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1915 Battle of Gallipoli Living Conditions
Much has been written about the horrific Battle of Gallipoli that took place during much of the second half of 1915 and on into January of the following year. But one of the most interesting things about any battle (from a historians standpoint) aren't just the battles themselves but also the living conditions the soldiers had to endure. Let us take a moment and step out of our modern lives of luxury and go back in time to a place that few would ever want to visit; and even fewer wanted to remember. Brace yourself as we join ranks with the men of the day and examine the soldier's living conditions of the tragic 1915 battle of Gallipoli.
The "Gallipoli" Penninsula
On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austria Hungry throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated. Thus was the beginnings of the first great world war. It came to an end on November 11, 1918 with the signing of the treaty of Versailles. During those blood soaked years nations joined allegiances and fought one another with extreme prejudice putting hundreds of thousands in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. For many, it would be the last time they would see home.
On November 25th, 1914 Winston Churchill suggested to the British War Council a plan to begin a new war front in the Dardanelles in to order gain control of the straits and to split up and further weaken the German armies. The idea was the Germans would come to the aid of their allied Turkish forces; which were under German leadership due to the August 1914 Turco-German Alliance. On January 25, 1915 the council agreed to Churchill's plan and the British and ANZAC forces in Egypt were put on a standby.
The first beach landings began April 25, 1915, and the final evacuations would not be until the early part of January of the following year. Unfortunately, the troops that survived the beach landings were not equipped with good knowledge of the terrain they were walking into. The peninsula that was the main focus for the assaults, which is often referred to Gallipoli, was well fortified and supplied by the Turkish army. But the opposing forces weren't the only problems the ANZAC and British troops (along with their French allies) had to face. There was the peninsula itself.
The peninsula (Gallipoli) is about forty five miles long and ten miles at its widest point with only scraps of narrow beaches for the soldiers to land on. The rocky land the men faced was nothing short of unforgiving. It is cut with steep, scraggly-covered hills and dangerously deep ravines. There was little in way of water making the place already unfit for human habitation. The tallest parts of the peninsula ran along its center core. In between the valleys were tall cliffs which were owned by Turkish mounted guns, infantry and snipers. As harsh as the terrain was there were still other factors the soldiers had to deal with; the weather.
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Gallipoli in 1915 was not on the list of places anyone would had considered paradise. The summer heat was incredibly hot, and the winter came with a cold that froze men to the bone. In November it began to rain. But not just any rain. It was torrential by any of the troop's definition. Many men drowned and in its wash it took gear and possessions alike. Tents and makeshift shelters, often fortified with sandbags, was the best of protection some troops had. Others that called the trenches home were not so fortunate. To make matters even worse, the rain was followed a freezing snow. And to add to the punishment the snow gave way to a massive melt. Numerous men died because of the weather. But that was not all Gallipoli had to throw at them; sickness, too, flooded the land.
A Truce Is Called
One of the biggest killers during the Battle of Gallipoli had to be the illnesses that swept through the ranks like a breeze through a window. The number of men that perished from diseases alone were staggering. Chief among them was dysentery. The dead were strewn all over. There simply was no time to bury them. Swarms of flies covered everything. They would be on your food one minute, fly off to the dead bodies and back again. A never ending cycle that surely played a helping hand in the transfer of things unwanted. The piles of dead men were so bad that at one point a truce had to be called with the Turks so the bodies of their comrades could be buried.
The soldiers surely did not go to Gallipoli for any sort of pleasurable picnic. To add to the hardships of the soldier's living conditions food and water was in constant demand. The lack thereof caused many of the men to wither away. The food that was available generally consisted of unfavorably stale biscuits, jam, tea and bully beef (canned corned beef); although sometimes vegetables and other rations were brought in with the reinforcements. Due to the lack of water on the peninsula drinking water was also brought in with the reinforcements. In desperate attempts to add to the supply of water canteens were taken from the recent dead. The troops were weakened due to the lack of nutrition, and this only encouraged the rate of disease among the men to escalate.
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Sleep In The Trenches Was Risky Business
The Battle of Gallipoli presented a problem that war has a tendency to take on people. There was a major psychological toll on the soldiers, as well. As the Turkish army held the high ground, and because of the lay of the land, the British troops (as well as their allied brethren) were easy pickings for the Turkish snipers. Every soldier, and especially those in the trenches, lived in constant fear. Only being a matter of meters away from one another the allied troops stared their enemies almost literally face to face. This also made it very easy to get shot or wounded as they climbed over the wall to try to take any ground. Or, for that matter, have the enemy try to run over to take them while in their trenches. For this reason, spotters were used to keep watch over any possible hint of an oncoming siege.
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Lee-Enfield 303 With Bayonet
To make the living conditions in war more easy to deal with a soldier needs a few good friends they can trust. The troops that fought at Gallipoli had two. The first of which were the men they so courageously fought alongside. The other was undoubtedly their rifle. The British soldiers, of whom this article is placing its emphasis, were issued the Lee-Enfield 0.303. There were many varieties of this rifle, but all in all it was the one thing carried everywhere the soldier went and with it a valuable tool...the bayonet. The purpose of the bayonet is rather self explanatory. Its usefulness comes to light at close combat. This is especially true in the trench style warfare the soldiers endured throughout WWI. Although their main purpose was for self defense the bayonet was also used for a great many other nonlethal purposes.
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Webley MK VI Service Revolver
The biggest downfall of the Enfield rifle, I might add, was for dirt to get into the firing mechanism and causing it to fail. To prevent this, the soldier would usually cover the area with cloth. The .455 caliber Webley Mark VI (the 1915 predecessor to the .38/200 MK IV), on the other hand, did not have that problem. It was easy to clean and described to be very good at its job. The Webley was a pistol issued mainly to British officers. They were also given to tank crew members and armored car personnel, but no regular infantryman was issued a side arm.
Winston Churchill's plan was an overall flop and a major loss for the Allies. Even though the Turks walked away with a win...it was a very expensive one to brag about. The numbers of dead and wounded on both sides were in the tens of thousands, and it went down in the books as one of the most well known battles in history. Today, both sides celebrate a memorial day to the event. The place where so many brave men gave their lives has been decorated with war cemeteries and monuments of remembrance that stand overlooking the Dardanelles.
Gallipoli War Monuments
Turkish President Kemal Ataturk's Speech
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. Where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … You mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away the tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
- Ataturk 1934