Four days at Anzac
[this essay is probably a draft, written for submission to a newspaper - parts of it are similar to the article "Life in the Trenches" ]
Four days at Anzac
The day is just breaking. Everything is so quiet & still one would never dream that two opposing forces, each eager for the others blood, were separated by only a few yards - & in places only a few feet. A solitary shot sings out – apparently the marksman scored for it is answered by several shots, & presently a machine gun joins in spitting out death at 400 a minute. This seems to wake up the whole like for there is a heavy burst of firing above which can be heard the continuous rattle of the machine gun & every few seconds the heavy explosion of a bomb. After having thoroughly awakened each other both sides gradually slacken off until things become normal with only an occasion shot or bomb. The firing wakes me up so I lie listening wondering if by any bad luck we will be required to go out & assist. Finally turn slowly over to go to sleep again & in so doing dislodge some earth most of which falls into my ears eyes & mouth.
Further sleep being out of question get up & dress & have a wash – I don’t think. No. You see, the unpleasant vicinity of Abdul makes it imperative to sleep fully dressed. And as to having a wash – don’t make I laugh – why we often don’t get enough water to drink. So I merely get up & shake myself. The rest of the platoon is also stirring. I belong to No 1 Platoon, “A” Company, 3rd Battalion Australian Imperial Force. Normally the Bn contains 4 companys A, B, C, D, each of which contain roughly 230 men or 1000 odd in all & each company has 4 platoons whose normal strength are 50 odd each. But as a result of several arguments with our friend Abdul over the way there, the famous? 3rd can only muster 90 odd men & my platoon has only 15.
A corporal sits up & smiles benignly on all.
“Who the H__ are the orderlys” & then as nobody answers, he drags a very much bethumbed book from his pocket & studies it attentively.
“Brown you’re the -, Hey where the H__’s Brown”.
No response. Starts off along the trench & presently Brown is found snoring peacefully. He kicks Brown gently in the ribs, not becos he doesn’t like him, but cos it too much bother stooping to shake him.
“What the devil ___ Hey are you off your blanky rocker? D’yer think I’m a __ __ football?”
“You’re the mess orderly, buck ___”
“I’m not. Tell that whopper to yer granny”
“Yes you are. Buzz off at once” Brown “buzz’s off” at about a mile an hour & after a few minutes interval the breakfast appears.
“What the devil do they call that hogwash” Smith says disgustedly “Ah well here’s luck” & he helps himself liberally to the fried bacon & “bully” beef hash. The ptn Sgt helps himself to the tea, carefully pouring it out of the corner of the tin & holding his fork across to stop the flies from going with it. Then he carefully lifts 11 flies out of his Dixie with his forefinger & calls out genially “This way for the fly soup”.
When the “Hogwash” & the “Flysoup” has been disposed of & our dirty dixies washed out with some hot tea – which we purposefully leave for the purpose, water being to scarce. We all examine our rifles & make ready for moving into the firing line where we are due some time during the morning. We roll up our blankets inside of our waterproofs & take them to our parade ground & leave them there till our return. The parade ground is a flat piece cut out of the side of a hill & is about 15 yds by 15. Our rest trenches then have to be tidied up – each man doing his own particular bit. The Sgt then consults a note look & everyone feels apprehensive. A Sgt studying a note book is a sure sign of some unpleasant fatigue.
Then “Jones you are for Quarter -masters fatigue – Where the H’s Adams?”
“Oh be ___” Jones replys “I was on it the other day”
“And you’re on it today”
“Where’s the devil is Adams”
“How the __ __ am I on it today”
“You don’t go putting me on Q M’s fatigue” says Adams from the Sgt’s feet. “I was on it two days ago”
“Why ___ ___ didn’t you answer before? You & Jones QM’s fatigue”
“Oh be___” Adams says “I’m __ well going to go __ sick” & he gazes sadly at a large rent in the rear portion of Smith’s unmentionables. Jones then looks at the Sgt’s roster & swears very forcibly without repetition for 3 minutes, then he & Adams wander off towards the Q.M’s. All this fuss is cos the Q.M’s fatigue is a particularly arduous job. Wood & water have to be carried from a long way down Shrapnel Gully up to the Cookhouse & its an all day job.
The orderly Sgt then appears with the news that the Bn must move off in half an hour’s time.
Presently we are moving off slowly through the communication trenches, which are about 8ft deep & so narrow that ones equipment is rubbing both sides, to our position in the newly captured “Lone Pine” the taking of which cost the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th Bns so many lives. It is a pretty fair step & of course we cannot go fast. “Minegerred” [mind your head] growls the man in front & he lowers his & enters a tunnel. It was in this tunnel that our lads captured 70 odd Turks, 6 machine guns & 1000000 rnds of ammunition in the Lone Pine dust-up. On getting close to our “possy” we meet the dusty wild eyed Victorian of the 5th Bn whom we relieve & there is a block.
“Stop pushing – you”
“I’m not pushin’ someones pushin me”
“Be quiet damn yer” a Sgt growls.
“Who the ellyer leanin on? Think I’myer ___ breckfist”
“Whose leanin on yer?” The culprit asked “I’m not”
“Will you close your dial” a Sgt demands “Yer want some “Killjoys” over ___ Fer Gawd sake be quiet”
“Well I’m not his ___ ___ leanin’ post am I? Why don’t he lean on himself?” There is acute silence for five seconds & then a dusty New South cornstalk who has been surveying a still dustier Victorian growls out “I ‘ope to ‘ell yer’ve cleaned up the blarsted “possy” – took us 20 minutes cleanin’ up after yer larst time”
“Get _____” The Victorian “Why yer ____” He pauses abruptly as there comes a faint fizzing sound to our ears. We are all attention & then a round black ball with smoke oozing from it descends gracefully on to the parodos. We all crouch back, our hearts going like steamengines. The trench is too packed to escape so for half a second we wonder if we will be hit, & then the bomb which has been trembling on the parodos as if uncertain which way to go, finally decides for us & rolls behind it. A great sigh of relief breaks from us then the bomb goes off. None of us mind in the least the shower bath of dust which descends upon us we are only too thankful for our escape. No one speaks – even the most reckless do not want another one over whilst the trench is so full. “3rd Bn move on.” We do so. “No 1 Platoon remain in the relief dugouts” No 1 does as it’s told, whilst No 2 moves on a little farther to take up duty immediately. The trenches are worked as follows. One half of the unit is on duty, & the other half off, each doing 12 hours at a time. The half that is on duty divides its men up into posts, consisting of 1 N.C.O. & 6 men. Each post goes to its allotted position & the N.C.O. puts two men on watch, whilst the remaining 4 men make themselves as comfortable as conditions will permit. They must not go to sleep, or take off their equipment or leave the post without permission. The men on watch, watch for 1 hour & then have 2 hours off until their turn comes again. The other half of the unit in the relief dugouts, provide any men required to do fatigues in the trenches, such as deepening the trench, strengthening it, or filling sandbags. At times we were so hard pushed that the relief unit, would be working the whole of the time we were in the trenches whilst they were not on watch. We were often so short of men that the men on watch, instead of having 1 hr on & 2 hrs off, had to be content with 1 hr on ½ hr off. We all crowd together in the ‘rest’ dugout & of course to pass the time away some of us try to sleep, others read or write, & others tell each other yarns, most of which, I’m sorry to say will not bear repetition. One of the yarns tho, is a very good illustration of our boys feelings & behavior, when they get worked up. It was told by a youngster who’d never see 40 again if he lived forever, & was about a chap he knew, whom we will call – say Hawkins. Hawkins was a little sandy haired man from some out back hole in N.S.W. & he had lied hard & bravely when he told the attesting officer he was 39. He was one of the men of a very much cut up platoon that was endeavoring to hold an advanced trench taken from Abdul. They were getting H___ belted out of them with bombs & it was suicide to expose a head. They were short of both bombs & ammunition, but were sticking it out, cursing & swearing, as I believe, only Australians can, as Abdul threw bomb after bomb into the trench & ripped the sandbags to pieces with their machine guns as they traversed them back & forward along the parapet. A wild eyed signaller staggered into the trench from the rear.
“Who the Hell’s in charge of this ____ ____ hole”
“You ____ ____ ____” as he jumps away from one of Abduls little gifts which knocks two men out. He sees an officer busy throwing bombs back so he roars out
“The old man (the C.O) says yerve to retire on to the rear trench & be damned quick about it”
“The ___ ___ thing’s not worth holding” he adds for the officers benefit.
“Oh be hanged, you tell the old man that he can - well go to ___” At this stage Hawkins breaks in “Retire be ___ sir, what erbout a ____ ____ bayonet charge sir” We all laugh at the conclusion of the yarn – it is so exactly like our lads. “Hell – what’s that” as a deafening bang occurs followed by two more loud reports. A half seconds interval & a Sgt with blood streaming down his face, & fairly smothered in dust, runs through the dugout on his way to the dressing station. “The cows got 3 of us with that first one – the dirty crawling swines – the other two badly knocked.” “Make way for the stretchers” an A.A.M.C. man bawls out, as he and a mate appear, carrying a man on a stretcher. The poor beggar is as white as a sheet & is covered with dust & his clothes show several red blotches at which he is looking in a dazed sort of way. This party is followed by another carrying an unconscious man, who has been hit in the head & body. He is muttering something unintelligible & groaning every now & then. Follow them to the temporary dressing station where an A.A.M.C. man gives them both first aid. “Am I badly hurt – am I – oh Hell – the pain is something __ awful, can you give me something to stop it? I’m not badly hurt am I?” plaintively. “Oh” he gasps, as he raises his head to see his wounds “one bits clean through my stomach” “For Heavens sake give us a morphia tablet, its something __ awful”
“You’ll be O.K. in a little while, old chap – keep your pecker up – that’s the style – now I’m going to turn you over – Ah! You’re not too bad – the stomach one’s not deep – there’s only flesh – you’ll be chasing tarts in Piccadilly in a month” the Red X man assures him. “Righto – take him down to the Doc” “Now this other chap – where’s he got it?” The other was more seriously injured. The Red X chap bandaged him up & he was carried away still unconscious. “Fraid it’s a case with both of ‘em – the last is a goner anyway” the AAMC said as he puts his bandages & other things away. “Poor beggars” is the general comment & each of us wonder when WE will be carried away like that. Go back to the rest dugout. After a while there is a deafening bang right against us & the place is filled with dust. “Oh blarst them - why the Hell cant the __ __ turks look where they’re shooting? They’ll be – well hurting someone yet.” Then we got our usual straafing. The beggars went up & down our trenches dropping them every few yards. They were what we called “75’s”, “pip squeaks” “whizzbangs” “lumps of sudden death” etc. One good thing about them – when you heard them you were safe. Unless they went past you, the first thing you heard was the explosion as it burst. “Why the __ __ __ __ Hell don’t our arblankytillery plaster their __ __ __ trenches when they start on us? demanded a man who’d dodged all Abduls little attentions since the landing four months ago. “Those 75’s are nasty __s, they’d make a man sick for a week, if they hit him where he stores his “bully” another chap – a sixth reinforcement – informs us. “Good Heavens – are they as bad as that” “Oh yes, only more so”. We seem to be getting more than a fair share of Abduls attentions. Shell after shell plumped down with uncanny regularity, a lot of them too jolly close to be pleasant, until we were heartily sick of them, & then adding insult to injury, they plumped one down on a grave about 5 yds away & undone in a fraction of time the work of 2hrs. It was one of their own men too, & judging by the noise he made, he had very strong objections to his last long sleep being so rudely disturbed, even by his own mates. Presently our artillery, who were apparently short of shells, sent a few over to Abdul to let him know that they were awake, & he promptly stopped.
The orderly Cpl soon after this poked his face in & suggested to the mess orderlies that just as a special favor, they might go for the dinner, as the men were getting hungry, to say nothing of himself. The hint was taken, and half an hour later we were busy getting our share of what was going. Menu. “Bully” beef stew, which contained a liberal supply of sliced spuds, & flies, (not sliced) tea, also liberally flavored with flies, & as dessert there was stale bread & some of Tom Ticklers jam. The stew was very fair only it was always far too salty. The tea was good also, but the flies in it were not. But the jam! The flies were so bad that when spreading it on the bread, you’d be spreading them out as well & their relations would argue the point over whose property it was right into your very mouth. Oh it was joy I tell you. To keep our pecker up, we started telling each other about the glorious dinners that we used to enjoy every payday in Egypt, & in our minds eye, we would have them over again. After dinner take a stroll into the front line, taking my rifle with me to do a bit of shooting. Get up into a ## post, from which