Gallipoli. 25 April 1915

THE DARDANELLES. ALLIES IN GALLIPOLI. (1915, April 30) Bendigo Advertiser (Vic) p. 7. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
THE DARDANELLES. ALLIES IN GALLIPOLI. (1915, April 30) Bendigo Advertiser (Vic) p. 7. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

In the early hours of 25 April, Andy Duncan was on board a destroyer – possibly the Scourge – anchored about 5 miles from the Gallipoli shore. A hot breakfast and a tot of rum gave some comfort in the chill night air.

The NCOs including Andy were responsible for enforcing the rules of no noise, no lights, no smoking while the men waited for the moon to set and orders to embark.

Andy’s battalion was part of the covering force for the Anzac landing and the first ashore. The 10th Battalion war diaries give some idea of Andy’s arrival at Anzac Cove

At 3AM on Sunday 25th April B & D Coy & Hd Qr Battn Staff Signallers & Scouts left the Prince of Wales in cutters life boats &c being towed to within about 50 yd of shore by steam boats. Absolute silence was maintained by all in our boats & directly the boats were cast off by the steamers we quickly rowed towards the shore. Dawn was just breaking 4.15  & no sound was heard except the splash of the oars.

We thought that our landing was to be effected quite unopposed, but when our boats were within about 30 yd of the beach a rifle was fired from the hill in front of us above the beach, right in front of where we were heading for. Almost immediately heavy rifle & machine gun fire was opened upon us. We had to row for another 15 yards or so before we reached water shallow enough to get out of boats. This was about 4.15 AM – we got out of boats into about 3 ft of water & landed on a stony bottom. The stones were round & slimy & many officers & men slipped on them & fell into the water, but all bravely & silently made all haste to reach the beach, under a perfect hail of bullets. Many men fixed their bayonets before reaching the shore. I ordered the men to lay down, fix bayonets & remove packs. This was done in a couple of minutes.

The men of 9, 10 & 11 Bn were all mixed up on the beach but there was no time to organize so I ordered all to advance. The men sprang to their feet at once & with a cheer charged up the hill held by the Turks & drove them off it, following up their success by firing on the quickly retreating foe.

For the next 96 hours the men of the 10th Battalion experienced continuous fighting, shattered nerves and little or no sleep. If Andy was with the parts of his battalion fighting around 400 Plateau, then he was where the shrapnel was the heaviest. Shells burst just above the Australians. Red-hot pellets whipped through the air, flaying the unprotected backs of the men as they sought cover from enemy rifle and machine-gun fire.

Andy was hit.

He was ferried from the beach out to the ship Ionian with severe shrapnel wounds to his back. Medical staff on board classified the wounds of the soldiers arriving, sending the dead and those beyond help to a makeshift morgue in the ship’s hold.

Andy’s condition was assessed. He heard a voice say, “put him in the hold”.

As Andy was being consigned to the morgue he managed to say, “Give us a bloody drink”. Those words probably saved his life. He was moved to lie with the wounded.

Sources

Plowman, P. 2013. Voyage to Gallipoli. Rosenberg Publishing, Kenthurst, NSW.

1915 AWM4, 23/27/2 – March – April 1915. First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/27, 10th Infantry Battalion.

Pedersen, P. 2010. The Anzacs: From Gallipoli to the Western Front. Penguin Australia.

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The worst news a father could hear

Researching the goings-on in the Australian Imperial Force’s Mena camp, I came across this December 1914 newspaper article in Trove:

DEATHS IN EGYPT MELBOURNE, Saturday The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has received information that Miles Standish Cox, of the Fourth Battalion, died from pneumonia on December 16. His next of kin is his father, Mr. E.S. Cox, of Woy Woy (N.S.W.). Another message to the Minister states that Roy Gartside Cullan, of the First Battalion, died on the same day from pernicious anaemia. His next of kin is his wife, who resides in New Zealand. WAGSTAFFE POINT, Saturday Following the death of Edward King Cox, the deceased’s father received a cablegram last night announcing the death of his second son, Miles Standish Cox, at Mena Camp, Cairo, Egypt, on December 16

Two sons dead at Mena Camp within days of each other. Sadly deaths like these were not unusual. The soldiers would return from drills soaked with sweat; the desert winds would then chill them and put them at risk of pneumonia.

Egypt

On 6 December 1914 the 10th battalion disembarked at Alexandria and entrained for Cairo.

The men arrived in Cairo around midnight and were given a mug of cocoa, a bread roll and cheese. Then they boarded trams for Mena camp.

Troops entraining at Alexandria. Australian War Memorial collection PS0470
Troops entraining at Alexandria.
Australian War Memorial collection PS0470

As the trams neared the terminus, the men could see the pyramids in the moonlight, wrapped in light fog.

The battalion marched into camp only to find no tents, blankets or bedding. Exhausted from the day’s activities, the men fell asleep on the sand. The desert night was freezing, and Andy had only his greatcoat to keep him warm.

A second night was spent sleeping in the open – this time huddled under waterproof sheets in the rain.The following day the tents arrived.

The NCOs would have been kept busy establishing discipline and routine. Andy would have had to deal with men more interested in climbing the pyramids or seeking out the delights of Cairo than in military routine.

Mena-Camp-SRG-435_1_281
The camps of the 9th and 10th Battalions of the AIF, located 10 miles from Cairo. Two pyramids can be seen in the background. Handwritten note on back: ‘This is a photo of part of the old camp at Mena. It shows the road between our lines (on the left) and the 9th on the right. I picked it up when in Cairo last.’. State Library of South Australia SRG 435/1/281

For the next three months the battalion underwent vigorous training at Mena camp. A typical day started with Reveille at 6am then breakfast at 7am. After breakfast the men marched for about four miles across the desert to the drill ground. There they would rest for ten minutes before drilling until 12 noon.

Lunch was a small bread roll and tinned sardines.

Troops of the 10th Battalion taking a rest break during training in the desert.  Australian War Memorial collection A02135
Troops of the 10th Battalion taking a rest break during training in the desert.
Australian War Memorial collection A02135

In the afternoon the men drilled from 1pm until 4pm. Then they headed back to camp. They wore full kit, marching and skirmishing their way through the desert.By the time Andy arrived in camp his clothes were soaked through with sweat.

After dinner the men would wash and change clothes, then drill from 7:30pm until 10 or 11pm.

At the beginning of January 1915 the battalion structure changed from 8 companies to 4. Andy’s G Company was disbanded and he was now in D Company. About this time the ‘Australian Expeditionary Force’ was renamed the ‘Australian Imperial Force’.

By February night drills had lengthened. Soldier Archie Barwick wrote of practising at night “taking up positions, digging trenches, attacking, scouting, silent marches, bayonet attacks, rapid movements”.

On 2 March 1915 Andy left with the battalion on the S.S. Ionian for the island of Lemnos. Here they would make their final preparations for a landing at the Dardanelles.

The 10th Battalion camp lines at Mena 'packed up ready to move' on the eve of departure for the Gallipoli Peninsula. The remains of the Officers mess is in the right foreground. Australian War Memorial collection A02141
The 10th Battalion camp lines at Mena ‘packed up ready to move’ on the eve of departure for the Gallipoli Peninsula. The remains of the Officers mess is in the right foreground.
Australian War Memorial collection A02141

The 10th Battalion prepares for war

The Broken Hill men were assigned to the 10th Battalion, which together with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions formed the 3rd Brigade. Andy Duncan, with his previous military experience, was assigned the rank of Sergeant.

The 10th Battalion reached its full strength by the end of August 1914. All of September and the first half of October 1914 was spent training at Morphettville.


“Life at Morphettville is strenuous during working hours, when the soldier, be he the finished article or the raw recruit, spends hours training for duty at the front. But when work is over he is, within certain limits, his own master. The picture shows members of the expeditionary force spending a brief period in recreation.”
CAMP LIFE AT MORPHETTVILLE. (1914, August 29) The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) p. 17. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On 20 October Andy embarked for active service abroad. The men of the 10th Battalion were transferred by train to Outer Harbour where they boarded HMAT Ascanius. Their destination was unknown, but there was speculation that the battalion would be heading to Europe.

The Ascanius made a brief stop at Albany, Western Australia, then sailed for Egypt via Colombo.

HMAT Ascanius (A11) at Fremantle, Western Australia in November 1914.  Australian War Memorial collection H16157
HMAT Ascanius (A11) at Fremantle, Western Australia in November 1914.
Australian War Memorial collection H16157

On 3 November Andy experienced the first bad weather – and possibly his first bout of sea-sickness – of the voyage. As the day progressed waves crashed over the deck with increasing fury. The rough seas continued overnight. On some transport ships horses were washed overboard.

The following day the weather calmed somewhat and the Ascanius joined the Anzac fleet of 38 transports. 6 warships, including the Japanese TMS Ibuka, escorted the fleet.

The fleet headed northeast, into waters where German cruisers prowled for allied ships. During the day the men prepared with fire alarm, collision and boat drills. At night the fleet sailed with all lights out.

The weather became hot and muggy. Andy would have slept on deck to seek some relief.

In the early morning of 9 November Andy may have witnessed the HMAS Sydney steam west at full speed. He likely watched several hours later when the Melbourne and the Ibuka raced away with battle flags raised. The men knew that something was doing. Then at 11:15am news was received from the Sydney that the German cruiser Emden was “beached and done for”.

Another Broken Hill enlistee, Private H.W.B. Macarty, wrote

Great rejoicing on board, free beer, very hot.

The heat was relentless. By 14 November the men had “no smokes and little to drink”. A stop at Colombo 15 – 17 November was only to take on coal and water; there was no shore leave and no opportunity to replenish tobacco and matches.

When the fleet left Colombo the men were aware that German submarines were active in the area. So when the Ascanius collided with the Shropshire before dawn on 21 November, some thought the ship had been attacked.

The men in the forward compartments of the Ascanius were thrown from their hammocks by the force. Andy would have hurriedly paraded on deck with life belt on, ready to evacuate the ship. Evacuation was not necessary, however. Despite receiving a 7-metre hole in the port bow the Ascanius proceeded on to Aden.

The fleet reached Aden on 25 November. For many soldiers the bustling port must have been a new and exotic experience. Macarty wrote

Bedouins, Arabian Jews, Pharsees all around boat like flies selling Pine Apples, cigarettes, belts, large harbour, workers a lazy lot, get 4d a day, we throw spuds … to make them work, talk a man blind.

Perhaps Andy was reminded of his time in India.

Local men trading with troops on board an Australian transport at the port of Aden, Egypt. Baskets transferring food and goods are being lifted up to the ship by a set of ropes. Australian War Memorial collection C02540
Local men trading with troops on board an Australian transport at the port of Aden, Egypt. Baskets transferring food and goods are being lifted up to the ship by a set of ropes.
Australian War Memorial collection C02540

The fleet left Aden at dawn the following day. Soon after Andy became unwell, possibly from the intense heat and the fever that was doing the rounds, or from the sea-sickness that still plagued some men. He was in bed for 5 days, treated for dehydration. From his bed he would have heard that the Australian Division was to disembark at Alexandria and proceed to Cairo for training.

The Australians were going to advance against the Turks.

More than just an Original Anzac

Andrew Stewart Duncan c.1915. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.
My great-grandfather Andrew “Andy” Duncan was a soldier for a good part of his adult life. The military service that defined him to his wife and family was his enlistment as an original Anzac, but by 1914 Andy already had 12 years’ British Army experience in England, South Africa and India and a year in the South Australian Militia. The story of 17 year old Andy joining the army and travelling the world is seldom told and the details almost forgotten.

By piecing together war diaries, military histories, newspaper articles and family stories we can start to see the man with a love of empire and military tradition, a strong sense of civic duty and an independent streak that sometimes got him into trouble. While there are gaps in the story and questions that might never be answered, the 100th anniversary of the First World War seems a fitting time to tell Andy’s story.