THE SAPPER’S STORIES.
112 Frank Leslie Wells…… in an extract from his last letter home
“Twenty-Three of the Engineers with the 3rd Brigade were in the first boat to touch the land on that memorable Sunday, April 25. The Engineers were the only New South Wales representatives to land with the party that rushed the hills. From then on we had the hardest 14 days that anyone could remember. I can imagine how worried you must all be at this period, but please God, by the time you receive this everything will be quiet.”
Citation: National Library of Australia – nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120801151
40 William Alexander Sutherland
Writing to his father, Mr. W. Sutherland, manager of Hawkin’s Ltd., Newcastle, under date May 12, from Kasi-el-aine Hospital, Cairo, says:-
We steamed out of Lemnos Bay about dinner time on Saturday, and by dark we were well on our way to the Dardanelles. About mid- night we were all ordered up on deck, and instructed to be ready to go into the boats. When we landed the air was thick with bullets flying all around us. How it is that we were not all killed, goodness only knows. In that rush through the water and across the sand into shelter of the scrub, I don’t think I ever ran harder in my life. Anyway, I have no wish to go through the same thing again. It was just like swimming into death, and I must have had a guardian angel over me then. Day was just breaking, and we could see that the surrounding hills were crowded with Turks. Notwithstanding this, our boys fixed their bayonets. It was great. The Turks fled, our boys after them, yelling for all they were worth. They never stopped chasing them until they had taken up a good position in the ridge, and so could cover the rest of the troops landing. The transports had now come up, and troops were coming ashore in boatloads. The Turks opened fire on us with their artillery, and shrapnel flew everywhere. Then the battleships started, and the roar was terrible.
For the ten days and nights I was in the trenches I was out of the firing line only one night, and that was to have a sleep on the beach. Our company was sapping, building roads, trenching,, and digging all the time, night and day. For the first three nights we got absolutely no sleep whatever. We were either digging or else standing to arms. Poor chaps were being shot down all around us. We lost a terrible lot of our chaps, and the sights we witnessed were awful.
I had a lot, of awfully narrow escapes. One bullet went through the sleeve of my coat, but never touched the skin. A piece of shrapnel hit me on the knee, and made me limp for a few days. I was feeling quite right up to Tuesday, when I felt a bit of a cold coming on me. I worked up till 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning in the trench, when I lay down to have a nap till dawn. When I went to get up, I found that I could not hold my head up, and the pains in my chest, legs, and back, were terrible. So the major sent me down to see the doctor in the afternoon, and he told me to go along to the 4th Field Ambulance, and sleep there for the night. Next morning Dr. Beeston ordered me off to the hospital ship for a few days. On that ship everything was up-to-date, and I was given a bunk in a first-class cabin.”
Citation – National Library of Australia – nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15589788
Lance Corporal 66 Norman Masters writes to his father : —
“I am proud, dad, to be an Australian ; not Cook’s tourists”
“ One of our boys, Sapper Reynolds, swam back to the boat, and brought ashore two boxes of gun cotton and machine gun and a wounded man, and was shot dead on landing with the man. He would have got the V C. had he lived. I should like Harry to tell the boys at Chowder how poor Reynolds died. Sergeant Logan was shot in the neck ; Corporal Johnson was shot in the stomach— both bad cases. They are from the Sub marine Miners. I have not fired a shot yet. All the time for the past fortnight, day and night, sapping and trenching, except short spells when we go about 300 yards to our dug-outs for a little sleep. I am proud, dad, to be an Australian ; not Cook’s tourists, as some one has said. It is wonderful to see the boys being carried back wounded. They are smoking cigarettes or joking ; that is, those who are not almost out.”
Citation – National Library of Australia – nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133371682
80 George Elliot Bygrave………. in his own letter wrote the following :-
“We stormed Gallipoli on the very early morning .. still dark ..of April 25th. We were in whale boats, towed by pinnace from the warship. We almost got ashore before the first shot was fired by the enemy, after which it was bedlam. After storming the heights we managed to get inland a fair distance in mixed units of small parties until we had to fall back to where the line was being stabilised. I was with the infantry a couple of days before I found my own unit , the 1st F.C Engineers.”
source: NAA: B2455, BYGRAVE G
214 Lewis Dyson………. an extract from his letter to a friend published in The Murrumbidgee Irrigator Leeton, NSW : 1915
“From the Dardanelles.
SAPPER DYSON’S LETTER. A STIRRING ACCOUNT”
…………………………..”FIRST LANDING PARTY for the attack at Gaba Tepe (Gallipoli). We carried guncotton for demolishing guns we hoped to capture in the fort. We received five days’ rations and 200 rounds of ammunition. I was condemned to carry a pick and shovel and six sandbags, and when I sat down on deck was so weighted that I could not rise without help. The Third Brigade (9th, 10th, 11th and 12th), were the covering force, and had orders to rush a certain ridge with the bayonet, hang on for three days, and die to the last man rather than surrender afoot of it, so that the Australian Army Corps, the Naval Brigade, and an Indian Brigade, with mountain batteries, could establish their landing.
At midnight I looked astern, and saw four or five battle- ships behind us, and a flotilla of destroyers, with the Third Brigade aboard, like grey ghosts in the dim moonlight. At 1 a.m. we filed silently into boats and barges, and towed by pinnaces, steamed in dead silence for the hostile shore, amidst quiet wishes for good luck from the sailors. About 4.30 a.m. the dawning light found us near the shore, too far north ! But in we went at full speed towards the frowning hills. In the dead stillness a dog barked, and then a shot was fired at us, then two more.
The pinnace cast us off, and the order was given, ” Pull for your lives, lads !” By this time there was an increasing rattle of rifles and maxims from the trenches on the hills, and OUR MEN BEGAN TO FALL in that awful hail of lead. Our pinnaces opened out with their machine guns, and then we bumped bottom and leaped into the water up to our armpits, and dashed ashore, some poor fellows falling from their wounds and being drowned. There was a breathless pause under a bank while bayonets were fixed, and then a cheer and ” At the ——s !” Up the hill with a rush, and no firing.
Few enemies remained to be bayoneted as the silently advancing steel was too much for them — that and the sight of the destroyers vomiting forth their crowds of soldiers, and the grim battleships with their 12in. guns silently waiting for a target. I returned from the first trench and re- joined my half-section on the beach, where they were under fire from Fort Gaba Tepe, and were throwing up a barricade of packs, haversacks — anything. We threw our packs and things away when we fixed bayonets. One of my section saved two machine guns when the men carrying them were shot in the water, one was shot through the head within a few feet of me when returning. He is recommended for the V.C. We rejoined the company which landed further up, and helped the Indians get their mountain guns ashore under shrapnel fire. We then commenced to make a road to |get the guns up the first ridge, and had some more casualties.
The transports came up, and under the awful shrapnel the hundreds of boats made for the shore. I saw one boat of 25 that got under a machine gun, and ALL WERE KILLED. The two sailors in our large boat were both killed. The returning sailors were great. They stopped to clap the Indians bringing guns ashore, which their white- haired old English colonel proudly acknowledged by standing up and saluting ; yelled ” Good old wallabies !” and ” What price Sydney town ?” airily waved their hands to us and laughed when the shells burst over them. Our wounded were splendid, and cheered the oncoming men as they passed them in their boats, as they returned to the hospital ships shattered and dying. By the afternoon 940 wounded had left for Egypt and still they poured into the dressing stations on the beach too quickly to be handled. The stretcher bearers were magnificent, and suffered heavily.
A terrific naval bombardment took place, but the enemy’s guns did not cease fire until nightfall, and even then a few star shells continued to go in the direction of our captive balloon. Since then, for the ten days I was there, the fighting has been continuous and the losses heavy, but we have progressed, and the enemy are wildly afraid of our bayonets”………….. Citation : National Library of Australia – nla.gov.au/nla.news-article156533179
Sapper ‘s wounded on landing day, Gallipoli.
52 Sapper Mark Cummings a 25 year old carpenter from Wallsend near Newcastle, received a severe gunshot wound to the leg , the bullets were described as explosive and he was struck above the knee and down to the ankle and had 13 wounds where shattered pieces of the bullet had made their exit. He retained the nose end of the bullet to prove it was an explosive one as well as a likely souvenir.
He describes how he laid wounded for three hours .
“ I’d rotten luck. I’d no sooner set my foot on the beach then I got a shrapnel bullet in the leg.
It was hardly a pleasant position. Our boys had seen their dead, and were wild. Men might fall, but all those that could stand wanted was to get at the Turks with the cold steel. And they did too. It was a case of having to let the wounded lie, and I spent three hours on my back on the sand, with shrapnel bursting above me without ceasing. It was marvellous that not another bullet struck me. When a little time could be spared for the wounded I was got on to a transport , and after being taken first of all to Lemnos, was removed to Cairo”–
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 12th August 1915. Citation National Library of Australia – nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15606666
52 Mark Cummings wounds were far worse than he first thought, he also had a gunshot wound to the shoulder and a compound fracture to the tibia.
He was severely wounded, and he returned safely to Australia in August 1915.
34 Sergeant Alexander Logan
34 Sergeant Alexander Logan was 25 years old, a fitter born in Scotland with 4 years service in the Kings own Scottish Borderers and when in Australia served for 2 years in the royal Australian engineers, he held rank as Sergeant.
He was wounded on the landing day, a gunshot wound to left side of neck and left supra scapula fossa, the bullet remained lodged in his neck for 12 hours and was removed leaving his left arm partially paralysed. He returned home , later re enlisted and serving with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion in England up to July 1917 when he was medically discharged with debility due to his injuries sustained at Gallipoli.
141 William McCracken
141 William McCracken originally enlisted as a driver, and was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. The 29 year old was a farrier by trade and would later proudly become known as “ The Company Farrier”.
He was wounded on the 25th April a gunshot wound to the left leg. He was transferred to Malta hospital on Clan MacGillivray. He reported back to his unit at Gallipoli on the 28th July 1915 and stayed until the evacuation.
Another sapper who joined William McCracken on board the hospital ship Clan MacGillivary was 165 Alfred Moore O’Brien a 29-year-old bridge carpenter. Alfred a married man from Sofala NSW, was also wounded by a gunshot to the leg.
165 Alfred Moore O’Brien
165 Alfred Moore O’Brien was 29 years old a bridge carpenter from Sofala , and one of the few married men in the company.
Wounded Gallipoli on landing day , he was originally reported missing in action for some days later, but he was already on the transport ship Clan MacGillivray and invalided to military hospital in Malta.
93 Corporal Harry Farguson a 31 year old bridge rigger from Leichhardt, New South Wales, declared he was a single man and was a Boer War veteran. He was also a member of the Australian Protestant Defence Association.
Harry was shot in the right arm completely shattering his right forearm. There were long delays in attending to the wounded on landing day and eight hours later Harry was eventually loaded on board a hospital ship and his arm was amputated that same night from the elbow down.
He returned to Sydney, Australia at the end of November 1915 and was welcomed by his brethren of the Annandale APDA.
Contrary to his attestation, Harry was in fact married……...Read More
Research by Vance Kelly
Sources: NLA , AWM