Brother follows brother into battle at Gallipoli

Name: Stewart Boyden
Date: 1915-1918
Unit: 19th Battalion AIF
Location: Gallipoli, France and Belgium

Stewart Boyden knew his brother Rex had gone in to battle ahead of him during an attack on Hill 60 in Gallipoli.

After months of training, the troops were keyed up at the thought of finally going into battle.

But Stewart became concerned about Rex when the casualties started coming back.

He described his feelings in a letter to his father written in November 1915.

"At 7 pm of August 21st we moved round to be in reserve for the continuation of the attack [on Hill 60]. About 9am of August 22nd word came through for the 19th Battalion to reinforce the 10th Gurkhas. We were just finishing our breakfast, but in a minute everything was all bustle and excitement. Well we were in for it now.

"The men fell in, as we had done many times before at Liverpool, rifles were examined and ammunition looked to and the company reported all correct. It would be impossible to describe how I felt; I know I wasn't frightened, but I had a sort of sick feeling in my stomach, but that was only while we were standing still. The minute we started to move off I felt alright.

"We had to march down the gully under cover of a cliff, after which we would come out in the open, when we were told we could come under shell fire. When we turned out of the gully, we had to face what is known as being the most trying for the new soldier - that is the sight of the wounded being brought in - and never shall I forget the awful sights. I saw stretcher after stretcher, some unconscious others smiling, and even some smoking. Here and there you would see a couple of wounded fellows, who could do without stretchers, helping each other.

"Then to my horror, I saw some of the 18th battalion wounded, being brought in and presently one chap called out to me from his stretcher 'Mr Boyden I don't know where your brother is, the last I saw of him was just before we charged'. Others told me that 'B' Company was cut to pieces, hardly anyone left, all this time we were waiting under cover of a cliff.

"Never did I put in a more awful hour, not that I feared what was in front of us, but the horror of war had just begun to get a grip of me, and I imagined poor old Rex being one of those that were cut to pieces. I looked closely at each stretcher as it went by, but could not see or hear anything about him - then word came to move forward; then that feeling gripped me, that grips all soldiers when once they see the horror of war - the feeling 'if only I could get at them' and feeling so, I was ready for anything.

"By this time the leading company had opened out into extended order, the first couple of lines and were beginning to double out across the open plain, when we heard the shriek of the first shell, as she came tearing over us. She burst with terrific noise and tore up the ground between the first and second line, then came another one and burst almost over the second line and down went a couple of chaps, the first to fall of the 19th - but our men never wavered. On they went as though they were just doubling across the fields at Liverpool. All this time we were sitting down waiting for our turn to come when a stray shell burst about 30 yards to our left, some of the men ducked for cover, but my chaps sat perfectly still, quite unconcerned. One of them said 'Alright Mr Boyden we won't fail you, we'll follow you right through'.

"At last our turn came, opening out into extended order away we went - Major Norrie and I side by side - it was certainly a nasty sensation when we heard the shriek of the first shell we knew was aimed at us, she seemed to burst right over our heads. Everyone ducked and then looked round to see if anyone was hit, but no one thank God that time, so I breathed a bit more freely - then another came, than another and another, each one bursting just behind us. Running all the time, we at last reached the other side of the plain, where there was cover for us to get behind, and there we sat down to get our breath.

"I had offered up a little prayer, that God would take my platoon across safely and He did, for I didn't lose a man. The other platoons were not so fortunate - poor Mr Killern's platoon had a whole section wiped out completely, he being one of them. As you no doubt heard, he had one of his legs blown to pieces. After we had - hour's spell, we were led along a communication trench for about - a mile and then told to sit down thinking of course that we should soon be led out and told to charge. But instead of that we sat there all day until 1am the next morning.

"I know I had just dozed off into a nice sleep when the Major came and told us that we had to go out and dig a trench about 100 yards from the Turks. 'Mr Boyden you'll take your platoon & go in front and act as covering party against surprise'. I was led along the communication trench, my men following and I was shown where the trenches were going to be made and was told to move my men forward 50 yards in front of where the trenches would be - so out of the trench we climbed and once more opening out into extended order we marched across some ploughed ground, while all the time the bullets were whistling over our heads.

"The position I took up was along the top of a bank of a donga (dry water course) and there we lay expecting every moment we would be discovered and fired on. The Turkish bullet has a very thin coating of nickel which often bursts open making a report and flash like a shot from a rifle - at that time I did not know this, nor did I know, just where the Turks trenches were, so that every time a bullet burst, I thought it was a rifle shot and as one or two burst rather close in some trees that were near, I thought there must be some snipers who we were told often hid in the trees and picked off officers.

"Our orders were, not to fire unless attacked, so I lay perfectly still as did the rest of my men, with our rifles ready - it was the most trying 3 hours I have yet had especially when 2 bullets struck the bank, one to the right and one to the left of me about 2 feet from my head, I thought then that some sniper had seen me and was firing at me and it gave me a nasty feeling down my back to know that I was being deliberately fired at. However I offered up a prayer, & at once all nervousness seemed to go and I felt then that I was safe. I even thought to my self if it should be His will for me to be hit, what does it matter if I'm killed, I'll go straight to Him, & if I'm wounded I shall be taken away out of this awful place. However, God in His mercy spared me, as he did all the rest of my men.

"Just before daylight we were told to withdraw as the trench had been dug deep enough to hide most of the men. The rest of us went back to the trench we had left. The following night and for several nights after, we had to go out and dig fresh trenches, which was always very trying to the nerves and we lost a few men each night from stray bullets, for they were only strays, the Turks never saw us digging, so that we were never deliberately fired on. When we left the Gurkhas, one of the Imperial Staff Officers commended us on the good work we had done saying that had we been an army of trained regulars we couldn't have done better. And that is how the 5th Brigade made their name - the Gurkhas themselves think a lot of the Australians and even say it is an honour to fight alongside of them.

"During that 3 days battle we never took part in a charge but I honestly think our work was just as trying for we worked with our blood cool, while those in a charge have their blood up and plenty of excitement to carry them through - I shall have to leave the rest of my experiences until another time.

The material for this article was supplied by Ron Boyden of the Australian Capital Territory and Mrs Elinor Walker of New South Wales

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Brother follows brother into battle at Gallipoli, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 17 July 2024,
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