Friday, May 25, 2018

ANZAC  Veteran’s Landing.

Dressed in their own colours, red, green and blue the ships cast an enquiring eye towards Alexandra basking in the sun. The scale and activity beyond our view offered a sense of coming excitement. A march to Cairo perhaps remained a possibility, but Limnos and Gallipoli intervened and the fleet sailed steadily north. On arrival the ships hid behind islands, as anxious eyes viewed rope ladders swinging from iron rails waiting for the given time. Warships were to tow the boats to their correct destination. Butterflies danced in empty stomachs as the minutes ticked by.

All was quiet until a spark from the ship’s funnel like a conductor baton orchestrated Turkish fire. A shell went straight through the funnel, but strangely failed to explode. The order was given and one by one with packs held high we crept ashore. Edging through rowing boats we ran towards the hill. The landing turned out to be a mile east from the correct position.

Slowly step by step we edged up the hill, a hill so steep that many troops fell and rolled down again. Half way up we fell upon a Turkish trench whose occupants immediately put their hands up and were taken back down to the beach. Heavy fire at hill’s top drowned out all communication; casualties were high, shrapnel flying in every direction.

Moving around a small ridge we eventually came across a small gully that enabled us to dig ourselves in for the night. As the sun rose our position came under heavy enemy fire, but somehow we were able to hold off any Turkish advance. After two days of continuous fire the lack bandages forced us to evacuate the wounded back down to the beach. Causalities were heavy, having landed with seventy officers and one thousand men our force was reduced by seventy percent.

One morning after I set off to collect water and rations, but had only travelled thirty yards or so when an explosion behind me blew my companion who I had been talking to, to pieces. Slowly we were forced back down the hill and in order to avoid being driven into the sea continually had to dig new and deeper trenches. Turkish’s bodies piled up along with our own so an armistice was called to bury the dead. Only tall troops of at least six foot went out to bury their companions, after taking their wallets for identification they laid their sleeping mates in shallow graves.

Many men broke down among the mixed shrapnel of needle pellets and spasmodic fire and we would have to carry them back down to beach.

Winter was a problem; only sea water remained as we munched on stale weaveled biscuits and dreamed of home. Then there were flies in their millions, bluey-green in colour that came to claim the dead bodies. There were body lice and competitions were held to see who could remove the most from the seams of our grey flannel shirts.

Sickness was worse than casualties, but Elgar played on. Mistreatment was considered very wrong by both sides, Turks respected Australian soldiers there was no hatred from anyone. We would exchange bully beef for cigarettes much to our officers’ dislike.

Lone Pine was the fiercest battle you would ever see in your life. A lone pine stood guard over the hill. We were ordered to attack at 5.30am. Next morning the Turks counter attracted, we never saw much of the British; they just stood there and would not dig a deeper trench without orders from above. Over five days 2000 Australian troops were lost, while the Turks suffered 5000 dead .

December saw heavy snow; many of the men had not seen snow before so this was a treat. Lord Kitchener arrived to OK the withdrawal. All discussion was kept top secret, the men were in poor condition and were not told about the evacuation until the last moment.

Three weeks later the withdrawal started. We had received Christmas cake that was greatly enjoyed by all on the beach. The silence lasted two to three days, no shots were fired. These silence days were held every few days, two days, then three days, one day and so on to confuse the Turks. When the night came no one was allowed to talk, parties were taken down to the beach, socks worn over their boots. It was thought the casualties would be higher than the landing, no one had any experience in such an evacuation. Rifle fire continued with a water device so the Turks assumed we were still in trenches. From Anzac cove a pier was built from a barge covered with onion bags to deafen any noise as the blue water darken with rain.

Over 1000 killed every month, it took twenty four hours to become a veteran. It was an example of how a nation was able to look after itself. A glorious failure, we did what we needed to do, to support Britain.
These recollection were recorded by Australian veterans who were there.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

William Russell. War Correspondent

William Russell, war correspondent.

William Russell almost single-handed invented the art of the war correspondent. Born in Dublin in1820 Russell inherited the charm and way with words for which the Irish are renown. The emergence of mass public opinion during 19th cent Britain presented him with a readership for the major political events of his age. For the first time public opinion mattered and the British middle classes had a spokesman they could trust.

Writing for the Times, Russell covered such diverse subjects as the Crimean War, Indian Mutiny in 1857, the American Civil War, Franco Prussian War to the experience of travelling by train into the Wild West in 1881. His description of embarkation in Chicago displays his ability to engage readers reveal his writing strength places the reader into the story.

He writes, ‘the special train scrambled into the Chicago terminus… at some unpleasantly early hour. We wandered on through the crowds of early workman and people going to their various places of business in straight lines, and saw street life in the morning – coffee – stands, crowds round the barbers’ door and saloons, and coloured men and women – a large element – shuffling to and fro along to the scene of their labour.’ Russell’s ability to transfer such exact observations of participants while presenting two sides of a story are his trademark.

His dispatches on the Zulu War are honest and exact.

Sept. 28 Zulu War. About the Battle of Isandlwana he writes,…’I am bound to say… established beyond doubt that the Zulus had no intention of making an attack on that occasion, because it was the day of the new moon, on which they never transact any important business.’ However they were ‘fired upon by the volunteers and mounted police.’ Later when talking to Methlegazulu a Zulu Chief,  showed indifference to his fate remarked, ‘How,’ he said, ‘can I be worse off than I am? You have taken away my cattle, my wives have deserted me, and I cannot get any more; if you hang me I could hardly be worse off! ‘

Russell mentions that Natal settlers had praised ‘heroic methods of the Anglo-Saxon doctors who have “polished off” the patients in Tasmania, Australia,’ suggesting a possible solution to the Zulu problem in Natal.

Some of Russell’s most descriptive observation concerned the Crimean War. His covering of the campaign was such that it was widely read by the British  Cabinet as well as the general public. His relentless descriptions of misery and military incompetence made their mark. The lack of proper food, water filtration and even basic sanitary discipline, the lack of suitable clothing provided the detailed for fluent, angry, brilliant despatches. For the first time a reporter was telling the public the tale of their fighting men at war.
The British Army was not impressed, they refused him a mount, or rations, or any quarters to sleep or any recognition of his status. Russell’s despatches however for the first time brought home to the War Office that the public had a right to say something about the conduct of wars in their name. His dispatches forced the Government to improve their responsibilities towards their troops. These seething articles were directly responsible for Florence Nightingale going to the Crimea. Russell’s achievement speak for themselves and have never been equalled since