OF ALL THE BASTARDS OF PLACES
Life at Anzac
As the period between the landing of 25 April and the truce of 24 May showed, the Anzacs had been unable to force their way inland across the peninsula. Likewise, the attempts of the Ottoman Army to drive them away had also failed. War at Anzac soon settled into exactly what the Gallipoli planners had never envisaged — the stalemate of trench warfare. In one of his many official dispatches to Australia, Charles Bean informed his readers of the characteristics of this sort of warfare at Anzac. Military actions, he wrote:
... are the incidents in long, weary months, whose chief occupation is the digging of mile upon mile of endless sap [trench], of sunken road, through which troops and mules can pass safely ... The carrying of biscuit boxes and building timbers for hours daily, the waiting in weary queues, at thirty half-dry wells, for the privilege of carrying wa-ter cans for half a mile uphill ... the sweeping and disinfecting of trenches in the never ending fight against flies.
For the soldiers, their main problems revolved around keeping clean, surviving on poor rations, and staying healthy. Water was scarce and had to be carried up to the front; to shave or wash, a man had to try to save enough from his small daily ration. Clothes were soon riddled with lice, causing constant itching, and the creatures were difficult to get rid off. An added advantage of a cleansing swim at the beach was the opportunity it provided for thoroughly soaking a uniform in salt water, thus hopefully drowning the unwanted insects. As Joseph Beetson reported, this didn't always work:
I saw one man fish his pants out; after examining the seams, he said to his pal: 'They're not dead yet'. His pal replied: 'Never mind, you gave them a ... of a fright'.
Swimming was a dangerous activity and emphasised the fact that at Anzac the soldiers were never safe from hostile fire. Turkish artillery regularly shelled Anzac Cove, the main supply base for the whole Anzac position until after August. It was recorded that during bathing at the cove on 23 June, eight men were hit by a shell and that one of them came out of the water holding his severed arm. At times, men simply disappeared, having been killed in the water.
The monotonous Anzac diet was composed largely of tinned bully beef, hard dry biscuits, jam, tea and sugar. The biscuits were so hard that they often had to be soaked in water and then grated into a mush to make them edible. Many a tooth was broken by this hard tack and in the early days there were no official dentists on Anzac. As the flies multiplied in the hot weather, fed by half-buried, decomposing corpses, food scraps and other human material in the unhygienic trenches, they got into everything. Trooper Ion Idriess of the 5th Light Horse, from Queensland, recalled how the flies swarmed into a jam tin he had opened. Despite his best efforts to keep them away, they also swarmed all over his jam covered biscuit and got into his mouth. Eventually he gave up the struggle:
... I threw the tin over the parapet. I nearly howled with rage ... Of all the bastards of places this is the greatest bastard in the world.
The heat of summer, bad diet and poor hygiene soon had its effect on general health. By August doctors were reporting that most of the Anzacs were suffering from some form of dysentery or diarrhoea and the evidence for this was the fact that hundreds of men were being evacuated sick. Indeed, many, many more men were evacuated from Gallipoli sick than were killed or wounded. In late August 1915, the Regimental Medical officer of the 15th Battalion summed up the cumulative effects of battle and the strains of life at Gallipoli on his unit:
The condition of the men of the battalion was awful. Thin, haggard, as weak as kittens and covered with suppurating sores. The total strength of the battalion was two officers and 170 men. If we had been in France, every man would have been sent to hospital.
This gradual, insidious wearing down of the army at Gallipoli was pointless. The aim of the landings had been to seize quickly the shore batteries on the Dardanelles and to allow the Royal Navy safe passage up to Constantinople. As June and July wore on, a plan was devised to break out from the Anzac position, a plan that hopefully would see a successful end to the campaign. The ensuing battle to put this plan into operation began on 6 August 1915.
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