Sunday 3 May 2015

Great War diary - part 3

On a desperate first day (see previous article) Dr John Corbin, one of just five doctors in the casualty clearing unit, treated hundreds of wounded soldiers on the beach at Anzac Cove. He snatched three hours sleep that day, but none at all on day two, as we see in the diary extracts which continue below.


Monday 26th April (700 wounded):

Worked continuously to 8am dressing God knows how many. Then a cup of tea and one biscuit, on again till later on another biscuit, then all day until 5pm. Had a bathe under fire and came out refreshed and invigorated to work on to 12.30 hard at it.

Clearing station 1 ACCS on the beach at Anzac Cove

Tuesday 27th April (659 wounded):

As I write I am crouched against the edge of the hill, shrapnel is raining down, two stretcher bearers have been hit within two yards of me. Standing up on our small piece of ground on which our clearing station stands this morning I got smacked in the side by a shrapnel bullet. It didn't go through my pocket book, just gave me a stunning smack. No harm done.

[Re 'shrapnel', in John's diary there are numerous references to shrapnel and shrapnel bullets. These days we think of shrapnel as metal fragments thrown out in all directions by an explosion, but the original 'shrapnel shell', as used in WW1, was a projectile containing bullets. The casing was timed to release the shrapnel bullets before impact, allowing them to spread out and inflict maximum injury.]

Hectic early days at Anzac

Our soldiers are fighting like demons, most of the field ambulance covering themselves with glory. Heaps being shot. The Turks spare no one, do not recognise the Red Cross and kill our wounded. I think our men are doing the same.

The noise and concussion of the fleet firing 30 shots a minute is most deafening. The shock of the big 15 inch guns of the 'Queen Elizabeth' firing from 3 miles out is like a physical blow on one's body.

Worked on... hard at it all the time... Very serious wounds of head and abdomen, many must be caused by some form of expanding bullet.

Wednesday 28th April (398 wounded):

The continuous succession of hideous wounds, and the difficulty of doing as much for them as one would wish, makes the work distressing as well as arduous. We have handled roughly 3,300 casualties since landing on Sunday, not bad for 5 men.

The courage of the men is equalled by the bravery of the stretcher bearers. They go right into the firing line. One has to see this country to realise the difficulties they have to overcome.

MLI [Royal Marines] reinforcements landed about 3000 men.

Thursday 29th April:

MLI have an ambulance and are to start alongside us. Slack firing, men dug in well and fewer casualties. We were told to knock off and spell.

Went with O'Brien up to the front line and had a good look round. Through a gun embrasure saw the advanced line. Our men have driven the Turk back a good way and have only one more ridge to take to enable howitzer batteries to shell Chenak and make the work of Navy easy in the Dardanelles.

Snipers from opposing ridge fire if you put your helmet above the trench and the noise of the bullets is most eerie.

Down and lunched then collared a naval pinnace and went to HMS London, had a bath, shave and a ripping tea, off to shore again at 6.30.

Views of Anzac Cove - both showing 1 ACCS at right

After we landed one of our sergeants got a bullet in his knee about 5 yards from me. It didn't enter his flesh but scared him stiff and he fainted on the spot. After dinner strolled along the lines and talked to the men of the 3rd Brigade who have done the bulk of the fighting. They are real good soldiers now, quiet, reliant, determined fellows.

I am trying to get a cable to Margaret to say I am well and safe. I shudder to think of her anxiety if she knew the conditions I am working under. No chance of a letter for some time to me or from me.

Friday 30th April (134 wounded):

Surgery in progress at 1 ACCS

Persuaded BE to reorganise the stand, got it levelled up and the temporary operating table fixed. Had several depressed shell fractures. One wound of bladder sewn up, several small amputations and formed a regular staff with Woods as anaesthetist, helpful for the compound fractures of arms and legs.

Saturday 1st May (304 wounded):

Wakened just after 5am by terrific firing of enemy's shrapnel pinging on the beach for an hour making the unloading of supplies impossible. The field guns and ships' guns replied and there was the deuce of a row.

Atkins got hit on the hand in the operating tent, not serious. It is extraordinary how phlegmatic one becomes, the risk of being hit becomes such a usual thing that you cease to regard it.

Hear there is to be a general advance today.

Sunday 2nd May (304 wounded):

Quiet all morning and early afternoon... At about 7pm the ships began firing all their broadsides at Hill 971. They blazed away for over 40 minutes, the noise was deafening. Later the 4th Brigade attacked the Hill... About 8pm the first wounded began to come in and they kept on coming just like the first day. Dreadfully wounded and mangled, arms and legs shattered, heads crushed in, chests and abdomens, a most hateful procession.

The courage of the troops is marvellous. They don't groan or complain and bear the biggest dressings with equanimity and cheerfulness. No chance of giving anaesthetics and one end in view, to get them to the ships without delay.

[Photos - Australian War Memorial, National Archives of Australia,, Commonwealth War Graves]

This is the last of my war diary series for the moment, but as there are plenty more of these terrific accounts in John's diary, recorded over a long four months at Anzac, I will return to it at a later date.