The Nek Cemetery Audio

Audio file
Running time
5 min 24 sec

Directions

After leaving the Turkish Soldiers Memorial turn left and head up the paved road past the 57th Regiment Memorial on your right until you come to a fork in the road. The paved road leads up to Chunuk Bair but you should turn down left along the

Audio transcript

Those words were written by Captain Leslie Hore of the 8th Light Horse Regiment from western Victoria. Look at the date on four of the Special Memorials in front of you - 7 August 1915. On that day at this spot between 4.30 and 5.15 am, 234 Australian Light Horsemen from Victoria and Western Australia were killed and a further 138 were wounded. They were casualties in the action depicted in George Lambert's famous painting which hangs in the Australian War Memorial - The Charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek, 7 August 1915. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade consisted of the 8th Light Horse Regiment from Victoria, the 9th from South Australia and the 10th from Western Australia. Only elements of the 8th and 10th Light Horse took part in the action at the Nek on 7 August.

The charge was also depicted in the last minutes of Peter Weir's film Gallipoli which featured Mark Lee and Mel Gibson as two young Western Australian Light Horsemen. Lee, in the role of Archie Hamilton, dies as machine gun bullets rip across his chest while he runs full pelt across no-man's-land without his rifle, his body thrusting forward towards the enemy. After the war the remains of many of the dead of the Nek, most of whom could not be identified, were gathered into this cemetery and they lie all around you here.

What happened? The charge, planned for 4.30 am on 7 August 1915, was part of a number of diversionary actions. These diversions were aimed to tie down Turkish troops to the Anzac position while Allied units to the north (Australians, British, New Zealanders, Gurkha's and Indians) tried to storm the heights of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. Go to the edge of the cemetery and look at the scene to the immediate north and north-east. The main attack of the so-called 'August Offensive' went through these steep gullies and ridges. It began on the night of 6 August and by dawn on 7 August New Zealand infantry were supposed to have reached the high point way up to your right known as Chunuk Bair. The Australian Light Horse charge was planned for the very moment when the New Zealanders were supposed to have been taking Chunuk Bair, and the Turks in their trenches at the Nek were supposed to be distracted by the possibility of attack from the rear.

Unfortunately, by 4.30 am the New Zealanders had failed to reach their objective and had halted on Rhododendron Ridge below the summit of Chunuk Bair.

Any attack across the narrow section of land known as the Nek, directly at heavily defended Turkish trenches, was regarded as suicidal unless the enemy line was collapsing from the rear. Although that could not now happen, the Light Horse were ordered in anyway on the grounds that everything must be done to assist the New Zealanders to make the main attack on the heights. An artillery and naval bombardment on the enemy trenches inexplicably ceased minutes before the Light Horsemen were due to go. When the first wave - men of the 8th Light Horse - rose from the trench the Turkish soldiers, who had time to take up positions again in the lull after the bombardment, cut them down within seconds. A second wave of the 8th was similarly destroyed. There was a pause. An officer questioned the value of sending more men to certain death but the Light Horse were ordered to press on. Next rose the first wave of the 10th Light Horse:

The 10th went forward to meet death instantly, as the 8th had done, the men running as swiftly and as straight as they could at the Turkish rifles. With that regiment went the flower of the youth of Western Australia …

[Bean, Story of Anzac, Vol 2, p 617]

A fourth wave of Western Australians also charged before the attack was finally called off. Charles Bean called this event 'one of the bravest actions in the history of war', each man in those waves which rose after the first going forward in the full knowledge that he was unlikely to survive. How the Nek must have looked on that morning as the day lengthened has been described in these words:

At first here and there a man raised his arm to the sky, or tried to drink from his water bottle; but, as the sun of that burning day climbed higher, such movements ceased: over the whole summit the figures lay still in the quivering heat.

[Bean, Story of Anzac, Vol 2, p.633]