Water, water but hardly fit to drink

Name: Frank Boyes
Date: 1915-1918
Unit: 14th Battalion, 3rd Brigade AIF
Location: Gallipoli

Summer on Gallipoli was hot and water, always rationed, was scarce. It was rumoured to come from Malta, and was red with rust, with a flavour of its own, according to 2nd Lt Frank Boyes.

"Along with the chemicals that the heads added for the purpose of killing the wogs, gave it an indescribable flavour," he wrote in a letter home. "When tea was added the colour turned to a dirty brown and made it taste something similar."

Lt Boyes recalled that among the reinforcements sent to Gallipoli was a man named Paddy. He had been brought up in Dublin and his English was very hard to understand.

"You had to get used to it. One day, I had a septic hand which was very swollen and I went to the First Aid Post to get treatment. Paddy, who was suffering from continued pains in his tummy accompanied me.

"After the Doctor (Capt Lauchrin) had lanced my hand and bound it up, I waited for Paddy to get his turn. He told the Doctor that the rust in the water had lined the inside of his stomach. Could he do anything about it? 'Yes' said the Doctor said after examining him, 'I will cut you open and scrape the rust from the inside of your tummy and you will be alright.' Paddy demurred and said he thought he might manage somehow. So the Doctor gave him two tablets which were very violent purgatives and Paddy was cured to fight on.

"We had another Irishman whose surname was Doolan. Everybody called him Doolan and he answered to it. His accent was not too bad but he spoke very quickly and it was a job to keep up.

"One day during the August fighting our Battalion was operating on a hillside and a Turkish battery had landed some shells in our midst and two men were killed and a number wounded. I, a Lance Corporal at the time (a rank higher than Private but the same pay) was given three men and detailed to bury the two dead soldiers. They were from another Company and complete strangers to me and I collected the contents of their pockets and also their identity discs to hand in and I have never forgotten their names - Andrews and Jack.

"Doolan was one of the three men assigned to me for the burial and the ground was dry and hard. We all four toiled hard and got a grave double width dug suitable for the purpose. We laid the two corpses side by side, and I prepared to start shovelling back the earth to fill the grave when Doolan rushed up to me shouting in rapid tones 'Say something Corporal! Say something Corporal', and kept on repeating it.

"It dawned an me that he meant a funeral service and I was never so embarrassed in my life because I did not know anything about the funeral service. The other two men were standing looking at me and Providence suddenly came to my aid and I cast my eyes heavenward and in a solemn voice said "Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust" and was wondering what to say next when Doolan called out 'Amen' and grabbing a shovel commenced to fill up the grave.

"When we went back to Egypt, Doolan joined the Camel Corps and I never heard any more about him."


Last updated: 31 May 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Water, water but hardly fit to drink, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/water-water-hardly-fit-drink
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