The Anzac evacuation of Gallipoli
This collection highlight brings together photos and letters which tell the story of the Anzac evacuation of Gallipoli.
A change in the weather
In late November a snowstorm struck, bringing freezing conditions and the risk of frostbite. Dugouts were covered in snow and longcoats were brought out. Captain Harry D. Dansey commented on the weather conditions being experienced by the men at Gallipoli:
“I believe our Boys are having a frightful time in Gallipoli just now owing to the intense cold & snow. The rain too fills the trenches with mud & water & these poor chaps have to remain there. Scores of them die from pneumonia before they have a chance of any attention whatever.”
Captain Harry D. Dansey, M.C., NZ Pioneer Battalion, in a letter to Miss Winifred P. Barter, 22 November 1915. MS-873.
Trooper John A.E. Alison, pictured here "still smiling", describes the experience:
“…snow fell all the while, it was the worst weather they have had here, I was absolutely frozen and hadn’t any sleep for 4 nights, my feet & hands got frost bitten & I am just getting right again.”
13/2153 Trooper John Alfred Edward Alison, Auckland Mounted Rifles, in a letter to his mother on 8 December 1915. MS-1322.
On 15 December 1915, the Anzacs received detailed orders for the evacuation of Gallipoli. Troops began to evacuate over the next five days, with the last garrison departing at 4.30am on 20 December 1915, ending the occupation of Anzac Cove.
Above are the last New Zealand signals of the Gallipoli campaign, one sent and one received in acknowledgement, dated 20 December 1915. It's unusual to have record of such signals as military communication was meant to be destroyed. Both of these signals were sent and received by Sergeant Peter Dalrymple Holmes, who was the Signal N.C.O. with the last garrison to leave Gallipoli.
As the retreating party left, they burned the stores of supplies on the beach at Anzac Cove, as described here by Private George W. Thomson:
“Eventually at 9 we joined the Ambulance & to our great surprise there were thousands of other men there, it was a very impressive sight to see all these men lined up there in the moonlight & in full view of the Turkish trenches (in daylight).
“Strict orders were issued that nobody was to smoke or strike a light or in any way to create a disturbance, it was part of our little scheme to keep quiet.
“I had a big kit bag strapped on my shoulders, a haversack full of stuff over each shoulder, a water bottle full of water, 48 hours food, blanket, water proof [slapping?] bag, overcoat & last but not least a piece of lovely cake Mother had sent me I had tied to my belt in an iron ration bag. I could not let Johnny Turk get that.
“Stores of every description were stored on the beach (including the Dental goods) & the last party to leave put a match to it, it was an awful shame, but it would have cost too many valuable lives to have attempted to save the stuff.”
3/143A Private George W. Thomson, N.Z. Medical Corps, writing to 'Mary' from hospital in Ismalia on 7 January 1916 (some weeks after the evacuation). MS-2003-72.
After leaving Gallipoli behind, troops disembarked at the Greek island of Lemnos. They had left the rifles firing to give the Ottomans the impression they were still there, and planted bombs amongst their belongings. Colonel J.B. Davis describes it:
"We had left rifles with the sights knocked off, wedged in position with slowly filling water or sand tins tied onto the triggers and heard these going off as we filed down the trench. It was a long walk down to the North Beach below Walker's Ridge, but by 4:30 a.m. we were aboard and heading for Lemnos. All were busy with their thoughts. It was hard to leave Anzac where so many friends were sleeping their last sleep. 'C' party landed at Lemnos during the afternoon, marching to camp through thousands of wildly cheering troops, Tommies and Anzacs - a reception we will never forget."
Colonel J.B. Davis, quoted in Ted Andrews' Kiwi Trooper, p.134. UA656.
As the Anzacs voyaged from Lemnos to Egypt, they had time to reflect on their experience in Gallipoli. Letters home lamented the loss of life and spoke of family back in New Zealand, such as this one from Major-General Sir George Spafford Richardson:
“My heart bleeds for the parents in N.Z. The past few months is however only the beginning & we shall have to lose many more - our failure up to the present has been due to lack of men & munitions…
“Death does not seem to have much effect on one here – one sees so much of it - only yesterday I stood calmly looking at the dried up skeletons of Turks in uniform without the slightest feeling of horror whereas before the war it would have shocked me…
“Were it not for my wife & family I would calmly & without dread die at any time for my country, but I do want for their sake to get through this alright & pray that I may do so…
“If the war lasts long enough we shall all win all sorts of honours, but trinkets have no charm for me. I am charmed only by my wife & family & New Zealand where I hope we shall all meet soon.
“The war will have to go on for another 3 years from a soldiers point of view, but of course a means of settling it will come before that. We are paying the penalty of unreadiness and selfish indifference – we will all have to live simple lives after this in order to pay the debt .”
15/209 Major-General Sir George Spafford Richardson – Letters to Charles Ernest Archibald. MS-1013.
Some questioned the military strategy behind the Gallipoli campaign, as Sergeant Albert James Newton notes:
“It is generally admitted that the operations were a costly blunder. It came as a blow to us when word came to get out, after the large number of brave men who had laid down their lives there, and the hard struggle we had to take and hold the positions we had gained.”
8/1140 Sergeant Albert James Newton, 8th (Southland) Company, 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment. MS-921.
Finally, this small printed poem by J. L. Kelly was found amongst the personal effects of Private Sydney Chapman after he was killed in action 8 August 1915, in the Battle of Chunuk Bair.
“If doomed to sleep forever in the dust
Or wake in resurrection of the just
Or live again to meet more direful death
Why vex our souls? What must be must.
– JL Kelly.”
10/2411 Private Sydney Parnell Chapman, ‘B’ Company, Wellington Infantry Regiment. MS-1564.
Today, the Ari Burnu Memorial in Gallipoli remembers the lives lost on both sides, with a quote from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first leader of the Republic of Turkey.
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From 18 December 2015 to June 2016, the original photos, letters and more from the Auckland Museum collection will be on display in the Museum Library.
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The manuscripts and images for this collection highlight were compiled by Shaun Higgins - Curator, Pictorial, and Martin Collett - Manuscripts Librarian, at Auckland Museum.