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At the Landing

Three Australians were captured on 25 April largely because of the mistaken belief that there were Indian troops fighting with the Anzacs. There weren’t – they were Turks.

Captain Ronald McDonald, Lieutenant William Elston and Private Reginald Lushington were captured after being sent to investigate the rumour – Lushingtoin because he could speak ‘Hindustanee.’

All three survived captivity: McDonald had a distinguished career in the permanent forces and Lushington wrote a book about his experiences as a prisoner of the Turks.

‘Gurkhas on the left, don’t shoot!’

On the evening of 25 April 1915, Colonel Harold Pope was establishing elements of his 16th Battalion and some Kiwis on the hill above Monash Valley that now bears his name. Pope sent his adjutant Captain Ronald Tracy Alexander McDonald to find out what had happened to the 3rd Brigade, which had earlier been driven back from the ridge with heavy losses.

McDonald spoke to a sergeant of the 11th Battalion who said there were Indian troops fighting on the left –  “Gurkhas on the left, don’t shoot!” Pope then sent Lieutenant William Ernest Elston and Private Reginald Francis Lushington to talk to them. Lushington was born at Negrapratam in South India and understood ‘Hindustanee’ as Captain Longmore, wrote The Old Sixteenth in 1929. Bean said Lushington could speak Tamil and Pathan.

Elston and Lushington moved up Monash Valley, and Pope and McDonald heard them talking, apparently asking for a senior officer. McDonald went down the hill into Monash Valley  in response and was stopped by a figure with a rifle.

McDonald said ‘I’m and English sahib. I want burra sahib.’ (Literally meaning the big man- the officer in charge.)

Pope heard these voices and moved towards McDonald, but then became suspicious, especially when he was shot at.  He dived down the steep slope and escaped.

There were no Indians, just Turks – and McDonald, Elston and Lushington were made prisoner.

‘Except for Bugler Ashton of the 11th, they were the only Australians who remained prisoners in Turkish hands at the landing Bean wrote in the Official History.

In the   first edition (1921) Bean  wrote ‘It was about this same hour  that the cry of “Don’t shoot – Indian troops!’ had been raised in front of the  main line at McLaurin’s Hill. There is no question that, in the fighting  near The Nek, owing to the report that Indians were fighting on the left, the Turks had constantly been mistaken for Indians. It was afterwards firmly believed thatthese messages had been spread in the Australian line by some Turkish or German officer creeping close enough to do so … But it is more than  doubtful if any one of these ‘spy’ messages was really started from a hostile source.’ (Vol 1 p 470)

By the 3rd edition in 1934, Bean clarified the Turkish position.

‘The Turks were in no way responsible for the mistake, but the belief that the Indian Brigade was taking part in the Anzac landing did much damage on April 25th.’  (Bean Vol 1, p. xiv)

Captain Ronald Tracy Alexander McDonald

Captain Ronald Tracy Alexander McDonald was a regular officer in the Australian permanent forces from 1907.   He was appointed Captain and Adjutant of the 16th Battalion on 20 November 1914. After his capture at Gallipoli, he was interned at Afion Kara Hissar.

A letter dated 26.2.17 was received by a Mr Abbott in London, presumably via the Red Cross and forwarded to Australia …

“Many thanks for parcel from Harrods received 24th Caps and boots A. Wrote before acknowledging. Fiver received Xmas time. Am well and keeping cheerful learning Arabic. Weather becoming better. Have received 3 parcels from B. Red Cross Society Aust. Branch two on 24th. One numbered 2 on 12th inst. Can’t spare letter this week will you kindly acknowledge for me Austns. All receiving R. Cross parcels.

Best love Ronald A McDonald. Capt. A.I.F.”

(McDonald Red Cross file, AWM)

Prisoners were reliant on parcels and money in order to buy food, necessities  and clothing. Officers were not required to work, but men earned an intermittent pittance as labourers – including the brutal work building the railway through the Taurus mountains. It may not have been the Thai-Burma ‘Death’ Railway of  the Second World War, and the Turks were by no means as sadistic as the Japanese and Korean guards – but it was still terrible work for undernourished and often very ill men.

On 14 January 1919 Captain McDonald made a statement about the circumstances of his capture and subsequent interrogation.  This part deals with what happened after initial interrogation at Gallipoli and in Constantinople.

(The report is at AWM 30 B1.22 but is also contained in his service record in the National Archives of Australia)

“On the night of the 1st May 1915, we were moved to the Ministry of War, where we joined the Officers often AE2. Djevid Bey paid me L.T.Q 10 in gold, and Lieut ELSTON L.T.Q 5 as we complained that we had no money.

“On the morning  of  May 5 we  moved  into  the  interior, by  train  from  HAIDA  PASCHA [station]. We  reached  ESKI-CHEHlR  that  night, having had  no  food  all  day. We  were  allowed  to  go  to  the  Hotel, where  we had  a  good  meal   (at our  own  expense).        We moved early  next  morning by  train  to  AFION-KARA-HISSAR. Here we  were  placed  in  a  prison room  and  kept  for  three  days.  We  then  joined  the Officers  of submarine  E.15  and  some  Russian  officers in  quite  a  good  house  to  the north  of the  town.

“We  remained  in  this  house  till  after  Lieut-Col. STOKES’ attempt to escape in March  ’16. In June’15  I  went  into  hospital with  fever,  (Typhus?) I  was  given a  room  to  myself, but  had  to buy  all  my  medicines  and  food.  The treatment  was  fair. After Lieut.   Col. STOKES’   escape we  were  all  taken  out  of  our  house (Civilians and  Soldiers).  We had  no  cooking  facilities,     and  no  washing  and sanitary  conveniences  for  two  days. We were  not  allowed  outside  the

Church  for  exercise,  and  the surveillance  was  very  vigorous.    We arranged  for  an  orderly  to  buy  food  and  were  allotted an  outside  passage-way  to  the  kitchen. We  got  no  exercise in  the courtyard  for  a fortnight,  when  we  were allowed  about  6  hours  per  day.     This confinement continued until May ’16. We were moved then as two men had died from Typhus. 40 of us were moved to a row of good houses on the outskirts of the town, near the STAMBOUL  Station. The remainder were   housed   in   the   town.

“We   remained   in   these   houses until   released   on   November   5 1918.”

[McDonald has mistakenly referred to ‘Lieut-Col Stokes’. This is most probably Commander Henry Stoker of the Australian submarine AE2 taken prisoner with his crew on 30 April 1915.  Stoker and two others escaped from Afion Kara Hissar on 17 March 1916 and remained free for 18 days, nearly reaching the coast. I will tell the AE2 PoW story in a future post.)

McDonald returned to Australia in 1919 after a period or training in London, and remained in the regular army after the A.I.F. was disbanded in 1920. Captain McDonald of the Staff Corps was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Kings Birthday Honours List on 4 June 1928.

He was for a time ‘on the staff of Lord Somers when he was Governor of Victoria’ (SMH 31 October 1939.) Lord Somers was Governor 1926 – 1931.

In 1934 Major McDonald was Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General of 4 Division, and in 1935 held similar positions in 4 Division.

He enlisted for war service on 3 September 1939, was made Colonel in 1943 and was Brigadier when retired aged 60 in November 1945.

Afyon Kara Hissar

Now officially the town of Afyonkarahisar, the town is located in central Anatolia and named for the ancient castle (‘black opium castle’) on a hill above it. Occupied first by the Hittites in 1700 – 1800 BC, the castle was fought over by everyone from Alexander the Great to the Byzantines and Seljuk Turks. The PoWs were housed in an Armenian church at the foot of the rock while they worked on the railway through the Taurus mountains. Conditions were terrible with poor food, and much disease for men.

Private Reginald Francis Lushington

Reg Lushington, a farmer aged nearly 24, enlisted in October 1914.


Interned St. Stefano Constantinople.

“Four parcels arrived the other day in good condition. I shall be grateful if you will inform my family that I am keeping well and that unloading coal barges and railway trucks does me no  harm,  but  the  parcels  go  very  quickly  when  engaged  on  work  like  this. Horse beans here are our ordinary  “stand by” tough and course but we eat  then. Your long looked  for  clothing  parcels  despatched  in  February  have  not  yet arrived. I have one grey shirt  left, though  patched  is  making  a  splendid fight  against  unequal  conditions.

Please write to Mother for  me  as  so  many  of  my  letters  go  astray

(C/o  The  National  Bank  of  India  Ltd., Madras, S. India.)

She feels  this  strain  of  waiting  so  much.

(From AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428)

[San Stefano was located on the site of the present Istanbul international airport.)

This optimistic letter belies the conditions Lushington and the other PoWs survived. He was transferred with others to Afion Kara Hissar in 1916, where conditions working on  the railway were awful. He survived typhus, dysentery and malaria and was repatriated from Port Said on 29 November 1918.

Lushington was right to worry about his mother, Mary, in Madras. His pay allotment to her was stopped in 1915 as was classified as ‘unofficially PoW’

This matter was only ‘squared up’ in 1920 on the intercession of ‘JM’ with the District Finance Officer in Perth. By then when Mary was resident at the Liddesdale Estate, Halnagroya, Ceylon.

Lushington’s book A Prisoner With the Turks 1915 – 1918 was published in 1923.

Lieutenant William Ernest Elston

Elston was a Boer War veteran having served as Sergeant in the Third (Queensland Mounted Infantry) Contingent in 1900-01 and was supernumerary Lieutenant in the 6th Contingent in 1901-02.

Lieutenant Elston was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal and 5 clasps, and the King’s South Africa medal and 2 clasps.  22 comrades were killed or died of wounds or disease in these two units.

Lieutenant Elston was a farmer at Pilhara aged 45 when he enlisted in the 16th Battalion on 8 October 1914, and returned to Australia in November 1918.