Doctor among the last to leave Gallipoli

Name: Eric Hutchinson
Date: 1915
Unit: 20th Battalion
Location: Gallipoli

Major Eric Hutchinson was a doctor but he was also a hero. He survived numerous shellings, was eventually wounded in France and evacuated but then returned to the front to continue tending the wounded.

For his efforts he was awarded the DSO and was twice mentioned in despatches.

But not even these awards can begin to tell the story of a man who constantly ignored danger and risked his life to help others.

Throughout his war service he kept a detailed diary written in factual, unemotional language, describing what he had seen and experienced.

Major Hutchinson served first at Gallipoli where he played an important part in the evacuation in December 1915.

On Tuesday 15 December he moved his AMC station to his old rest camp.

"We are being shelled with large 8 inch black powder shells from the Narrows or Asia, or the warship Goeben," he wrote. "These can be heard coming through the air, for some distance, & they smash our trenches & dugouts. Several officers have been killed while sitting in their dugouts. My old dugout & AMC are now too dangerous to be used on account of shell fire, so I only sleep in it, and go there to attend wounded cases."

On the Thursday he wrote that several men had been killed by shell fire.

"They were terribly mutilated. The earth brought down by the shell often completely buries the men. During the bombardment they [the trenches] are very dangerous as they can only protect against shrapnel & not against the big high explosive shells."

"Today while in my old dugout during shelling, on several occasions showers & dirt from a shell burst, rained in the roof, & the same thing happened to me going round the lines, one HE [high explosive] shell landing on the parados a few yards along the trench in front of me.

"The men are in good spirits. Every night now numbers of men are being sent away by boat & guns & articles of all sorts also. Large quantities of stores are gradually being destroyed. Superficial mines & barbed wire entanglements are being set in position in the trenches & a second line of defence prepared, contracted on Walkers Ridge on the left and Plugge's Plateau area on the right, covering the landing pier."

On Saturday 19 December Major Hutchinson wrote that the bombardment began early.

"Barbed wire entanglements made ready everywhere, also mechanical rifle & bomb devices that would go off automatically or if some part of them were touched or pulled. Half of the remainder of our battn, & incidentally half of the total number of troops on the Peninsula, left this evening after dark, being taken off by barges to the ships. I sent away some AMC details & stretcher bearers. Our line is now very thin, so, in fear of an attack, we slept in boots, but things were quiet. Last night a large fire accidentally occurred on the beach among some stores & was burning all day, being fed by other stores that were to be destroyed."

On the Sunday Major Hutchinson wrote that hospital tents were being left in situ on the beach.

"Stores of all sorts, clothing, tools, cements, boots, food & all sorts of things that have not been removed or destroyed are laying about all over the beach depots.

"All day we have been burning & destroying ammunition, tools etc. An enemy aeroplane flew low over today. At 6pm Party A consisting of 300 all ranks left the trenches & embarked at the pier at North Beach. At midnight Party B of 41 in number, leaving only 140 men & officers to defend Russel Top. All my remaining men left with the first party. Party C1 of 27 embarked at 2.45am, Party C2 left about ½ hour later; then as things were going so well, the rear party under Lt Connor of 56 men, a bit later. Then Party C3 of 30 men at about 3.25am & after them the remaining two or three officers & men (myself included).

"The rear & C parties wore socks over their boots to deaden the sound. After A Party, which included all remaining stretcher bearers & AMC men left, I completed arrangements for wounded, in case of need, putting out lotions, dishes & dressings in the old AMC dressing station (only a small part of it being left) & also in a larger dressing station on the flat near HQ, which I had made during the day.

"Have sent all my things on ahead, except overcoat, blanket, water bottle & surgical field haversack. Arranged some dressing in a haversack to carry with me, if required, in the trenches. Have a few stretchers ready at places in the trenches. As this Battn occupies the nearest front line trenches to the beach, we are to be the last to leave our position,

"The various units holding the line carry out their evacuation by parties in a similar manner to ours & those who are furthest away leave correspondingly earlier to those who are closer. Thus we were manning our trenches when the whole line on our right & left had been completely evacuated & were prepared to hold the rear guard position. But this happily was not required.

"Colonel Lamrock, our OC, was acting Brigadier for the night and went to Bgde Head Quarters somewhere at Plugge's Plateau, while our second in command, Major Fitzgerald, acted as Battn OC. In the Bttn HQ dugout a telephone switchboard, rigged up by the signallers, was in touch with all the various Bgde & rearguard posts.

"It was about 11.30pm when Col Lamrock left to take over at Plugge's Plateau. After tea I went with Fitzgerald right through all our trenches, & also our second line of defence. The men were quite cool & alert. This took until after 11pm. The Turkish rifle & machine gun & bomb fire was about normal.

"At 11pm there was a report that 100 Turks were making down Malone Gully, along our left flank. Fitzgerald & I went to investigate but could see nothing abnormal. The report was incorrect. Our second line at Russel Top is a strong one & runs from the old firing line through Main St & Todd Rd, past Head Quarters over the hill & down the spur to behind the Clearing Hospital on the beach.

"This gives us our left flank; the right flank comes down from the right of the Top to Plugge's Plateau to the beach, the two flanks being some 500 or 600 yds apart. Col Lamrock left us about 11.30pm for Plugge's which with Russel Top is the last main position we now would hold.

At 2am Major Fitzgerald, Lt Caddy (an Australian artillery officer) Lt Broadbent & myself had some supper & Lt Connor came in for some as we were about finished. The various C parties & rearguard moved off as appointed, the signaller sgt and a man went past & at the last Fitzgerald, Caddy, Broadbent & myself were the only ones left.

Caddy & Broadbent went to explode the mine (tunnelling for which well under the enemy trenches had been in progress for weeks) and electric detonating switch being near the former AMC station & I ran to the emergency dressing station & took down the large Red Cross flag that I had brought from a beach hospital during the day, to bring away with me. There was then no one in sight, the last C party with Major Ross in charge being well down the hill & the CO & mine officers behind. It seemed very lonely as I started down the hill & just then the large mine (3 tons of ammonal under the Turks at the "Neck") went off with a terrific roar, shaking the ground & followed by another explosion. Immediately every machine gun & rifle of the Turks (as it seemed) began firing, filling the night with one continuous rattling noise & accelerating my departure down the hill, at the foot of which Capt Ross was reforming his C3 party.

"In front of us some 25th Battn machine gunners were carrying their Vickers guns from the Malone Gully direction at the foot of Walker Ridge. We all, i.e. Fitz, Broadbent, Caddy & the last remnants of the Battn, met at the pier & got on the same lighter. There were a couple of naval officers on the pier who were in charge of the evacuation & they also got on the lighter.

"As I stepped on the lighter Maj Fitzgerald and another officer were arguing which of them should be the last off. Anyhow, Ross, Broadbent, Caddy and I boarded the lighter about the same time with one or two others & those two got on & off. We went leaving no one behind on the shore. The lighter took us through some stray rifle fire to a steamer which sailed shortly after we got on board. That was the last boat & we went straight to Mudros Harbour at the island of Lemnos.

"Anchored at Mudros about 9am. The whole evacuation had been accomplished without the loss of a man & comparatively few stores were left.

"The most anxious job, & one requiring the highest degree of courage on that night, was performed by Pte Knight who remained alone in the dark mine tunnel listening for the sound of Turkish picks; although visited at 15 minute intervals he knew nothing of what was going on outside & had his officer been unreliable, could have been forgotten & left behind when everyone else had left. Everyone was under high tension that night & this man's task was a very severe test of high courage. He left alright with the last C party."

Major Hutchinson later served in France where he was awarded a DSO and was twice mentioned in despatches.

The material for this article was supplied by Mr J. F. Hutchinson and Mr K.E. Hutchinson of New South Wales

Last updated:

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Doctor among the last to leave Gallipoli, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 23 July 2024,
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