Our Heroes at the Dardanelles, HOW THE AUSTRALIANS LANDED. LETTER FROM A GYMPIE' LAD.
Posted by Cooloola, Thursday, 2 July 2015
The following letter has been received by his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Baker) from their son, Private Ray Baker. It is dated Malta, May 4 :— 'About 600 Australian wounded (including myself) have arrived here, and are all in good spirits. Those who were very severely wounded were left at Alexandria, and there was a great number of them too. When we left Mena camp on February 28th, we sailed to Lemnos Island. We had five weeks under canvas there. We were on board a troopship on Saturday, April 24th, waiting for British destroyers to take us to the place where we were to land and meet the Turks. At 10 p.m. we had our last meal on the ship, and somewhere about midnight two destroyers came alongside, and we were immediately transhipped to them. We steamed away in the direction of the Dardanelles. We were all crowded on the deck, quite comfortably and at 3 a.m. hot cocoa was served to all hands. We had not gone far before land could be seen ahead, and we all then got into small boats which were along-side. The order was given to push off and make for land just as day was breaking. We were still a hundred yards from shore, when the exciting times commenced. There were six boat loads of us, and many others from other destroyers and cruisers all making for the shore at once. The Turks must have been expecting us, for their bullets began to fly all around the boats. Luckily, not one in our boat, was hit, but the others did not get off so well for one poor fellow was soon killed, and many were wounded. When our boat grounded we jump- ed out almost up to the hips in water, and made for the shore. It was my luck to stop into a hole, and I went almost under water, get- ting my rifle wet, but I managed to get to land. otherwise unhurt. Lieut. G. Thomas was with us, and gave the order to "fix bayonets, open out, and advance.'' Ahead of us was a steep hill covered with thick under-growth from 2ft. to 5ft. high, form- ing an excellent cover for the enemy, and also ourselves, but not bullet proof. We got to the top of the first hill (about 100 feet high) in quick time, and without mishap, the Turks retreating before us as we advanced. Ahead of us as far as we could see the country was all hills and gullies, covered with thick under-growth. It was now broad daylight, and as we forged onward an occasional bullet would whiz past unpleasantly close, but the enemy were poor rifle shots, for when we got to the top of the next hill only two had been, wounded. We all got mixed up as we advanced, owing to the nature of the country, and I lost sight of most of my own mates.
At this point not many of the enemy were opposed to us, although we came across many abandoned kit bags and gear, as if they had left in a hurry, but on our left the firing was fairly heavy and continuous, so the party I was with moved in that direction, and we were soon in the thick of it. By this time many British battleships had opened fire on the Turkish forts, and also on the enemy's artillery, their shells flying over our heads, and making an awful row. We drove the Turks back and captured four guns, many tents and ammunition, but rein- for cements did not come up to us fast enough, and we were forced to retire, but not for long. The enemy took up a strong position behind the top of the hill, and there were many thousands of them including many German officers. They easily outnumbered us, and had plenty of artillery and machine guns. All we had to depend on was our rifle fire and one or two machine guns, so their advantage over us was indeed great. The fire of the enemy was absolutely murderous, but our fellows advanced again and again. They were dropping in all directions, but would not be stopped. That Sunday the Australians proved what stuff they were made of, and many a one made a hero of himself, and many a poor fellow died urging his mates onward with his last breath. The hail of bullets was simply aw- ful, and the shrapnel shells were bursting round us all the time. They must have expended a marvellous amount of ammunition. Many of our officers were shot down, and most of the time we got no orders at all, but had to rely on ourselves and do the best we could. Any time we did happen to see an officer, the order was always the same— ''Get ahead, lads, and stick it into them." Another advantage the Turks had over us was a thorough knowledge of the country, and they had the ranges for their fire. I suppose they were fresh, too, but we had been up all the night before, got wet coming ashore, and had had no breakfast.
Although we had food in our haver- sacks, we had no time to eat it. The battalions were all mixed up, and I saw very few of my own company ; once I spotted Monty Woodyatt and gave him a call ; he yelled out to me to come his way, and we both forged ahead, but got separated almost immediately. Shortly after seeing Monty, I joined G. Thomas and Bill Money behind some bush, and the bullets were raining all around us thick and fast. The cries of the wounded men about us were deadly, and there were no stretcher bearers about. Our position became too hot for us, so B. Money and I dashed ahead, and I do not know how the bullets managed to miss us, we kept going ahead in short rushes, and soon were almost near enough to resume firing again. As usual we were lying down behind bushes, which ford- ed good cover, but, as I said before, not bullet-proof. We had only been in this position a few minutes when I felt a thud on the back, and after- wards found that a bullet had ripper the side of my haversack, and tore a hole through a tin of bully- beef that I had in it. Our haver- sacks were strapped on our backs for convenience. It was a close shave, but everyone was getting used to close shaves by then. You know it might sound ti-e s-ite, but I am satisued that the old tale that a soldier nearly dies of fright when first under fire is all "bosh." I heard many of our fellows say the same thing. It makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, but it also makes you want to get at the enemy and pay it back with interest. There was one bad point about our fellows ; they were too eager, and rushed forward in any sort of order, exposing themselves unnecessarily. within a minute of getting one in my haversack, I heard a groan be- side me, and saw. B. Money's head drop. We were lying at full length on our stomachs, and he said, 'Ray, I'm hit,' and with the aid of an other chap who was near, I turned him over, and got his equipment off. When I opened out his coat and shirt, there was a bullet hole show ing high upon his left breast. It might have been in the shoulder blade and very little blood was coming from it. Poor old Bill was almost unconscious. I told him he would be alright, and managed to put on his first field-dressing, one of which we all carry,, and gave him a drink of water. We made him as comfortable as possible, and stacked his gear in front of his head so as to stop another bullet from hitting him. All the time I was expecting to get topped myself, for the fire of the enemy was simply hellish; so fast and thick were the bullets coming that some of the time the sound of them was for all the world like the buzz of an electric fan—a continual hum. We had only just got Bill fixed, when another chap on the other side was shot through the arm. The bullet must have cut an artery, for when I opened his sleeve the blood poured out, and my hands were smothered in blood. We bound his arm as well as we could, and told him to crawl to the rear. Two other chaps near us stopped bullets, so I thought it was time to stop attending to wounded men, for it was greatly against military rules for riflemen to stop to attend to wounds. Everyone unhurt was need ed in the firing line, so I had an other look at Bill Money, who seem ed quite unconscious, and then re- tired a little to see if I could get any stretcher-bearers. There were none about, and they were yelling out for more men, so I joined a few lad 's who were advancing, and moved up with them. We went on to the right of where I had left poor old Bill so I did not see him again. Later in the day one of my company told me he had seen him making his way towards the beach. As we advanced, the fire, if possible, became hotter, but I seemed to near a charmed life. One bullet ripped through my left coat- -!,??,» at the wrist without touching arm. Shortly afterwards, when Iying down, my water bottle stopped a bullet, and i lost all my water, which was a serious loss indeed. But I had a still narrower escape, when a bullet tore through my collar of my tunic, right near chin. The badge must have turned it aside, for there is a dent in it and a little bit of lead sticking to to it. My collar was turned up a little, for the bullet hit from the underneath side. I am thinking of calling it off and sending it home for a keepsake. it was not till 3 p.m. that I was put out of action, when we were giving the Turks some hot fire, and of course getting hot fire in return. Flying shrapnel was very deadly; we would hear the shells whizzing over us, and then go off with a bang. The shells contain hundreds of bullets, and when they burst the bul- lets fly out. It was a shrapnel bullet that got me. A shell burst just a few yards to the left of me (I was lying down), and the sensation I got was as if someone had hit me with a large club with full force on the muscle of the left arm. At the same time something hit me on the right forearm, and left a black un;ise there. My left arm was useless, and the blood was flowing freely, so I thought it time to retire, and accordingly did so, dodging bullets all the time. A few hundred yards back from the firing line I saw one of our sergeants, who put on my first field dressing. I saw ij.uu that a bullet had gone right through my arm near the shoulder, the hole on each side being about half an inch in diameter. I had nearly two miles to go to the beach ; it was a deadly journey. I expected to get a few more gentle reminders of the beastly Turks, for stray bullets were whistling about all the while. Anyway I got to the beach without further harm, and now I am none the worse for my experience.
It was bad luck to be put out of action the first day, but still I had about 10 hours of it, and it was hot sum, too. Some old soldiers, who have been in action before, say they iu'% er saw or heard of anything like it. They say there would be nothing in France to equal it. It was a very severe day for the Australians, and suffered heavily. The scene on the beach in the afternoon was aw- ful. The doctors, and ambulance men had their hands full, and wounded men were lying everywhere. I saw G. Thomas and B. McUown on the beach, both wounded in the stiuuluer, the former rather badly, I think. Even on the beach we were not too safe, for the enemy were firing at the battleships, and their shrapnel bursting over us all the time. Unless you happened to be there you would hardly credit how marvellous were some of the escapes from death, and the many different kinds of wounds showed that after all there are not many parts of the human body where bullets prove fatal. One chap was shot right through the -head, the bullet going in about an inch behind one eye, and coming out about an inch behind the other. He is not much the worse for it except that he has two lovely black eyes, and they are nearly closed up, but his sight is not injured. There are many fellows with bullets still in their heads, and they are doing all right. One poor chap was struck deaf and dumb by the bursting of a shrapnel shell close over his head, but otherwise unhurt. As quickly as possible the wound ed were taken off in boats, the very had cases going to the hospital ship and the others to the transport ships that were lying near. About 800 (including myself) were placed on board a ship. The hospital ship was filled, and two or three troop ships, so you see there were a great number of wounded, somewhere about 5000, I think. It was near 5 p.m. I think, when we boarded our ship, and we did not leave till this morn- ing. We have slept on the hard lower deck, and lived on biscuits, cheese, and jam. We first went to Alexandria, where they found there would not be room for us, so only the worst cases were taken off. The morning after our arrival our ship turned tail with us, and made for Malta. We all growled a bit at first at being cooped up for a few more days, but now I am glad, for the climate will be miles better than
Egypt. G. Thomas was taken off at Alexandria. Captain Jackson was wounded, but he was on another boat. I do not think his was a bad case. Nearly all of our officers were wounded, and I believe two or three were killed. Wednesday, May 5th. Our ship dropped anchor in Malta harbour early yesterday morning. After breakfast we were taken ashore in lighters drawn by steam tugs. We are now quartered in barracks, twelve men being in each room, and we are quite comfortable. I am on the third floor, and there is a lovely view of the forts and the sea on the one side, and of the city on the other. We have electric light and plenty of water laid on, very convenient. The people are very kind, and gave us a warm welcome. We are allowed to stroll about, and yesterday many of us visited the English school to the great delight of the kiddies, who seemed to think we were great heroes.. They pestered the life out of us for badges and foreign coins, and gave us great bunches of lovely flowers. Our room looks quite gay with the flowers I got. We had quite a gray time with the youngsters, and the schoolmistress could get no more work out of them for the rest of the day. Yesterday afternoon the school kids were going round with chocolates and cigarettes, and also papers and magazines for the poor wounded Australians. I, have no idea how long I will be here, but reckon my arm will be quite well in a fort- night or less, so if my luck is in I will be back at the front before you get this letter.
Our Heroes at the Dardanelles,. (1915, June 17). Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette (Qld. : 1868 - 1919), p. 3. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188400560
Sunday, 29 November 2015
Douglas Raymond Baker wrote many letters and postcards to his family and relatives. Through some amazing work these are now available on the internet. The link is listed in the "Other Web Link" section of this page near the top on the right hand side.