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Chapter 11: It was a lonely feeling

Australians in World War I: Gallipoli

is the third commemorative publication in the Australians in World War I series. It contains a selection of images and a brief history of the campaign. This publication has also been developed into an iBook for your iPad.  Rare film footage and animated images complement the iBook, as readers gain rare insight into the Gallipoli campaign from the author and historian, Dr Richard Reid.


Chapter 11: It was a lonely feeling

The evacuation of Gallipoli, November 1915 – January 1916

After Hill 60 serious fighting virtually came to an end on Gallipoli. Attention now turned, at Anzac, to the development of new trench lines in the rugged territory captured during the August Offensive, and to the looming problem of supply-ing an army during the coming winter, with its inevitable storms. A new, larger base was developed at North Beach, now relatively free from observation by Turkish snipers. Piers were developed and mounds of boxes of stores soon appeared. By November, two large tented hospitals had moved into the area, including the No. 1 Australian Stationary Hospital from Lemnos. Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, returning from a long rest period on Lemnos, was amazed by North Beach:

What a change! Why, when we left there was hardly anything round this side of the Cove [Anzac Cove]. It was not safe. Now there are tents and a YMCA and what is this great sandbag mansion going up directly in front of us? A Post Office, eh. Eighty feet long, twelve feet high and twenty feet wide. Some building! Windows, doors and a counter, too. Crikey, things are coming on in these parts.

But, if there seemed to be improvements aimed at easing the strain of life at Gallipoli for the ordinary soldier, what was most exercising the minds of the higher command was whether to remain on the peninsula at all. After the overall failure to make any real progress against the Ottoman defence, Sir Ian Hamilton had estimated that significant rein-forcements would be needed to make any progress in the coming year. Doubts were now raised about Hamilton's continuing suitability to command the MEF, and in early October he was replaced by General Sir Charles Monro.

Monro was a convinced 'Westerner', one who believed that the war to defeat Germany, the main foe, was being fought in France and Belgium along the Western Front. To him, Gallipoli was a sideshow capable of drawing off much needed men and supplies. Monro soon sent in a report which stated that many of the troops, with the exception of the Anzacs, were incapable of further sustained effort; the Turks held all the high ground; and that information had been received that heavy guns were reaching the Ottoman Army from Germany. If used effectively, the latter could destroy the Anzac positions. Indeed, on 29 November a heavy bombardment was experienced by Australian positions at Lone Pine, which showed clearly that heavy artillery was now being used. The narrow approach trenches to the frontline positions were largely destroyed and the 23rd and 24th Battalions, both from Victoria, suffered some of the last heavy casualties to be sustained by Australian units at Gallipoli. Private Mark Peters, 24th Battalion, told the Australian Red Cross what had happened to his mate, Private Alexander Macbeth, as a result of this shelling:

Macbeth was taken off the cooks fires and put into the trenches. He was at work in a sap Nov 29 at Lone Pine ... A big shell came over and blew the sap to pieces. His mates hunted for Macbeth, but failed to find him. They all believed him blown to pieces and buried in the debris.

It was a foretaste of things to come for the men of the AIF when they reached the Western Front a few months later. General Monro recommended the evacuation of Gallipoli, and this opinion was later endorsed by Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, the British Minister for War, when he visited the peninsula in early November. After some dithering and much discussion, the British War Cabinet finally decided, on 8 December, to end the campaign. Unknown to them, the higher command on the spot had anticipated this decision and an evacuation plan was already in operation.

Could the Anzacs just sneak away, unseen? There was a view that any evacuation would result in heavy casualties but, in the event, there were virtually none. At Anzac and Suvla, an Australian staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Brudenell White, devised a plan to gradually withdraw men and equipment while convincing the Turks that everything was normal. 'Silent stunts' were instituted, where nearly all firing from Anzac ceased, in order to make the enemy think preparations for winter were under way. After the end of these stunts, an irregular rifle and artillery fire, of the sort to be expected by the Turks, was kept up. Although much equipment was taken away by night, during the day material was still brought ashore at the piers at Anzac Cove and North Beach. On 17 December, just two days before the final evacuation, a famous game of cricket was held at Shell Green while Turkish shells passed overhead.

By 13 December, everyone had realised that they were going. For many, the hardest part of the evacuation was leaving behind their dead mates, and Charles Bean noticed soldiers in the cemeteries, alone or in groups of two or three, tidying up graves. When General Birdwood came ashore on the final day to take his leave, an Anzac said to him, pointing to one of the cemeteries: 'I hope they won't hear us marching down the deres [valleys]'. As he left, Padre Walter Dexter went through the cemeteries and gullies scattering silver wattle seed: 'If we have to leave here, I intend that a bit of Australia shall be here'.

The Anzacs left Gallipoli in three stages. During the first two, the garrison was reduced to 26,000 men, a number thought capable of holding off any major Turkish attack. Then on the last two nights, 18–20 December, the rest came off. By 19 December, just 10,000 men held the Anzac line from Bolton's Ridge in the south to Hill 60 in the north. On the final night, as the last contingents made their way to the piers, small rear parties manned the trenches, firing occasional shots and making enough noise to convince the enemy that the whole garrison was still there. Private Joe Gasparich of the Auckland Infantry Battalion was among the last to leave:

I walked through the trench and the floor was frozen hard ... when I brought my feet down they echoed right through the trench down the gully, right down, you could hear this echo running ahead ... It was a lonely feeling.

Shortly after 4 am on 20 December 1915, the last steamboat left from North Beach. Anzac and Suvla were de-serted. On the night of 8 January 1916, the British left Helles; the Gallipoli campaign was over.

 

pp. 22 - 24

 

Australians in World War I: Gallipoli

is the third commemorative publication in the Australians in World War I series. It contains a selection of images and a brief history of the campaign. This publication has also been developed into an iBook for your iPad.  Rare film footage and animated images complement the iBook, as readers gain rare insight into the Gallipoli campaign from the author and historian, Dr Richard Reid.

Australians in World War I: Gallipoli Education Activities