telephone and all, to the bottom of the hill at any moment. I must confess that I used to find my knees trembling after an hour’s bombardment, and I generally lit a cigarette as it was way to compose my nerves a bit.  It was my helplessness that used to make me feels so bad I think. There was nothing to do but sit there and wait, nowhere to go, and nothing to do except wait for the whistle and crash of those shells. We were lucky there, as no shells came in during our occupation. Three days after we left six men were buried by a shell, which fell just next to where out telephone station used to be. Two were found to be seriously injured when dug out, and the others suffering from shock, so we just got out in time. If you only knew to what a strain the men are subjected in the trenches when under shell fire, you could readily understand how the cases of nervous break-down occur. I have seen some very brave men confess that they were afraid at such times, and feel that weakness about the knees of which I spoke. But these men did some fine things under shell fire, ……On one occasion I saw three men buried by the explosion of a shell, and completely covered with the exception of one man’s head. There he stood, I suppose I may say, with only his head out, directing the men where to dig so that they might more quickly recover the other men who were completely covered up. No thought of his own pain, though he was suffering a good deal with the crushing weight of the earth which surrounded him and pinned him there, never entered his mind, and that only illustrates one of the many fine things which occurred there. I can’t tell you of any more just now, but many of us will never forget some of the things we witnessed, things of such an unselfish nature that they imprinted themselves indelibly on my mind…”

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