The Helles Memorial lies at the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Little visited by Australians, this is the only place where every British Empire and Commonwealth military unit and naval vessel that fought in the Gallipoli campaign of 1914–1916 is commemorated. Here too are the names of soldiers who went missing in this area and have ‘no known grave’. Among them is Lance Sergeant William Ormiston Robertson, 7th Australian Infantry Battalion, of Camperdown, Victoria, killed in action at the Second Battle of Krithia fought on 8 May 1915.
It is unlikely that Robertson’s parents ever made the long journey to Gallipoli to see their son’s name. But one member of the family was able, albeit from a distance, to sight where William Ormiston died in battle. On 1 December 1918, the Royal Australian Navy’s destroyer HMAS Warrego sailed past Cape Helles on its way to join other Allied ships patrolling Turkish waters. On board, Australian journalist ER Peacock wrote of how the crew strained their eyes ‘to try and get a glimpse of the cemeteries’ on the ‘rugged barren hills but in vain’. As Warrego dashed past Cape Helles, one crewman took a very keen interest in the landscape – Signalman Alexander Robertson. He confided to his diary:
Passed Cape Helles where dear old Ormie paid the supreme sacrifice … the hills are simply a network of forts, guns etc. and one has only to look at the country to see why our soldiers failed to capture it.
In this way Alexander Robertson paid a personal tribute to his brother. His diary is a memorable item in the collection of the Camperdown and District Historical Society and one that intimately connects this Victorian inland town with that distant memorial where the death of William Ormiston Robertson is commemorated.
Alexander Frederick Robertson, ‘Diary of the service of the Australian flotilla consisting of Parramatta, Yarra, Warrego, Swan, Torrens and Huon commencing from June 9th 1917 on which date they left Sydney for the war zone’, entry for 1 December 1918. (Camperdown and District Historical Society)
658 William Ormiston Robertson, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, National Archives of Australia:
For the Helles Memorial, see:
For an account of HMAS Warrego’s World War I service, see: