227 Billy McDevitt – Rower and ANZAC

227 –  “Billy” Charles William McDevitt

Known as Billy McDevitt,….. a rowing champion from Tasmania.

In 1911 Billy was travelling between Tasmania and Sydney and was planning his course towards becoming the world sculling champion when Australia suddenly joined the war in 1914.

An original member of the 1st Field Company Engineers, Billy was severely wounded at Gallipoli. Billy returned to Australia and with strength and determination recovered and when the war ended he returned to his love of rowing.

Ten years after he volunteered as an original member with the 1st FCE  and at age 36  he became the Australasian Rowing Champion and was regarded by his peers as the best in the world.

In 1925 Charles “Billy” McDevitt was later declared World Rowing Champion. 

Read more of Billy McDevitt’s amazing story…………..click this link

Sapper’s save 1500 lives

Sappers building barrel piers. Coutesy AWM- A01507
Sappers building barrel piers. Courtesy AWM- A01507


On the landing day at Gallipoli,  had it not been for a young officer,  2nd/Lieut.  Henry Bachtold and 11 Sappers from the 1st Field Company Engineers, the number of deaths on landing day at Gallipoli would have been significantly larger.

As it stood 2000 Australians were killed within this first 24 hours of the landing. The sappers however made it possible to have a further 1500 wounded men shipped out on hospital ships by the end of the first day.

This Gallipoli episode has remained a missing chapter of the Anzac story for a 100 years and now it is finally time that these men were remembered for helping to save lives, under the most extraordinary conditions.

Preparing a landing platform built on the shores for the hospital ships was a planned action by the command, but it was perhaps a little underdone considering the number of casualties that needed attention on that historic day.

Due to the training of the sappers and the raw commitment by these men,  it appears to have been a success. A highly dangerous task, but one the sappers had trained for since the early days after enlistment at Moore Park in  Sydney, and prior to the landing, while they set up the infra structure and landing jetties at Lemnos Island.

On the landing day 25th April, Bachtold and the 11 sappers were on the transporter “Nizam” , they were a special group of men with a special task ahead of them.

Days before the landing the Sappers built a raft of barrel piers that could be joined together to form a jetty, and on landing day this was then towed behind the “Nizam” with the sappers and Bachtold on board.

At approx 2.oo pm having watched the events unfold on the shores and within a mile of shore the men and the raft were detached from the “Nizam”. They then had to row like mad, dodging heavy shrapnel fire all the way to shore managing to suffer only minor damage to the raft.

Within fifteen minutes they had secured the barrel piers to the shoreline, the Army Medical Corp. (A.M.C)  immediately put it to use and started transporting the wounded on barges back to the transport and hospital ships. Many of the wounded being transported back to the “Nizam”,  the very vessel that had delivered them hope in the form of the jetty building sappers.



69 Sapper Francis Badham Oliver  gives his account of the action on landing and the casualties being transported from the jetties ………..
“We hear that our men are continuing to make good progress, in spite of the fact of having fought continuously since Sunday with only biscuits to eat. The Turks are backed up by huge reinforcement and as soon as the men in a trench are shot down others spring into their places. There were 1500 casualties on Sunday and though the ambulance people are doing magnificent work they are seriously handicapped by a lack of hospital ship accommodation. Wounded are arriving on all our transports and operations are performed on dirty troop decks – we have a number of wounded on our [transport ship] Nizam and they all recount most interesting news of the bravery of our armies, hundreds of cases will never be heard.”-
Source: The Gallipoli diaries of Francis Badham Oliver, University of Sydney Archives

For days the party of men would continue building jetties all the time being uncomfortably close at hand to witness some gruesome scenes among the casualties. The sea at the water’s edge was red with blood as the empty stretchers that had carried the many wounded were washed and rinsed in the sea next to them.

All the while keeping their heads and even having one of their own wounded in the face, the sappers continued building the landing stages and improving the landing conditions for the hospital and supply vessels under the same arduous conditions up to the 5th May.


P01130.001 landing piers colourised

The great Henry Bachtold - 1917
The great Henry Bachtold – 1917


The team of sappers led by Lieut. Henry Bachtold  all received Special Mention (Mentioned in Orders) and some later Mentioned in Despatches for acts of conspicuous gallantry or valuable services.


citation mention orders

The Citation above reads –

“On the 25th April this officer and his crew paddled barrel piers into the bay under a heavy shell fire and then deliberately set to work under a hail of bursting shrapnel and erected the landing stage. This stage was of the greatest value in getting off the wounded and enabled over 1500 men to be sent off the same day. The men had never before been under fire.”…………………….The men were

2/Lt. Henry Bachtold – 23 years old, Engineering Draughtsman –  See photo above

90 Spr. George Chisholm, 35 yrs old a Tailor born in Scotland. – (Portrait needed)

228  Spr. William Davis, 24 yrs old an Axe man from Abbotsford Victoria. ( Portrait needed)

201 Spr. Herbert Eggleton, 33 yrs old an Engine driver born in England. (Portrait needed)

124 Sidney Garrett

124 Spr. Sidney Garrett, 25 yrs old a Carpenter from Gladesville, Sydney.

45 Spr. Norman Hartridge

45 Spr. Norman Hartridge, 19 yrs old a young Carpenter from Summer Hill, Sydney.

Edward John HAYES
156 Spr. Edward Hayes

156 Spr. Edward Hayes, 25 yrs old a Boot maker from Woollahra, Sydney.

24 Spr. Stanley Hense

24 Spr. Stanley Hense, 17 yrs old a Plumber from Burwood, Sydney.

227 Charles Billy McDevitt
227 Dvr. Billy Mc Devitt

227 Dvr. Charles McDevitt, 26yrs old, a Driver originally with the 1st Reinf… a carpenter from Gladesville, Sydney.

104 Spr. Percival Polley

104 Spr. Percival Polley , 25yrs old a bush carpenter from Woollahra, Sydney

136 Alfred Taylor (Tyley)
136 Spr. Alfred Taylor (Tyley)

136 Spr. Alfred Taylor (Tyley) , 23 yrs old a bootmaker from Manly, Sydney

41 Claude Douglas TURBET
41 Spr.Claude Douglas TURBET

41 Spr.Claude Turbet, 19 yrs old a mattress maker from Canterbury, Sydney. ( spelt incorrectly on above citation)
(the ages stated are at the time of enlistment.)

also noted on the same citation is the heroics of 191 Fred Reynolds

227 Charles Billy McDevitt


Notation : 227 Driver Charles McDevitt  was shot in the face on the 31st April during the pontoon building operation and although wounded. He was medically discharged and returned safely to Australia.



Story Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015

Sources and Acknowledgements:

1. Thanks to Catherine Job for her assistance in the detail, in order to help complete this story. ( Catherine’s great uncle – 70 Cleveland Page)

2. AWM

3. NAA – Series details for: B2455

4. Royal Australian Engineers . 1902 – 1919 –  R. McNicoll

5. The Gallipoli diaries of Francis Badham Oliver, University of Sydney Archives