192 William Phillips – portrait courtesy of Beverley Prior family collection
Original War Diary 1915 – courtesy of Beverley Prior family collection
In 2015 Beverley Prior the granddaughter of original 1st Field Company Engineer 192 William Irving Phillips was commemorating the 100 year anniversary of ANZAC.
Beverley and her family had held onto a treasure for 100 years, a rare gem and a significant piece of Anzac history, her grandfather’s war diary.
Beverley has taken the time to carefully transcribe Will Phillips diary and also include personal photos and momento’s.
It is an exciting and magnificent archive which opens up the life and times of William Phillips and other originals during the war years.
The diary has enormous relevance to the story of the original men of the 1st Field Company Engineers and provides a unique insight into many of the men of the company.
Will Phillips had a balanced view of all things that life threw at him, his country upbringing combined with a quality education, the foundation which prepared him for Gallipoli and the war in Europe.
Will Phillips was like so many original Anzac’s, a rare individual who took so much in his stride, never seemed to complain, and despite the daily hardships of war always found a way of making light of the circumstances and getting on with the task at hand.
Will was a teacher, and a skilled horseman who found himself in the second boat to hit the shores of Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915.
He lived to tell his story, and what a story his granddaughter Beverley has so generously shared.
Please follow this link and enjoy the story of a fine man, William Irving Phillips….CLICK HERE
158 James Johnston – Photo Courtesy Johnston Family Collection
The ‘Johnston’ Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43.
In the final year of the great war in France, a significant piece of engineering was designed for the welfare of the troops. It was designed and constructed by an ‘original’ from the 1st Field Company Engineers, a Scotsman who became an ANZAC legend.
He has been forever digitised in the war history books and made famous for all historians and followers of the 1st FCE to discover.
The Australian War Museum website has recognised the “Johnston” Shower invented by “original” 158 James Johnstonand today we celebrate his distinguished service and his story.
The men of the 1st Field Company Engineers – Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
AWM A02468 -Troops of the 11th Battalion and 1st Field Company Australian Engineers assembled on the forecastle of HMS London, part of the fleet which carried the Australians from Lemnos for the Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove. HMS Bacchante is steaming ahead. Photo taken by Ashmead-Bartlett, Ellis
Gallipoli Landing – AWMJO3022
Courtesy – “Bob Lundy- Private Collection”
Group – Egypt Shoosmiith Family Private Collection
Big tent – courtesy “Bob Lundy Private Collection”
Trevor Lawton’s discovery decades ago of the ” FIRST ‘s “, challenged the war history books, and up against the heavyweights of Canberra, his research and the story of the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers fell on deaf ears. Trevor had “peaked too early” and his extensive research and his story has been patiently maturing like a good wine.
Now in the centenary years of ANZAC, that has all changed and Trevor’s early work and continued passionate campaign is not only welcomed but as he has so kindly stated, his work has found a home …”the ideal setting”.
Please read Trevor’s own story of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers. As he so fondly calls them the FIRST’S, he dedicates the opening chapters to the recognition of the Engineers both at ANZAC and the enormous work by the Engineers performed at Mudros before the landing campaign.
Trevor has no direct family connection to the men, and has no agenda other than being passionate about the truth, and that the fine men of this company be fully recognized and their true place in history is recorded.
He is a true campaigner. His story is rich with detail, it raises some intriguing questions and is enlightening. It gives great encouragement to continue to tell the story and share the lives of the men of the 1st Field Coy. Engineers AIF.
And as Trevor so simply states … it helps us continue to “join the dots”.
Trevor Lawton gives his own back story to his early discovery……..” Two letters to editor , Two buildings facing each other”
“So began my search to unravel the mystery of the presence of the engineers at the landing.
Sparked by the two letters I came across, more years ago than I care to remember. One misfiled at the Australian War Memorial, the other in a local paper both appearing early in WWI.
The other building, the (old) and (new) Parliament House where I worked for 20 years as a researcher and in management of Parliamentary Library….. when all was done without the aid of electronics, except ‘typing’…….only microform or hard copy. No button pressing, no instant answers. I took early retirement to spend hours of research on soldiers and their stories, not WW1 battles.
There were few answers to those intriguing letters till electronics delivered up Sapper diaries this century…I had ‘peaked’ too early before digitization’s of records…then came Vance’s website, the ideal setting for what follows…. I hope readers of his site will continue the quest to join the dots up….on the engineers’ story! In a previous life in a galaxy not so far away, but long long ago, I was a high school teacher, and later a research officer in Bureau of Agricultural Economics, hence my attention/ emphasis on “local”. There was little interest in such a story in the nation’s capital………” TWL. (Trevor Lawton)
THE LANDING 25 APRIL 1915 ANZAC COVE
REMEMBERING THE STILL OVERLOOKED FEW -THE ENGINEERS
NEW SOUTH WALES – WAS AT THE FOREFRONT.
William Echlin Turnley stood on the crowded deck of the troopship Afric peering intently into the harbour the ship convoy was entering. What he saw alarmed him. He with several thousand Australian and New Zealand troops of the First Contingent (my “First Fleet”) was now ending his voyage, the Sydney-Emden triumph still fresh in their minds. The convoy was not entering an English port as expected when leaving Sydney but Alexandria Harbour Egypt. There moored unhindered in front of him were some twenty four German merchant ships, two-thirds the number of ships the soldiers had travelled across the seas.
A very confronting close-up first exposure to the enemy. There was nothing he could do. (These ships were as yet idle; captured German prizes-of-war).
William Turnley could not know then that he as part of 1,500 Australian troops the first of any troops to land that fateful day, would be swapping the 36 or so troopships for 36 small rowboats heading pre-dawn towards another foreign shore…Gallipoli…Sunday 25 April 1915…Anzac Day. The 1,500 in the First Wave were part of a Covering Force of 4,000 men to prepare the way for 1 and 2 Brigades to land, in reverse order.
He later knew as a survivor, New South Wales was represented together with the “outer states” in that First Wave. When back home he would try to explain it was.
Today we still do not recognise NSW’s presence. He, Turnley would later realise he and his mates in the lead or at the forefront of the first to land rowed not into the history books but historical oblivion.
Very few of the NSW recruits actually perished early morning or that day. They have simply been overlooked then or forgotten since in the past 100 years. On landing their skills were not immediately needed, for what they expected was not there. Their other non-combatant skills were needed: these too have been largely overlooked.
WHY GALLIPOLI ?
As part of General Sir Ian Hamilton’s “rapid flinging”of troops ashore at the Gallipoli peninsula that day to try to free up access to Russia, 1,500 Australian soldiers from the so-called 6 infantry companies (Coys) made the first landing that day. They landed at only one of the six beaches chosen by him. Unlike at the other five beaches the Australians ultimately landed pre-dawn for surprise, with no preceding naval shelling bombardment announcing their arrival.
Weatherwise, “the end of April offered up the chance of a few days of consecutive charm” … for such an enterprise. “If it had been British weather the adventure would have to be given up” Hamilton later wrote.
As it was, the 6 landings were postponed two days because of strong winds.
Overlooked in the story of the Australian First Wave were members of a 7th company – the engineers, who were soldiers but not infantry. These men, sappers, were members of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers (1FCAE), “the First engineers”.
In writing Volume I of the official history, 600 plus pages dealing only with the first phase to 4 May 1915 of the Gallipoli Campaign, the Official Historian CEW Bean lamented “Of the Landing…there exists no such record…from which even the shortest history could be written”.
His diaries, records of conversation and communication were all he had. (He acknowledged the contribution of 130 prominent soldiers etc and some 20 overseas official sources in enabling him to achieve publication of Volume I in only two years).
His history noted the First engineers were to be part of the First Wave ashore when the landing was being planned. To the detriment of subsequent histories thereafter, it did not give any reasons or other details for their presence. Recorded only was the number of First engineers landed up to 1 May 1915, 7 officers, 158 other ranks.
Consequently, 69 First engineers became the still overlooked few. Their omission from the official record and subsequent histories for the past century means now there are more questions than answers e.g. did the engineers land in their own boats or were they mixed with the infantry in the First Wave(?).
As fewer than 500 men from three Australian engineer companies landed that day out of some 15,000-16,000 men such an oversight is understandable. Lt Gen Birdwood reported at 4.30pm 13,000 men were ashore but the 13 and 15 Battalions (Bns) had not yet landed. They were too late for action that day.
Over 27,000 men landed at Anzac Cove by 1 May 1915 a tribute to the Royal Navy second squadron under Rear Admiral Thursby using over 20 ships including chartered vessels. In all over 200 ships were used for the landings at the 6 beaches.
One-fifth (some 5,400) of the 27,000 men at Anzac Cover were not in Australian or NZ Bns.
Most were from the Royal Naval Division, “Winston’s Little Army”. These soldiers surplus reservists to the Royal Navy were also sailors. On the day, they made a feint or dummy landing from the sea at Bulair north of the Cove before then rushing back to the Cove.
Landed also were the Ceylon (Tea) Planters’ Rifle Corps (151 men said to be Gen Birdwood’s bodyguards), the (Jewish) Zion Mule Corps (246), the Indian Mule Cart Transport Corps (229) and various gun batteries mainly from the Indian Army.
WHY WERE THE ENGINEERS THERE?
There were few clues or answers, either in the official records or to date in unofficial sources such as the soldiers’ letters, photographs, diaries and so on.
Official orders issued by Major General Bridges on 18 March 1915 (Operation Order No.1) and by Colonel Sinclair MacLagan to the 3 Infantry Brigade on 21 March 1915 contained virtually no information. These Brigade troops were recruited from the “outer states”, Qld, SA, WA and Tasmania. MacLagan’s orders simply listed three Engineer Demolition Parties (each to contain 23 First engineers, it transpired from two official Bn diary entries but their attachment to three of the six Bn Coys was not specified nor explained).
The only clue to any attachment was given by William Turnley. The Firsts were to team with a 9Bn Coy for special demolition work at Gaba Tepe promontory. At the planning stage, it would seem 3 gun batteries were identified for capture hence 3 demolition parties(?).
Even the First engineers’ war diarist could record little of the landing as the three demolition parties were spread over three different battleships and later (three?) small boats. After landing all he could record was “it was some time before sufficient sappers could be assembled to commence a road (11.45am) to get guns, water and ammunition to the troops higher up”.
Overlooked were any of the engineers’ other activities that day particularly of some 14 First engineers who “beached” separately that afternoon in a very unusual landing. Complicating matters, the First engineers belonged to 1 not 3 Brigade.
The remaining First engineers minus two officers, ten horse drivers and unspecified Coy HQ details landed with the Reserve 12Bn as did the remaining 6 Coys of the three Bns from destroyers in the Second Wave. That wave seems to have landed sooner than the half hour behind the First Wave indicated in orders reflecting the urgency to get inland, or the efficiency of the Royal Navy.
The Firsts were to rendezvous at map reference Square 224Q6 to undertake their tasks; principally road making and water searching. Uncertainty still remains on when and where the First Engineers landed in the Second Wave.
By now 48 small boats were employed for the landings(?).
Letters to the press by engineers Tom Newson, Queanbeyan Age and William Turnley, Sydney Morning Herald in June 1915 and May 1917 gave intriguing clues (my first and only, over 25 years ago) to the engineers’ elusive presence. Newson wrote of a “barbed wire and demolition party”, Turnley of NSW’s presence in the first to land. The next batch of war news in the press or by dreaded telegram quickly led to any such unofficial clues being overlooked or forgotten in the tumult of those days.
Later, photographs also provided clues. One showed a First engineer demolition party on board a battleship (HMS London) with WA 11Bn soldiers going to the landing (AWMAO2468). Another showed the body of an Australian engineer on the beach the first engineer to fall after landing (AWM A1090). There is still no official identification.
Later research or mention of individual First engineers sometimes referred to them being “among the first to land”. These included Gordon Wilson from Minmi NSW (his funeral in1929 after a car accident was attended by Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm), Tom Newson from Duntroon, Ernie Murray from Canberra and Roy Denning from Yass. But the reasons for their presence still remained unexplained.
110 Gordon Campbell Wilson M.C, A.F.C, DCM and M.I.D
157 Frederick Thomas Newson
151 Ernest Murray
213 Roy Denning – courtesy ” Anzac Digger” Roy Denning
Unless the official records yield more answers, soldier accounts in their various forms including Reveille become the prime sources for answering these questions. Here the research of 229 First engineers being conducted by Vance Kelly offers hope. But as the Official Historian warned soldiers’ recollections will yield different and often conflicting answers as anyone who has read WWI Red Cross files will readily attest.
THE FIRST ENGINEER TO FALL
Five First engineers are recorded as dying that day, with four reportedly killed in action in the First Wave.
Captain Vernon Sturdee did not go ashore until 9am well after the Covering Force had landed. He accompanied the Chief Engineer HQ to inspect the search for water by the Second engineers near Dawkins Point. Later they would inspect the road at rear of Plugge’s Plateau commenced under shrapnel fire by the First engineers just before noon.
Even later the Captain would certify the burials at sunset in one grave of four engineers in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery. Sunset later became the safest time for conducting burials. Row 1C now contains these as separate graves.
In order they are of:
– Fred Reynolds, 20, single, electrical engineer from Manly NSW, (born Wellington,
– Walter Freebairn, aged 22-29?, single, tailor from Surry Hills, Sydney (born
– William Moore, 27, single, sawyer, originally a first reinforcement enlisting
Melbourne (born London, England); and
– Cleveland Edmund Page, 23, single, plumber, associated Auburn NSW, (born East
Maitland recorded as Newcastle, NSW).
191 Spr. Frederick Austin Reynolds
55 Spr. Walter Freebairn
246 Spr. William Moore
70 Spr. Cleveland Page – Photo Courtesy of Catherine Job – Family Collection.
Fred Reynolds, (regarded as the first man ashore by the family of one of his three cousins killed in the war) received posthumously a Special Mention in Despatches for Conspicuous Gallantry or Valuable Services 25 April– 5 May 1915 (MiD) by General Hamilton.
Accounts of his death vary from being the first killed in the boats to the first engineer to fall ashore.
One of his three cousins Cpl Claude Campbell 17 Bn (buried Cairo from wounds at Quinns Post) happened to be taught Sunday school at Nelanglo near Gundaroo NSW, where his father was school teacher, by my grandfather; my only connection with the engineers.
Gordon Wilson received a similar commendation for work later that day.
The fifth engineer died of wounds on the troopship turned hospital ship Clan McGillivray later that day. He was shot while giving orders that morning on the deck of an unknown destroyer. The Scourge has been suggested but as it was the ship used to convey the wounded to the now hospital ship Clan McGillivray the answer remains unclear. He was Alexander Joseph MacDonald, married, carpenter, aged 30 of Glebe Point, Sydney. (Born Braidwood, NSW, also buried row 1C.)
They were and are still five of the overlooked few….
Eyewitness accounts identified three of the five, only when three sappers’ diaries emerged this century. (These diaries were foremost in starting to unravel the mystery of the Firsts’presence.)
– William Moore by his namesake Jack Moore, (associated 10Bn from HMS Prince of Wales);
– Cleveland Page, by Thomas Drane, (associated 11Bn from HMS London); and
– Alexander MacDonald by Roy Denning. He, the last engineer to die that day was not in the First Wave, nor was Denning.
Engineers Moore and Page were killed on the beach on landing most likely from sniper fire.
Diarist William Turnley, (associated 9Bn from HMS Queen) mentions a sapper, unnamed, who was shot and killed the third time he assisted a wounded soldier ashore. That assisted soldier may have been from the Second Wave. First engineer Warrant Officer (WO) Pantlin later recounted (1932) Spr Reynolds had safely gained the shore but on returning to assist a wounded man was killed by a head shot.
Colonel Lee, Commanding Officer (CO) 9Bn, told Pantlin he would recommend Spr Reynolds for a decoration resulting in the MiD. As WO Pantlin led the party which landed on North Beach north of the Cove, he relied on Col. Lee as the eyewitness, an example of how individual soldiers readily incorporated recollections by other soldiers into their accounts.
Turnley also referred to a “fellow” who on landing unconcernedly took out his camera and started taking photos(?).
A GLIMPSE OF THE ENGINEERS’ PURPOSE
In the landing story, time and distance have been two of the major bedevilments confusing what happened, when and where (on the water, on the beaches or on the ridges and gullies) as events unfolded that pre-dawn.
Another is not enough First Wave accounts, if extant, having been identified then and now.
The result is Second Wave accounts mainly from officers on the destroyers predominate in the Official History and subsequent histories. The First Wave has generally been passed over for lack of information or described only in the briefest of terms.
That the engineers were not infantry may have some small influence on how the story was told as did perhaps the overseas origins of many engineers. These are far less likely explanations.
The following glimpse should be viewed against such a confused background e.g. on times recorded in the official diaries, the Reserve 12Bn landed before the First Wave.
William Turnley, telephone mechanic originally from England as well as diarist, sat anxiously in his boat as did all the 1,500 during the long time of the tow of the 36 boats.
Discovery by the Turks was feared. They were seen. A shot was fired. They rowed frantically to shore. His boat was fouled on landing when another boat swung around. That boat carrying 9Bn A Coy(?) is believed by many to have landed before the first shot.
Turnley thought the engineers were among the first dozen to set foot on that part of the beach(?). He with 22 other sappers was to “blow up” the guns on Gaba Tepe promontory after the Qld Bn Coy had seized them. These guns, protected by barbed wire visible offshore, were 1 mile (1.6km) south of their intended landing, Brighton Beach south of Anzac Cove.
Because of the two deviations north in their tow, he estimated they were now 2,500 yards (2.6km) away. He heard “the spasmodic chatter”of a maxim gun on the leading steamboat to be fired as ordered “only if imperative to effect a landing”. Gun cotton was part of his equipment but he lost his spiking tool/s on landing.
9Bn B Coy was meant to take Anderson’s Knoll half a mile (800m) inland(?).
No-one got to the guns that day. The seizing of these guns, General Bridges stressed, was essential to the success of the Landing.
The main aim of the Landing, expected to be opposed, was to prevent Turkish reinforcements further north of the Cove and Mal Tepe inland from moving south to Cape Hellas, where the main attack was to take place. Hellas was not protected by “an elaborate network of trenches”- (Hamilton), yet six VCs were won that day.
If need be, the Anzac Landing could be a major feint but re-embarkation, as Birdwood urged, was impossible, leading to Hamilton’s “dig, dig, dig” entreaty.
Jack Moore (associated 10Bn, ? Coy) a mechanical engineer originally from NZ was detailed to an oar in his boat as it only had two naval ratings to row it. He thus had his back to the shore and was not first out of his boat. He did not mention the “skirmish” between two boats, one occupied by AG (“Gertie”) Butler 9Bn Medical Officer and the other boat Lt Talbot Smith 10Bn Scouts as noted by Bean. One possibility is he was in a separate engineers’ boat(?).
Moore’s boat may have been the first of all to land. He expected to encounter barbed wire and spiked pits on Brighton Beach. Carried by him were a wire cutter and grappling hook with stout rope 100 feet long (30m) to drag the barbed wire once cut aside so the infantry could charge.
There was neither wire nor staked pits, just largely recently vacated trenches. He did not mention any guns to be “blown up” so with no barbed wire he joined the bayonet charge.
Around noon the next day he was ordered back to the beach to help build a “wharf”.
Tom Newson (HMS London?), the English carpenter from Duntroon and letter writer to The Queanbeyan Age, was also in a barbed wire cutting and demolition party. He landed “2 miles (3.2km) north of Gaba Tepe ” promontory and “our boat was the first to land”.
He joined the bayonet charge and shouted till he was hoarse. He “would never forget that day”. He did not mention the guns…
Thomas Drane (HMS London, ? Coy), a tailor, also from England and Forbes NSW, was in the first boat “nearest the enemy” on the north side of Anzac, the one party meant to land on the Cove. His boat it seems landed last of those carrying the demolition engineers as it was further offshore. He did not know why they landed in the “wrong place”, later told it was “the current”. The associated 11Bn Coys were meant to seize the high ground at Scrubby Hill and further north Battleship Hill.
Drane did not state his purpose. WO Pantlin leader of that party stated later their objective was to “blow up” the guns.
Drane lost his sandbag containing a small pick and shovel on landing but kept his rifle. His “coldest Turkish bath ever” confirmed General Hamilton’s “like lightning they (theAustralians) leapt ashore”. He joined the bayonet charge and “must have gone 5 miles [8km] before 9am that day”, perhaps “one of the more adventurous spirits” noted by Bean.
He worked on a captured trench that night on the second ridge and did not rejoin his company till two days later to find he had been reported missing-in-action. Both Turnley and Drane, wounded shortly after, were discharged medically unfit in 1916.
Moore severely wounded in the shoulder May 1915 did not resume front line duty until August 1916 with another engineering Coy, 14FCAE.
About 6.30am that morning the Nizam steamed slowly allowing Henry Bachtold, an honours engineering graduate from England promoted to full lieutenant that day and up to 13 First engineers (his accounts vary) to offload three rafts and “pontoon equipment” into the sea.
Lt Bachtold led the first reinforcements on Berrima from Melbourne in December 1914. By 8am they had linked these together but it would be 1pm before a destroyer could tow the assembly to within 200 yards (208m) of Anzac Beach. They succeeded in getting to shore to erect the first pier. The Australian Army Medical Corps used it immediately to evacuate the wounded, the severely wounded to the hospital ship Gascon, the less severely to the Clan McGillivray, the Firsts acting as traffic control.
Over four days 4 piers, two largely from broken barges, were erected, feats seemingly unnoticed in any Anzac history. THUS…
The First engineers recruited in NSW were a small and potentially significant part of the First Wave to land. The “mother state” as claimed by William Turnley in 1917 was at the forefront if not the lead of that wave.
There is now more to vindicate his claim. The absence of barbed wire and the failure of the infantry to capture the guns (other than three Krupp guns by 8am) largely explains the engineers’ omission from the Official History(?). Also missing was their other activities. (Even the engineers’ history is vague on that day)
One surprising aspect, however, was the1930s debate of the first man ashore did not lead to the First engineers being considered. At the time 1937-38 the Official Historian gave support to “tradition” i.e. Lt Duncan Chapman was the first man ashore. Seemingly Major JC Robertson for one had disappeared to be replaced by Lce Sgt Joseph Stratford, born NSW, promoted by The Sydney Mail.
Arguably given the role of barbed wire removal, a First engineer was likely first ashore(?). This “conclusion” may conflict with orders that an officer was to land first, other ranks remaining seated. These orders presumably applied only to the infantry(?). At an Afric reunion in 1932 WO Pantlin claimed Spr Reynolds was the first ashore. His statement did not gain much traction and failed to attract the attention of the Official Historian at that time(?).
By the 1960s Bean acknowledged that Chapman was probably the first ashore.
Perhaps by the end of the Centenary Years and the completion of Vance Kelly’s work many of these questions(?) will have more complete answers. Given the confusion surrounding the day’s events, definitive answers may not be forthcoming. Such outcomes will ease the angst of the citizens of Maryborough Qld who raised funds to erect a statue of Duncan Chapman before the Centenary and serve to modify Kiwi glee from thinking a Maorilander was the first ashore…
The Second engineers, also overlooked, landed 6.30-7am with similar tasks, water supplies and road making at MacLagan’s Ridge and Shrapnel Valley. They were to land with grapnels and bags to deal with barbed wire. Later, a party of them would be detailed to assist with pier construction.
Another, the Third engineers landed later that morning having been replaced by the First engineers in the First Wave even though they had returned from canal defence to Mena Egypt shortly before the 3 Brigade departed for Lemnos.
Their diary has no entry for that day but constructing water slides was an earlier activity.
The First engineers colours? A purple patch issued only weeks before to be worn on the shoulder.
REMEMBERING THE FIRSTS OF THE OVERLOOKED -FIRST ENGINEERS LANDINGS AND INTENDED LANDINGS.
The small boat grounded near shore. William Turnley may have followed Lt Mather in leaping over the side into the water to wade to land(?). Lt Mather was the first of any troops to land. He was a First engineer: an original of the company formed Sydney August 1914.
His landing was two days after the 3 Brigade and First engineers had reached their destination. Within four days two other sections of the Firsts had gone ashore.
Ahead of Lt Mather lay a windswept, stony landscape but green, unlike the familiar sand of Egypt. This land was to be a staging post for that now not-so-distant shore….. Gallipoli………the Greek island of Lemnos.
The First engineers could not know then that this might be their first rehearsal for a later first landing by them.
It was early March 1915. They did know a small party of 21 First engineers had already left from Egypt to go to the Dardanelles Straits to be part of an intended landing demolition party later on 18 March 1915: the day of the Royal and French Navies’ attempt to capture the Dardanelles Straits.
There was much to do on the island, and the First engineers with others may not get all done before they moved again. Troopships from England and France were beginning to mass in the area. The 3 (Australian) Brigade was already in Mudros Harbour, Lemnos.
MUDROS HARBOUR LEMNOS
The First engineers as the first ashore had first to ensure the adequacy of water supplies as instructed by GHQ, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. This included examining the water supply used by the “old town” from springs in the hills, digging wells for watering animals and erecting a new pier on a “spot considered suitable by the Naval Authorities”.
Then because there were no port facilities, they had to prepare aids to allow the transport ships to land their cargoes and have the harbour ready to cater for the coming vessels. William Turnley after two months in Egypt had more to occupy his mind now than the German merchant ships anchored in Alexandria Harbour Egypt. Leaving Australia in October 1914 with the First Convoy seemed so long ago. In sailing from Sydney the Firsts and the Australian Army Service Corps occupied the fore of the Afric with 1Bn 1 Brigade aft.
His unit had brought wagons and 56 horses with them on another ship from Sydney.
While at Mena Camp, the Firsts helped “terrorise” Cairo with subsequent pay fines or other penalties. As well as enduring training and routine drills in the sinking sand, they erected at least two bridges then dismantled them.
Demolition training seems not to have been mentioned at all, other than very early training in Sydney Harbour. Some engineers did examine the guns on the battleship before resting to be ready for landing pre-dawn.
On 28 February 1915, the remaining First engineers sailed with 3 Brigade from Egypt to Lemnos island. They took 1 NCO, 10 (horse) drivers and 22 horses with them on another ship, Devanha. Earlier, on 14 February 1915, two pontoon wagons and one trestle wagon each constructed at the railway workshops Cairo and 19 draught horses were taken on strength. Eleven more men followed on 23 February as drivers of the pontoon and trestle waggons, the Chief Engineer HQ recorded. These additions cannot be confirmed as there was no 1FCAE diary for that month. No engineers’ horses nor waggons landed at Anzac Cove because of the terrain. All horses were thus returned to Mex near Alexandria, Egypt in June under WO Pantlin. He was then retired from the Army on age grounds. Some (one?) of the drivers possibly beached with the first pier(?).
As part of the attempted Naval Forcing of the Dardanelles, the landing demolition party comprising 20 sappers under Lt Huntley of the First engineers had combined with four officers and 200 other ranks of Chatham Battalion of the Royal Naval Division. They sailed on the Cawdor Castle to the Straits only to witness the loss or damage to French and British naval ships from Turkish mines.
They did not land for demolition work so arrived back at Lemnos on the Suffolk late March. [Lt Huntley, the First engineers’ leader for that party, from the delightfully named Snail’s Bay Balmain, later died of wounds 4 May 1915. He had two funerals: a burial at sea from the hospital ship Gascon; and a burial on Gallipoli as a photograph of his grave later showed(?).]
“DOINGS” OF THE FIRSTS
Water supplies remained inadequate despite engineer efforts in building a reservoir. They sank six wells to an average depth of 26 feet (6+ metres) but total supplies were reckoned to be adequate only for a few thousand men. The 1 and 2 Brigades from NSW and Victoria respectively were thus shipped back to Egypt. So was the Royal Naval Division minus
engineers. The 3 Brigade, apart from 9Bn and sometimes 10Bn, stayed mainly on board ships in Mudros Harbour.
Raft construction was an onboard engineer activity. However barrel piers were not used for the first piers. The ship Armadale apparently carried them(?). [No further information has been sought by me].
To remedy the lack of port facilities at Mudros, the engineers in the few weeks they were there combined at times with the Royal Naval Division engineers and 9 (Australian) Bn to build port, landing, communications and navigation aids. Shore beacons and signal hut/barracks were erected for the Royal Navy at the narrow mouth of the harbour.
The First engineers also began to erect, as instructed by “the Naval Authorities”(?) a stone jetty 75 yards (78m) long with assistance from 9Bn making a road to it from Mudros village mid March in “cold wet windy conditions”. The jetty may not have been completed. As well the Firsts unloaded HMS Pickaxe. Further unloading and restowing of ships wrongly loaded before leaving England and Egypt was completed as was assisting moving a stationary hospital ashore, using a hopper dredge from the Royal Navy. Some road repairs were done.
This following photographs are from an album of a R.N.D. officer [courtesy of Maurice Stokes (UK) and Bernard de Broglio (Aus)].
These show, as captioned –
“Pier building at Mudros March ’15
1. The R.N.D. Engineers
2. The Australians”
Note the shipping in the background.
Also noteworthy was the Firsts’ attempt to float assembled rafts and pontoons as a pier across Mudros Harbour only to crash on landing and the assembly break up.
THE LANDING TAKES SHAPE
On 10 April, the Firsts learned they were to be part of the first landing party on Gallipoli together with 5 or 6 unspecified infantry Coys. They practised for a few days with the chosen 6 companies in disembarking from troopships (battleships on the day) rushing ashore from small boats etc. The intended landing was postponed two days by strong winds.
Because of other equipment to be carried the engineers were to carry 50 rounds only of ammunition. So 69 First engineers came to land at North Beach (23) and Anzac (46), rather than the Cove and Brighton Beach to the south. The first pier was erected and within a few days sandbag walls were erected for shelter from shrapnel around an Australian and separate NZ dressing station on the beach.
Many of the skills practised previously, including pier erection(?), were used by the First engineers that day. And a few of them had extensive military or militia experience at times as long as the time they had spent training for their professional/trade vocations. On route from Australia to Egypt, this experience showed when the Firsts easily defeated the infantry in a rifle drill competition, winning first and second prize, the Australian Army Service Corps coming third and fourth, the six infantry entries thereafter.
To the then official press representative CEW Bean in his first report on the landing, reproduced in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 17 May 1915, the First Wave seemed to consist “largely of miners from Broken Hill and Westralian goldfields”. He was not sure which boat landed first as many seemed to land at the same time. That time was 4.18am. He did not go ashore until about 10am that morning.
No First engineers were miners. Yet they well and truly earned the titles of “sapper” and “digger” in the next 4 years. The Engineers motto then? “We make and we break”.
REMEMBERING THE FIRST DAY FALLEN THE BIGGER PICTURE
In recounting the Australian Landing story the bigger picture has prevailed to the detriment of detail such as knowing how many died that day, their names or who they were. Our story and remembrance have suffered from such oversights.
Some First Day Gallipoli Honour Rolls e.g. by the then now revived former ADFA AIF Project or by the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre have appeared in recent years mainly on the internet without seeming to attract much widespread public attention(?).
The still overlooked few thus increases to more than one thousand men when added to the overlooked First engineers.
Unknown until 2014 were the names of those who perished in the landing’s First Wave of 1,500 men.
FIRST WAVE DEATHS
Research Professor Peter Stanley ADFA Canberra gave us the number, their names and much about these men. His research now enables comparison of First Wave losses with later and total losses that day. We can also learn how various units fared and where and when their time came to rush ashore thanks to Brigadier Chris Roberts (Rtd ) and the Australian Army History Unit.
Professor Stanley did well to challenge us to name just one Anzac soldier who perished that day, highlighting such oversights. To me he reinforced our “one day of the year” only approach to remembrance despite growing Anzac Day attendances.
First engineer William Turnley survived though retired early medically so he can be farewelled in appreciation of his contribution, then and now, with the hope he and his fellow engineers receive some overdue recognition in the Centenary years.
First Wave deaths can now be identified by country and Australian states. (Incidentally, Professor Stanley’s List of Lost Boys coincides very closely with data in AWM Honour Roll Series 148 (microform) in 1999. Only two deaths recorded in the latter as 1 or 2 May and another four with probable dates e.g. 25-27 April are now recorded as 25 April as a result of his findings).
DEATHS BY COUNTRY/AUSTRALIAN STATE:
SOURCES: Derived from: (1) Professor Stanley’s List of Lost Boys 1914 in “Lost Boys of Anzac”
(2014); (2) AWM Series 148 (microform) Trevor Lawton (1999 unpublished).
Almost one-third of those killed in the First Wave were born overseas, with UK including
Ireland making up one-quarter of the total. These men were going home to fight for their own countries not to fight at Gallipoli. Queensland lost the most 44 with WA 32 and SA 25, when those figures are added to Australian state figures.
FIRST DAY DEATHS
The following listing shows how various units fared against rushed in Turkish reinforcements when their time to land came.
(1) Battalions in action 25 April only: excludes 13 and 15 Bns.
(2) Court of Inquiry could not establish a definite date of death so probable date ranges given e.g. 25-27 April.
(3) The covering force of 4,000 men.
(4) All Landing times are approximate only. Actual times could vary significantly from those stated.
(5) Total includes 6 deaths now ascribed to 25 April
(6) Times landed are uncertain: both am. and pm.(?)
(7) Totals may vary from other rolls (a) disputed or uncertain dates (b) errors and omissions (c) later updates/corrections to AWM Honour Roll. (d) different time period or date range covered.
Includes additional 4, 1 from HQ, 2 from 3 Field Ambulance, 1 First engineers
SOURCE: Derived from: AWM Series 148 (microform). Trevor Lawton (1999 unpublished)
When deaths from 25 April – 2 May (where a court of inquiry sometimes over 18 months later could not establish a definite date) plus died of wounds (DoW) 25 April are included, SA lost the most another 26. The chief reason is the wounded could not be found in the dense scrub. At day’s end Qld still lost the most some 90 while SA and WA had similar losses 56 and 62 respectively.
The Reserve 12Bn losses were higher than either 10 or 11 Bns at 73.
Almost half of each of the 9, 10 and 11Bns’ losses occurred in the First Wave of the six Coys e.g. 44 out of 90 for Qld, 84 of whom were killed that day. If deaths from died of wounds to 2 May (inconclusive dates again) some 140 could be added giving a total of 886, too high a figure to reflect actual first day losses.
Again at day’s end, Victoria suffered the most, the 7 and 6Bns (in order landed) losing 150 and 110 respectively.
The (Jewish) Zion Mule Corps landed 6 officers and 240 other ranks as supplies and water carriers on Anzac Cove up to 1 May 1915. When that component was disbanded and returned, minus mules, to Egypt 20 May 1915 it reportedly lost 15 men and 55 wounded.
These figures suggest a high casualty rate but are difficult to verify.
So too are deaths of naval ratings (“blue jackets”) of the Royal Navy at Anzac Cove difficult to reconcile with those given anecdotally in Anzac accounts e.g. the midshipman killed after handing AG “Gertie” Butler his satchel on landing. Recent research overseas with more required as acknowledged yields only 6 Royal Navy deaths in the second squadron.
Similarly the numbers killed in the boats or drowned on landing will never be known. There are no facts to match against the somewhat fictional (like AB Facey’s landing) accounts.
To give the Official Historian the last say on the Landing “Neither then nor anytime later was the beach the inferno of bursting shells, barbed wire entanglements and falling men that has sometime been described or painted”.
Finally losses each day in the landing period as defined by him did not approach those of first day losses of Bns in action that day until 2 May 1915. On that day, 16Bn (WA) lost 151, 2Bn 102 and 1Bn (both NSW) 64, 317 out of some 450 deaths. These 450 deaths do not include deaths from 13 and 15Bns. Thus the 450 figure shown should not be construed as total deaths for 2 May 1915.
THE SPIRIT LIVES.
Yet we cannot remember what we do not yet know or have forgotten.
The Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18 Volume I. The Story of Anzac
by CEW Bean (1 & 4 edition)
Australian War Memorial, National Archives and National Library of Australia
microform and digitised records etc
Naval-history.net for Royal Navy deaths: Zion Mule Corps various websites
Professor Peter Stanley, Catherine Job, “Amazing” Jack Moore, son of Anzac Jack,
Terence King, belatedly Vance Kelly
My son Stephen for keying over 2+ years endless drafts…and yes, Stephen there is
still one more…this is it!
Trevor Lawton Canberra, December 2015
(Thus ends my “Magnum Opeless” sparked over a quarter of a century ago by happenstance: two letters to the Editor. In that context, “make
or break” seems apt to describe my efforts in finding answers to the questions those letters raised). TWL 2015
Photo of 85 John Ashton property of Joyce Anderson – Article published by Noosa Today – see link to original article below.
85 John “Jack” Gilbert Ashton
85 John Gilbert Ashton was a 29 year old bricklayer, a native of Lincolnshire England. His mother was Sarah Ashton (nee Hutton), his father, Benjamin was a building contractor, and John was his apprentice. There were opportunities for skilled builders and bricklayers in Australia in the 1900’s, the lure for John may have been good pay for his skill and a new life in Australia.
John was with the other sappers as ‘dawn landers’at Gallipoli and lost his best friend “nugget” and a few good mates on that day. John was active at Gallipoli up to and including the Battle of Lone Pine and the assault on the German officers trench.
From the 6th to the 10th August, John spent a few long days and nights with fellow sappers during the ‘Battle ofLone Pine’ and may have been too close to the constant shelling for long periods, or was even a victim of a close call from an exploding shell. This often left survivors shocked and suffering deafness for extended periods of time.
John Ashton was suffering from deafness in both ears and his condition never quite improved and while not one hundred percent fit to return to active service in the field, he remained for two years attached to the permanent staff company at Perham Downs England and was promoted to temp. Sergeant.
John’s deafness continued and like many before him suffering a similar debility, he eventually returned home to Australia on the “Runic” in Feb. 1918 and was later medically discharged on 16.4.18
John had fought as an ANZAC and after the war returned to Australia, returned to his trade and married.
John and his wife Edith had two children, Joyce and Frederick.
John was a member of the 1st FCE Re-Union Association which was established in 1922 by the originals. He was an active and esteemed member and no doubt maintained his friendships with many of the surviving “originals”.
Sadly John died in 1954 in his home at Birrong and Edith his loving wife died just four weeks later.
The following notices were published in the Sydney Morning Herald Notice – published
A I F 1914- 18 Reunion Assn – The Members of the above Assn are invited to attend the Funeral of their late esteemed Member JOHN GILBERT ASHTON For further particulars see family notice Wednesday’s Herald
H A MURRAY Pres NORMAN H JARVIS Hon Secy
Family Notices published…..
ASHTON, Edith Harriet. -June 13, 1954, at hospital, of 28 Stephenson Street, Birrong, adored wife of the late John Gilbert Ashton, loving mother of Joyce and Eric (Fred). Privately cremated 15th June.
ASHTON John Gilbert -May l8 1954 at his residence 23 Stephenson Street Birrong dearly beloved husband of Edith Ashton and loved father of Joyce and of Frederick (Eric) and loved brother of Mary and Hubert aged 68 years
85 John Jack Gilbert Ashton was honoured and remembered on the centenary year by his daughter Joyce Anderson and a tribute in the ‘NoosaToday’ and a story by Katie De Verteuil.
The article is available to view and download, please follow the link below and enjoy the story of her brave father.
One of the youngest to volunteer was 19 year old 16 Marcus Adamson Clark, another strapping young fellow from country Narandera. He was a blacksmith and farrier and at 5 ft 10” and 12 stone he was one of the youngest and fittest in the company. He also couldn’t wait to get on a horse and get to Sydney as quickly as possible to enlist as he enlisted on the 1st day and was assigned service number 16.
Marcus was also a skilled Horseman and was featured in the Sydney Mail in January 1916.
Marcus Clark’s story is available and offers some insights into the driver’s of the 1st FCE.
The small village of Portianos is on the west side of Mudros Bay, on the island of Lemnos, Greece. The Portianos Military Cemetery is on the outskirts of the village, on what is called Anzac Street.
It was established in August 1915 and continued military burials until August 1920. The cemetery now contains 347 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and five war graves of other nationalities. There are 50 Australians and 29 New Zealanders identified and buried at this Military Cemetery.
One of these Australian’s is original 1st FCE Officer Lieut. Noel Ernest Biden – on the 21st December 1915 … it was his final resting place.
Portianos Military Cemetery Lemnos, Greece
Portianos Military Cemetery Lemnos, Greece
Noel Biden’s Grave is No.180
This the 100th Anniversary of ANZAC – we commemorate this loyal and promising officer.
This impressive looking medal is the Croix de Guerre, or sometimes known as the Belgian “War Cross”. It is the military decoration of the Kingdom of Belgium established by royal decree in 1915. It is primarily awarded for bravery or other military virtue on the battlefield. This splendid decoration was awarded to original sapper 121 Percy Talbot Griggs, a young plumber from the remote country town of Narandera, NSW Australia.
121 Percy “Talbot” or ” Sprigger ” Griggs the young plumber from the bush, was a special young man, and during the entire war he served his country and his mates with unwavering devotion and bravery.
The enthusiastic and often ‘Gungho’ 129 Phil Ayton shared tents and dug outs with Percy or “Talbot” or “Sprigger” as he was known. Phil Ayton wrote to Percy’s sister Agnes while on the hospital ship, wounded, and updated her on their situation at Gallipoli.
“I am writing at your brother’s wish. He is alright, it is not he that is sick, it is I. I have been a “cobber” of Talbot’s since we enlisted in Sydney, and I have been ever since. Not a bad kid is ‘”Sprigger,” as we call him. We were in the same tent at Moore Park, also at Mena Camp, in fact we have always been together. During the past three weeks of action in Turkey, our dug-outs have been together……………………………………………”A few of our chaps have been wounded, but Sprigger reckons he has a good chance of seeing Narandera again. He skites a lot about Narandera……………………………..The place where they grow men,” ………………he says”
He says you must not worry about him if you do not get any letters. That is why he asked me to write. He hasn’t the time or the chance on shore, and has no paper nor envelopes. As I had to come on board here, he asked me to write and tell you the news. If he gets snuffed out the papers will tell you, but he will get through all right. “
This would have been a very welcome and timely letter for the concerned family, although the full letter may have given them some cause for concern, Phil Ayton was forever the optimist and always full of enthusiam, he expressed how he and Talbot had no desire to return home, they were keen to stay on and clean up the Turks and then move on and help finish off the Germans, only to return when the job was complete.
Both of these great Australians stories are now on their own pages……………………….. links below.