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Gallipoli - Some personal memories as told to me by my Grandfather, Jack Duncan, an ANZAC

Updated on February 19, 2015
The beach at Gallipoli. Photo taken by me 1982.
The beach at Gallipoli. Photo taken by me 1982.

The Anzac Centenary

April 25th, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Anzac legend when Australian and New Zealand troops landed at 'Anzac Cove' Gallipoli.

The Anzac centenary is of special significance to all Australians, with ever increasing numbers of people attending Dawn Services and marches all over Australia and at Gallipoli and France, as well as many other places around the world where Australian troops have fought.

Australia's involvement in World War I (1914-1918) helped to shape us as a nation. The 'spirit of Anzac' with it's qualities of Honour, Courage, Mateship and Sacrifice continues to define and to increasingly have relevance and impact on our sense of national identity.

This piece is a personal account - some recollections and memories, as told to me by my Pop, Jack Duncan, about some of his experiences as an 'Anzac' at Gallipoli. For many years Pop was reticent to speak much of his experiences in the war and it was only in the latter years of his life that he began to open up and tell me and some of my cousins of his adventures at Gallipoli and France.

Enlistment papers
Enlistment papers
Jack Duncan/Signs to War Cemeteries and Memorials
Jack Duncan/Signs to War Cemeteries and Memorials

1915 World War I

In 1915 Jack Duncan, originally from Sydney, New South Wales (Australia), left the Royal Albert Docks in London as a Quartermaster on the New Zealand bound ship 'Waimate'. The war was raging then on land, sea and in the air. Jack couldn't resist and at Brisbane he left the ship, headed to Sydney and joined up as a signaller with the 19th Battalion. They sailed away in a troopship carrying 4,000 men. They lost a few men on the voyage over and had to bury them at sea.

In Egypt they took part in the famous 'Battle of the Wazza' before they reached their main objective.

The 5th Brigade, consisting of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions, embarked from the Greek Island Lemnos and arrived off the Turkish coast one dark night. The Navy came alongside to take them ashore. They stood on the deck talking and joking quietly. A mate of Jack's in the 18th asked him whether he had a field dressing and then proceeded to show Jack his and explained that if you're wounded, you break the little phial open and pour it on the wound. After that they parted and never saw each other again. Jack's mate was mortally wounded in the first attack.

They waited for the barges. The black shadows of the hills stretched away to the right and left as far as they could see. Then away to the right they could hear the sharp crackle of rifle and machine gun fire. This increased to a crescendo of noise as the firing moved along the line of hills. Here and there in the hills they could see the lights of flares and rockets. This continued as they hit the beach.

'Pope's Post'
'Pope's Post'

In the morning they began to move forward. About 2 or 3 feet away from Jack a boy ran just ahead of him. 'They've got me!', he screamed, and then dropped dead, shot through the heart.

Steadily they moved along to the north, magazines fully loaded. There were two signallers to each company, just in case one was shot. Besides his rifle, ammunition, pack and water bottle, Jack had to carry a small battery with wires and flags.The company flattened down under fire into a donga, or dried up creek bed. The 18th had already established themselves in trenches on Hill 60, facing a line of Turks. Jack's company were on the way to re-enforce the 18th.

As they lay in the donga the battalion was ordered to advance across the flat to the hills beyond. 'A' company moved away, running fast. 'B' company took off a minute or two later.

The colonel said, 'Jack, pass the word along the line, at command...over and open out six feet apart each man'. The company leapt to their feet - now they were out in the open. Some were dropping as the Turk's fire became heavier. Everyone was running fast - as fast as they could.

Gelibolu (Gallipoli)
Gelibolu (Gallipoli)

At last they came to the foot of the hills and took cover. The 18th were badly battered at Hill 60 and passed back the wounded as best they could - each one helping.

They were now engaging the Turks who were very close in front of them. The fire was incessant. Bombs were dropping like hail.

There were dead and dying between the trenches. The bush had caught alight. The water bottles were soon empty and the stench and heat were terrible. There were swarms of flies.

They ate bully beef, biscuits and water, but no greens. Many suffered dysentery and jaundice as time went on.

Eventually the 19th took over Pope's Post, as it was called, and from there the firing line wound up and down the hills.

As the campaign went on, the Turks sent over stick bombs. These did a fair amount of damage, but if you were quick, you could see them coming and dodge them.

View from the road into the cove
View from the road into the cove

Then came the snow. The troops lived in holes in the ground, that is, when they were not in the firing line.

Before quitting the peninsula, the Aussies staged a three day silence. This mystified the enemy, and so they didn't attack. When the troops eventually left, they got away without too great a risk of a rear guard fight.

Jack was the only signaller from the 19th to remain till the last party. For three days only six men held the trench. Every half hour Jack had to morse down to headquarters to report how things were going.

About midnight of the last night Jack received orders to smash all other weapons, etc, to wrap hessian round their boots and so the six men stepped quietly and made their way down to the gully. When they arrived there were about 40 men all together. They made their way to the beach. All the way down (about 3 miles), there were sandbags placed in order to give them a chance of holding off an attack. Shells were still bursting over head when the sailors took the last of them out to the waiting ship.

From there, it was back to Egypt and later over to France.

War Memorial at Gallipoli
War Memorial at Gallipoli

Of individual acts, it would take a book to tell all the stories... of the stretcher bearers; the bomb throwers who could light their bomb and fling it right in the the Turkish trenches; of the time when Jack's company was cut off and four of them got lost in the night and walked straight into some Turks. How they fell flat in the scrub while bullets grazed their scalps; and how some of them snuck out one hot day for a swim, a little north of the cove, and were shelled by the Turks as they ran for cover, naked as the day they were born.

Jack always said that, unlike France, the thing about Gallipoli was that the fighting never stopped - they just got used to it. There was no way to get out of it. He would also add that he loved an adventure and he would go back and have another go at it, if given half a chance.

Photocopy of a poem Jack wrote which was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Photocopy of a poem Jack wrote which was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald.

A Personal Note...

In 1982, together with some friends, I drove from London to Gallipoli to see the sight Pop (Jack) had told me so much about. I visited the war cemetery and walked along the beach at Anzac Cove, which was now so peaceful and ruggedly beautiful and found it hard to imagine the horror that must have happened there. It was now so quiet and still.

My friends and I stayed nearby in a camping ground where we met a lovely Turkish family who were also staying there. We shared some meals together and they took us out to a cousin's farm one day and presented us with melons, figs and other local produce to take with us on our trip. The father of this family was a retired officer in the air force and we discovered that his father had also fought at Anzac Cove in 1915...on the Turkish side, of course. As we talked about this, he said to me, 'That was history and today we can be friends'.

M.J. Drury (c) 2015. All rights reserved.

Road along the cove
Road along the cove


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