Tuesday 25 April 2017

Great War Diary - Part 6

A deadly stalemate had developed at Gallipoli, with the Anzacs unable to break through to the Dardanelles and the Turks unable to push them back into the sea. The situation was taking its toll through illness and stress, but there was a 'big move' being planned by the Allies that gave hope to everyone at Anzac Cove including our Dr John Corbin. Those hopes were to be short-lived.

Thursday 22nd July

A heap of sick to be seen and many of them now are very sick men. The men who have had persistent diarrhoea look dreadfully ill and wasted. The number of shock cases is increasing and the strain of life in the trenches is tremendously apparent. The variety of nervous manifestations is extraordinary.

Friday 30th July

Everything is going on fast for the big move. Preparations getting well ahead but heaps still to do. If weather keeps good it should be a great success.

Left - 'Splinter Villa', a typical dugout.  Right - Turkish POWs
Sunday 1st August

The Taube - an early German warplane
There are great preparations - every night landing guns, men, ammunition, stores, etc. There are 400 mules to come in tonight and tomorrow and then I suppose more ammunition, food and water, timber, etc, and the day! The Taube visits us night and morning and evidently the Turk is beginning to realise that this will be 'some show'. I wish he would leave his bombs at home, one will catch the beach some day.

Monday 2nd, Tuesday 3rd August

The arrangements [for casualty units during the coming offensive] will seriously hamper the handling of the wounded on the beach. Birrell [surgeon-general responsible for evacuation of casualties] came over early after lunch, spent two minutes in our hospital, left insane orders for us and cleared out as fast as he could. There was shelling on the beach before he came and later in the evening, but as so often happens when GHQ come down none while they were here. Duty 8 pm to 2 am. Very depressed. The whole thing is badly organised. [The medical commanders] live at Imbros, eat and sleep in comfort and know absolutely nothing of the conditions here.

Thursday 5th August

Stores have been coming in all day and the fire on the beach is hellish. A picket boat got a hole in her and the crew tried to bolt. Cater went out to restore order and make the asses run the sinking boat ashore. Just as he had done this a burst of shrapnel got him. I rushed down and met him coming in. He was lying on a stretcher and I said 'Old chap where did you get it?' He replied 'I don't know, I want Corbin.' I said 'That's alright I'm here' and he groped for my hand and we rushed him along. He was unconscious in three minutes and dead in fifteen. One of the best, bravest and most efficient men I've ever met. His wife isn't 26 yet and lost her only brother in Flanders about 14 days ago.


The 'big move' was the last major attempt by the Allies to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula. It involved two points of attack - an attempt to break out of the Anzac area using Anzacs reinforced by additional Allied troops, and a separate British landing at Suvla Bay just to the north.

Friday 6th, Saturday 7th August

Awakened at 4.30 am by continuous rifle fire. Got up and found the landing of troops not nearly completed and bright early daylight.

The beach is getting loaded with wounded. All the pinnaces are being used and there is no transport set aside for the wounded alone. No special picket boats, no special barges, no nothing. Chaos as of yore. Wounded are lying in the sun on the beach, many dangerously wounded will die. It is calamitous, it is criminal neglect. I want [the officer in charge] to go to Keeble [the medical control officer] and if he does nothing then to go to [General] Birdwood and insist on boats and tows being provided. I come on at 4 am and if there is nothing better I shall do this. [He did!]

Cleared the beach before morning and it filled again as fast as it emptied. We soon loaded and overloaded the Hospital Ship.

Maps:  Left & centre - Gallipoli Peninsula overview.  Right - Anzac region.  (click on image to enlarge)

Sunday 8th August

We hear the 11th have taken Lone Pine Ridge. There has been heavy fighting at Quinn's, Pope's, Walker's. In all these situations the Australians have had to retire, even where they have taken trenches, to their own original line. It is apparently a demonstration to prevent Turks going to the left. The landing at Suvla Bay took place this morning. We can see all the ships and the fighting began before daylight. We hear the left [at Anzac] is doing well, the British and New Zealand troops have junctioned. Hill 971 has not been completely taken but they are close to the crest.

My fighting [for boats for the wounded] has led to a great improvement as regards our beach. We are getting many off now.

Sunday 15th August

At night saw furious rifle fire beyond Suvla, evidently for possession of the distant range. It is well certain that these Kitchener troops are not up to standard. There is no doubt they have broken repeatedly in the face of the enemy. When one looks at their miserable physique and mindless faces one cannot be surprised. They will harden up with service but it has caused the partial failure of this show.

Monday 16th August

Went [with colleagues] out to the left [ie.northwards]. We went on for miles, had a good view of Hills 971 and 800, saw sadly enough scores of dead bodies on the sides of both. Were taken into the firing line and found ourselves within 800 yards of W Hill and got a good idea of the position. The landing at Suvla Bay has obviously been a failure. The troops arrived late, were held up by a small body [of enemy troops] and had no dash whatever. Instead of being right up to the base of 971 and threatening the Turkish right, they are now well away and can exert little pressure.

It has been one more example of incompetence on the part of Ian Hamilton [commander of the Gallipoli campaign] and his hopeless staff. Sit down, give the Turk time to dig in and then I suppose in 14 days time another insufficient number of men landing and another failure. Why he is not recalled I cannot conceive.

Thursday 19th August

Feeling rather off colour, turned in after lunch, found temperature 101.6 deg. Aching all over. Feeling absolutely rotten, poisonous taste in my mouth, pain in tummy and everywhere else.

Friday 20th August

Had pretty poisonous night, temp still 101.6. Feeling more rotten than ever, decided to go away on Giblin's and Gordon's advice. Went on to the 'Guildford Castle' which left one hour later.

Photo taken by John Corbin

John expected to recuperate on the island of Lemnos then return to Gallipoli but instead he was transferred further afield. He was 'terribly keen to get back to Anzac' but never returned. He was diagnosed with typhoid.

With Gallipoli at a stalemate again and with severe winter coming on, Field Marshall Kitchener visited the battlefield in November then advised the British government to abandon the campaign. On 20th December the last Australian troops left Anzac Cove.

John Corbin recovered from his illness and returned to service on the Western Front in France from May 1916 to April 1917. In July 1917 he gave evidence to the Dardanelles Commission, a British Government inquiry into the Gallipoli campaign. After the war he returned to medical practice in South Australia. He died in 1930.

[Photos - Imperial War Museum, Wikipedia, Britain At War, Gallipoli.gov.au, Australian War Memorial]

This concludes my war diary series. Dr John Corbin's diary is a precious piece of family history and national history, hope you've enjoyed reading these extracts. Thanks again to Stephen & Jane Gow. In the future I will post some articles about the South Australian Corbins.