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South Australians at Gallipoli
The Gallipoli campaign of the allied forces during World War I was an attempt to remove the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) from the War. At the start of the War, Turkey had allied herself with Germany and, after defeating the Russians at Tannenberg, the Turkish forces were pushing westwards. The Turks also threatened British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal. To assist British naval operations in pushing up the Dardanelles Strait into the Sea of Marmara and eventually taking the Turkish capital, Constantinople, it was decided that an attack on Turkey by allied troops would take place on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Australian troops would play an integral part of this attack, along with troops from New Zealand, India, Britain and France.
The attack took place in the early morning of 25 April 1915 with the Australians and New Zealanders landing at a small bay on the Peninsula which was to become known as ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Cove in their honour. The 3rd Brigade - which included the 10th Battalion, recruited in South Australia, and the 12th Battalion, comprising about 1/4 South Australians - was the first ashore at around 4:30 am. French and British troops landed around Cape Helles. The attack only allowed the allied forces a shaky grip on the Peninsula; the troops were essentially confined to a narrow strip of rocky terrain on the coast and were under steady Turkish fire. Two South Australians from the 10th, Lance Corporal Philip Robin and Private Arthur Blackburn, are believed to have gone further inland than any other Australians during the campaign. Robin was killed at Gallpoli on 28 April and Blackburn went on to win Victoria Cross at Pozières, the 10th Battalion's first major battle in France.
The stalemate that followed at Gallipoli continued to late 1915. In August, during the Battle for Lone Pine, some of the heaviest fighting involving Australian troops occurred. Over 2,000 Australian lives were lost and around 6,000 Turks died. Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their part in the Battle for Lone Pine.
Cramped conditions, poor rations and widespread occurrences of diseases such as dysentery and enteric fever in the trenches of Gallipoli made the stalemate all the more difficult to bear.
By October, the British authorities, realising a difficult winter in the trenches lay ahead, decided to withdraw the allied troops from the Peninsula. The ANZACs were pulled out on 19-20 December. During the eight months of the operation on the Gallipoli Peninsula, the AIF suffered 26,111 casualties, with 8,141 deaths. The troops were then transferred to France, where they were joined by further volunteers from Australia. Between 1916 and 1918, Australian troops played an increasingly important role on the Western Front. A total of 46,970 Australian lives were lost there, and a further 131,406 men were wounded.
Jack Jensen, a 23 year old, bush worker from Wasley in South Australia, at 5 foot 7 inches, and with a chest measurement of 41 inches, met the initial standard and enlisted on 19 August 1914. A letter to his Aunt Hannah, written on 28 August 1915, provides a remarkable record of his experiences during the first year of the war.
Along with most of the men recruited by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in August 1914, Jack was sent first to a training camp in Egypt. His letter includes a detailed account of the events leading up to three days of riots in the 'Wozzer' district of Cairo, during which an estimated 5,000 Australian and New Zealand troops looted and ransacked shops and brothels.
I was on guard that day & we were called out to go & stop it but only twenty of us could do nothing against nearly two thousand. They had a fire in the street & were throwing the furniture out of windows two & three storeys high on to it. Some of us went in & tried to put it out & a chair came out of a window three storeys high & hit one chap & nearly killed him. We carried him away & a few minutes after piano came out of the same window & fell with an awful crash on the pavement. All the strings seemed to break at once & it went off like a cannon.
After some months of training near Cairo, the Australian troops departed by ship for the Gallipoli Peninsula, and on 26 April 1915, Jack landed there.
As soon as we got on the beach a shell fell right into my platoon & killed one & wounded six three of whom died afterwards from the wounds... A few yards further another shell dropped among us knocking over 9 or 10 the officer included. About two hours afterwards when they made a count there was only thirteen left out of fifty.
Three weeks later on 13 May, AS Hutton, a signaller with the 3rd Light Horse, also landed at Gallipoli.
We landed at the Dardn (Dardenelles) last night - & marched up the Valley to the firing line which is about a mile from the shore The bullets were whizzing around us like bees so we dug ourselves into the side of the Hil.
Hutton's diary provides an account of the futile attempts of the Turks and the allies to break one another's lines. His entry on 29 May reads,
The Ball started between 2 & 3 AM The Turks crept up to our trench on Gurms Post in the Dark under cover of bushes and stormed our trenches with bombs The 13th Infantry were holding Gurms at the time with the 14th supporting but they could not resist the bombs & were drawn out of their trenches & the Turks jumped in in scores but as soon as the smoke cleared our Lads rallied and went straight at the Turks and slaughtered them like sheep Some of them escaped but our trenches were full of dead enemy who had to be thrown out to let our boys in. The Turks were beaten by sheer Pluck and daring
When news of the extensive Australian losses of the Gallipoli landing and the conditions the soldiers were living in reached South Australia, many were motivated to do something to commemorate the bravery of the ANZACs or to assist those still fighting in the Dardanelles. Some examples are the establishment of 'Violet Day' (2 July) and the knitting of woollen socks to send to the Australian troops.