Saturday 25 April 2015

Great War diary - part 2

One hundred years ago today Allied troops began their invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula with the aim of knocking the Turks out of the war and re-opening the Dardanelles Strait for Russia. As part of the multi-national Allied force, the Anzacs landed on the western side of the peninsula at what became known as Anzac Cove. Major John Corbin, a surgeon in the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, was witness to the dawn landing and by mid-morning was on the beach and operating on wounded soldiers in extreme conditions. Here are extracts from his diary for that day, April 25th 1915. The photos, all taken on the day, are from the online collection of the Australian War Memorial.


Could not sleep. Stayed up, had breakfast at 2.30am. Gradually stole in towards the Gallipoli Peninsula. Sighted it at 3.30 in dim hazy light. First big gun heard at 4.30, followed by several others and then rattle of musketry as the 3rd Brigade landed and started on their job of taking the first line of hills. The firing became almost continuous, the shore batteries firing shrapnel on the landing parties from point and the ships trying to silence them. We were stationary about 2 miles out and as the sun rose could see well the whole front and estimate the terrors of the landing.

At about 5.30 a naval pinnace [ship's boat] came with a badly wounded man and a slight case. Got them up and the first, ABJ Hodgson, died in five minutes... Later a boat with one dead and 5 more or less seriously wounded came alongside and were treated by us. We cannot get a tow to land us yet, they are hurrying all the troops ashore as fast as destroyers, trawlers and boats towed by pinnaces can land them.

We just hear, 7.40, that the worst battery enfilading the beach has been silenced.

There will be hundreds of wounded and dead. We shall be busy. I hear the first attack by the 3rd Brigade has been successful. Certainly there is less opposition at the landing place. Itching to get ashore and get to more work.

This has been a truly marvellous experience and one's feelings are interesting. The first shots made one wince, and each explosion sounded as if it were aimed at our ship. Soon as I had something to do the fact of a battle being in progress completely passed out of my mind and I can assure anyone that I did not consciously hear the shells.

Landed at 10.30am, found as expected heaps of work - the beach a tangled mass of men heaving and straining to get more men, guns and ammunition ashore. Shrapnel firing all the while we were landing, and it was no pleasure to sit idly in a boat rowing that last 50 yards under fire.

The first men landed did splendidly, gained two ridges but are (now) losing heavily and praying for reinforcements.

Wounded pouring in, no chance of getting them off... They are being dressed and put on the beach, hundreds and hundreds of them dying, dead and wounded. All hands to work at a temporary station over which shrapnel is singing constantly. The ships are bombarding from the sea and the noise is deafening. The infantry on the ridges are firing continuously, maxims and rifles at it all the time. We hear the losses are terrific, no time for fear, much too busy.

Began to evacuate at 5.30pm and got about 600 off before 8pm moonlight, and more later there must have been 1500 come for treatment. God knows how many dead and how many dressed and gone on fighting. The 12th are getting hell, also the 9th. The 10th have lost most of their officers.

Worked on until 9pm then slept until 12 (midnight) in spite of continuous rifle and shrapnel fire. Up then and more wounded...

Then Admiral sent boats ashore with order for general retreat. No one seemed to know why. We packed all our wounded off and stood by, losing most of our personal gear in the business. Later... order countermanded by [General] Birdwood and we stayed.

John Corbin was at Anzac Cove for four months, keeping a diary the whole time, then illness forced him to leave. I will post another article or two in the near future of his experiences at Anzac.