Archives for category: First World War

The Evacuation of Anzac is universally regarded as a triumph, partly because it was casualty-free. Mention is sometimes made of a couple of wounded, but the implication is that nobody died. That’s what I thought, until Kim Phillips asked me to wrote a foreword to her book The Spirits of Gallipoli – A Centenary of Anzacs. There I found that  Staff Sergeant Harry Bowser of the 2nd Light Horse  had died on 19 December, of wounds received on the beach, and was buried at sea.BOWSER-HL-Photo-01

Harry was the last Anzac to die at Gallipoli, remembered on the Lone Pine Memorial.

That’s the kind of new connection that can be made in this unique and extraordinary book and CD. The stories of 100 Anzacs are told in the book, and all available details of 7249 men who served in the Australian forces and who are buried or commemorated at Gallipoli are on the CD.

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Buy the book here:    http://www.spirits-of-gallipoli.com/

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Newfoundland Regiment

Too often Australians overlook the service of others at Gallipoli – French, British, Indian – and Canadian. The Canadians at Gallipoli were Newfoundlanders at the time, and while they and their casualties were comparatively small, they too, should be remembered.

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Poppies, Lala Baba, Suvla

Newfoundland, an island located off the north-east coast of Canada, was discovered by Europeans around 1000, and became the earliest permanent British colony in North America in 1583. The Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, and while Newfoundland was at the time a British Dominion (as was Australia and Canada) it joined Canada in 1949. (Some 650,000 Canadians enlisted in the First World War, suffering 236,000 casualties including 66,000 dead.)

Australians and New Zealanders fought at Gallipoli as distinct national units, and were not broken up brigade by brigade, or battalion by battalion, and distributed to British divisions. Not so fortunate was the Newfoundland Regiment – a battalion sized unit of about 1000 officers and men. It was raised on 21 August 1914, and the first 500 men (known as the Blue Puttees, as khaki puttees were not issued ) sailed for England on 4 October, 1914, for training at Aldershot and then in Scotland.

In August the regiment was sent to reinforce the British 29th Division which had landed at Cape Helles on 25 April. The landing was initially commanded by the wastefully incompetent General Aylmer Hunter Weston. The 29th suffered thousands of casualties in the battles for Krithia in May 1915. (Overall the 29th suffered around 34,000 casualties at Gallipoli, and won 12 Victoria Crosses. )

They Newfoundlanders would probably not have gone to Gallipoli except for a tragic train accident on 22 May 1915 at Quintinshill near Gretna Green in Scotland, which killed 214 and injured 218 men of the Royal Scots ‘Leith’ Battalion which was being sent as reinforcement to the 29th Division. This disaster claimed more lives than any train accident in British history.

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First ten men to enlist, August 1914. From ‘The First 500’ by Richard Cramm.

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Australian dead of the First World War are everywhere in France – 33,205 named and un-named are buried in hundreds of cemeteries, listed on memorials to the missing, or just lost in the verdant fields.

Bullecourt 1917 : The night is dark, and I am far from home.

Driving from the stunning Museum of the Great War at Meaux (not far from Paris, opened in 2011) to Fromelles via Bullecourt in July 2014, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission sign beckoned. Vraucourt Copse Cemetery. A few hundred metres up a one-way track, there is a small cemetery with 98 burials – 33 Australian and 65 British soldiers. They are among the 10,000 Australian and 9,000 British casualties of the two battles at Bullecourt in April and May 1917.

Private Albert Parkinson of the 12th Field Ambulance a 25 year old furniture salesman from North Fitzroy is there. He was killed on 11 April 1917 in the first battle of Bullecourt. He was one of seven soldiers killed by a German shell while working with the 13th Battalion doctor, Captain Norman Shierlaw who is buried next to him. Shierlaw had been awarded a Military Cross for looking after the wounded for two days and nights under heavy fire earlier in 1917.

Albert Parkinson’s father John requested this despairing inscription for his son’s headstone – ‘the night is dark, and I am far from home.’

 

Vraucourt Copse Parkinson

The night is dark and I am far from home

 

 

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Gallipoli still resonates with us because the battlefields are the best-preserved of all those of the First World War, and because the cemeteries were established close to where the men fell.

We can thank Charles Bean for that, as for so many other things, as it was his report after the 1919 Historical Mission that resulted in the conservation of the battlefield cemeteries, rather than the collection and concentration of the graves in large cemeteries, as often happened on the Western Front.

Bean was also quite interested in providing access to these places of pilgrimage, and made detailed recommendations for the establishment, or reestablishment of roads and paths to give access to the cemeteries and monuments.

‘With reference to the roads, Anzac is accessible by Ford car during fine spells even in winter, and (the journey) would easily be practicable in summer … The first cost or repair of motor roads from Boghali to North and South Anzac and around the Beach would be about £600 and the annual cost £200.’

(13 March 1919 Report in Gallipoli Mission, AWM 1952 p 384)

I don’t know what Bean would have made of Anzac today – especially the widening of the road in 2005, and the construction of the retaining wall in 2011.

The Anzacs themselves made the road above Anzac Cove  in 1915, and it was developed further by the Turks after the evacuation Tremendous earthworks were also undertaken in 1915 – dugouts, tracks and the large scale terracing (Malone’s Terraces) near Quinn’s Post.

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