The 3rd Brigade had performed a marvellous feat
Name: Les Dinning
Unit: 1st Battalion, AIF
Location: Gallipoli, France
Les Dinning was quick to sign up for World War I, enlisting at Kensington in Sydney on 31 August 1914. After initial training he found himself on a ship bound for the Middle East with the 1st Battalion.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal in April 1915. After being wounded in the Gallipoli landings, he returned to the fray and was again wounded before being promoted to Sergeant.
From Gallipoli he was sent to France where he was seriously wounded on 20 August 1916, receiving shrapnel wounds in his chest.
He was transferred to the 1st Southern General Hospital in England where he spent most of the war receiving treatment.
Sgt Les Dinning was a good writer. He had an eye for detail that filled his letters home to his father, the Rev Ben Dinning.
Having arrived at Alexandria, his unit sailed on the SS Minnewaska to Lemnos, which was to be the intermediate base for the landings at Gallipoli. He wrote,
"Two days run from Alexandria brought us to this delightful little island, where we found, on the morning of our arrival, a dozen transports and half a dozen British cruisers and four French battleships lying at anchor. When we had cast anchor and had a good look around we found we were in a fine harbour, Mudros by name, with two or three quaint little villages on the shore, each with their own little fleet of sailing boats lying at anchor in the sheltered coves in the harbour.
"Later on in the week we marched through the principal village, and apart from the many interesting and new sights to be seen there, it was a treat to see everyone attired in more or less European dress, to see well kept tidy houses and women not afraid to show the whole of their face (and there was many a fine face to be seen) from the miscellaneous assortment of people and dirt of Cairo.
"The people live simply enough, agriculture and dairying occupying the time of the country folk, while in the villages themselves, the people live comfortably, and a little more so while the troops are staying there by selling figs, wines, nuts, oranges, cigarettes, tobacco, etc., etc."
After describing a visit to an ancient flour mill, Sgt Dinning wrote about the training the troops undertook.
"We exercised the ships' boats, rowing to and from the shore and from boat to boat. One important exercise we carried out, and one which we took with all seriousness, was landing from the boats as quickly as we could, with rifle and our full marching order on. This, we had been told, was the manner and only manner, in which we were to make a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula at a date not very far ahead.
"You can imagine how 'quickly' we landed when we knew we would have machine guns, pom-poms, shrapnel and rifle fire directed on us. Day after day fresh troop ships arrived bringing troops of various nationalities and colours. French, British, Sengalese (African troops trained by the French), Indian, and Australia were all represented, conveyed there by all kinds of steamers, from an ancient tramp to the stately Cunard liner Mauretania, and guarded, and safely guarded at that, by every kind of naval craft, from the submarine to the last word in battleships - HMS Queen Elizabeth.
"On the Sunday afternoon our company went for a route march to the hills about 4 miles off, and from the top of the rises near the entrance to the harbour, the whole fleet, comprising about 110 ships, presented a very fine sight. Little did I think on that quiet Sunday afternoon as I gazed on the magnificent warships and merchantmen, that on the next Sunday afternoon I should see part of the fleet pounding away as hard as they could go at the Turkish reinforcements coming up and the forts on the other side, while the transports were hastily disembarking troops.
"Our troopship was a fine boat, SS Minnewaska of the Atlantic Transport Line, and although she was fitted up as a cattle boat, she had accommodation for 100 1st class passengers. I think I told you in a letter from Lemnos that we had to put up with a rather rough and tumble existence for the time we were on board, owing to the fact she had been hastily commissioned as a transport, and consequently we had to put up with things as we found them. However, with all the 'indignity' we might have suffered through having practically to live amongst horses and mules, we were duly compensated by being honoured with the presence of the General Staff.
"Yes, we had first and foremost Lieutenant General Birdwood, Commander-in-Chief of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the finest military man I've ever set eyes upon, and a man much beloved by all the Australians. Also Major General Bridges, who commanded the 1st Aust Division, three other Brigadier Generals and a host of staff officers."
Sgt Dinning then wrote about the rumours that were flying around about how, when and where the landings would take place. Then, about 4.30am on 24 April, their ship weighed anchor and steamed for three hours before anchoring again in a bay at the north of the island.
"Soon after we had dropped anchor in this bay a pinnace came alongside and took the Generals and their staff officers off, each one prepared to take to the field for some days. Great coats, leggings, telescopes, field glasses, maps, emergency rations, water bottles, and from the look of them we felt sure our Generals were going to give us all the assistance they could.
"All that day we got ready. Boxes and boxes of ammunition were brought up from the hold, and every man was given 200 rounds; 150 stowed in our pouches and the other 50 wherever we could get them in our pockets or haversack. Then we got our emergency rations, which consisted of biscuits, bully beef, and a small tin containing sugar, tea and OXO tied up in a small calico bag. We received two of these, and they were not to be touched until the second and third day. Besides these bags we had to stow away our dinner and tea for the first day. So you can see that we were well loaded up, and rightly so, for we had it impressed upon us that we would have to keep going for at least three days before the transports would be able to land food, water and ammunition.
"At 9 o'clock that night the excitement on board was at breaking point. Officers and men rushed about, some knowing what they were doing, others not. Some trying on their kits and parading up and down the deck to see how they 'sat'. (I may say that it was mainly officers who were doing this, as we knew only too well how heavy kit feels).
"Some adding this and some discarding that from their kit, until about 11.30pm when everybody felt they were ready and turned in for a few hours sleep. Being on guard I was on deck all night, and as it was useless to try and snatch a few hours sleep I paraded the deck waiting for something to happen.
"At midnight something did happen - up went the anchor and we cautiously proceeded north in a beautifully calm sea and with misty moonlight giving everything a weird and mysterious appearance. After three hours steaming I began to see things. Not that I was drunk, but away on the port bow I could see the dark lowly forms of two battleships slowly making their way north. Quite close, about 200 yards off, we passed a couple of torpedo destroyers steaming in and out among the transports to see that all was right, while right ahead the stern light of transports which had gone on ahead of us began to come into view.
"Suddenly we noticed on the horizon immediately in front of us, three sharp bright flashes followed shortly afterwards by three rolling reports. In the terms of our turf sports 'they were off', and we knew that some of our comrades, probably the 3rd Brigade, were attempting a landing.
"We came up to where the landing was being made and found that the troops were being taken off the transports on to torpedo destroyers, and then afterwards taken ashore in the ship's boats. At 7 o'clock, our turn came and the destroyer Scourge came alongside and quickly took 1st Battalion aboard. Soon we were in the small boats and pulling for our life for the shore, with a few shrapnel shells breaking over our heads.
"However, none in our boat were hit, and when the boats grounded we waded ashore waist deep and soon took cover. The 3rd Brigade had performed a marvellous feat, having by this time driven the Turks from the shore over the first ridge, over the next valley, and were now driving them over the second ridge.
"Suddenly word came that reinforcements were required on the left. B Coy was told off, and away we went up the steep bluffs, wondering and marvelling how the 3rd Brigade could have possibly driven the enemy out of such a strong position. Soon we threw off our packs, and with fixed bayonets soon got to the firing line, where we were greeted by half a dozen shrapnel shells. Our casualties now started. The first shell wounded our Captain, Capt McGuire (now deceased) and two or three others.
"We couldn't see the enemy, but simply had to fire a few shots in the direction from which the bullets came. Then their machine guns got onto us, and together with their shrapnel made it a perfect hell. Men were being hit all round, and how I missed being hit by a machine gun which was sweeping along the line, sending bullets at the rate of 10 a second not more than 6 inches above my head, God only knows. Stretcher bearers couldn't get anywhere near the firing line and the despairing cries of the wounded and dying still echo in my mind.
"About 5 o'clock I was resting my head on the ground, being knocked out with fatigue from firing, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain just above the elbow of my right arm. I guessed what it was, but as it gave me no trouble I still stuck to it. At dark a lull occurred in the firing and I went behind a little to get the water bottles of some dead men and brought them along to the wounded. I bandaged the wounds on two chaps and then had a look at my own. It looked all the world like a vaccination mark."
Sgt Dinning helped a more seriously wounded colleague down to the beach for treatment where he met up with an old mate, Cliff Sturt. He had made a dugout for himself so the two of them sat down for a well-earned meal of OXO, bully beef, biscuits and jam.
"Then, as he had to work till nine o'clock unloading supplies, I turned in to a comfortable bed of blankets and overcoats, and listened to the bullets sing overhead as they sped out to sea."
That was probably the most comfortable bed Sgt Dinning enjoyed for the rest of his life. He was wounded twice on Gallipoli and much more seriously in France after which he spent the next two years in hospital.
On his return to Australia, he was unable to walk and continued to receive treatment at 4th Australian General Hospital. He was presented with a specially adapted motorcycle and side car by the Committee for the Patients of 4th AGH which enabled him to get around. Funds for the machine came from the sale of Remnants from Randwick, an annual publication put out by the Committee and of which Sgt Dinning was an honorary sub-editor.
With his special motor bike, Sgt Dinning was able to get around Sydney and returned to teaching for a while before his injuries caught up with him and he died.
His brother, Stanley Dinning, also served during the war with the 1st Signals Troop, Australian Light Horse, in the Middle East including Jericho, Jesusalem, Jaffa, Musselabeh, Jordan and Egypt. Some of his photographs are attached.
Their oldest brother, Gunner Allan George Dinning also served in World War I.
The material for this article was supplied by Leslie Dinning of New South Wales