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Evacuation of Gallipoli

By Glyn Harper
Excerpt from Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand Solider in the First World War 1914-1918 (First World War Centenary History series)

15 DECEMBER 1915

The failure of the great August offensive spelt the end of the Gallipoli campaign for the allies. Unlike any other part of the campaign the evacuation from Gallipoli was meticulously planned, well controlled and flawlessly executed. It included novel aspects such as a 72 hour period of total silence where no work was done nor any shots fired. This was done in the last week of November.[1] It also included elaborate deception measures which aimed to deceive the Turks that more troops were being landed for an offensive rather than being spirited away from the Peninsula.

At Anzac Cove, the evacuation was carried out in three phases commencing at the beginning of December and ending on the nights of 19 and 20 of that month. As will be seen later, the Anzac soldiers were most reluctant to leave and it was a bitter experience for them. On 20 December, the last of 3,000 Anzac soldiers were safely collected from the Gallipoli shoreline. The evacuation was an extraordinary achievement. Little wonder that as the last Australian and New Zealand rear guards were safely aboard their naval vessels ‘restraint was thrown aside’ and the Anzac soldiers danced wildly with the sailors on the iron decks.[2] Their Gallipoli campaign was finally over.

Evacuation of troops, Gallipoli, Turkey. Lawson, Alan Wallace 1893-1961 :Photograph album. \u003ca href =\"https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23202934\"\u003e PA1-o-1312-19 \u003c/a\u003e Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Evacuation of troops, Gallipoli, Turkey. Lawson, Alan Wallace 1893-1961 :Photograph album. PA1-o-1312-19 Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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When news of the evacuation was confirmed, the New Zealanders reacted with a mixture of disbelief and anger. Some also felt ashamed at the campaign’s failure and by the fact they were leaving their mates behind. ‘When we heard evacuation of the peninsula was being contemplated … we simply could not believe it,’ reflected Joe Gasparich in 1982.[3] For Gasparich:

The very idea was rejected with much vehemence. It could not possibly be that a British Army would quit when a task was not completed - while there was yet a chance of success. Men thought of the sufferings undergone & sacrifices made and grieved deeply that all should be for nought. And worst of all was it that those who had died here should be abandoned to an enemy in a foreign soil, those who had been held in such high regard and who endeared themselves as family in our affections. But the decision had been made & plans of action prepared.[4]

George Tuck received the news of the evacuation with considerable bitterness. He wrote of the evacuation that: ‘To my everlasting shame I feel its sinister approach’. Tuck felt:

I am no lion heart; but I would sooner go over the ridge in frontal attack & all the chances of death with honour than do this bitter thing. “They” know best. The enterprise a failure. The only consolation, the Australasian troops did all - & almost more than all - that man could do. Let them take us home.[5]

Garry Clunie expressed similar sentiments in a letter to his brother Will. He described having to leave as ‘hard luck’ especially ‘after all the good old boys we have lost’. He admitted that:

It was a hard knock to us that have been fighting there all the time and I don’t mind telling you that I think any of the old hands would have far rather had word to have another go at Hill 971 than to give it up all for nothing.[6]

Describing the campaign as ‘a costly blunder’ Albert Newton of the Otago Battalion wrote to his family that:

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.[7]

Many of the New Zealand soldiers wanted to be amongst the very last to leave Anzac Cove. They did almost anything to remain there as long as possible. George Soutar left Gallipoli on 14 December. He had volunteered to stay till the last day ‘along with EVERY other one of the boys’. But as his feet were frost-bitten from the recent cold weather Soutar was informed he had to leave Gallipoli early.[8]

18 December 1915, Gallipoli below the Apex, destroying biscuits tins prior to the evacuation. National Army Museum of New Zealand \u003ca href = \"https://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/8314\" \u003e1993.1297 \u003c/a\u003e

18 December 1915, Gallipoli below the Apex, destroying biscuits tins prior to the evacuation. National Army Museum of New Zealand 1993.1297

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As the ranks thinned in those last days Gallipoli became a lonely place to be. Garry Clunie remained in the trenches until the last day. He wrote that with only one man at each lookout post and your nearest comrade two chains (40 metres) away: ‘I can tell you it was a long lonely watch’. [9] Joe Gasparich was also one of the last to leave. He too described the last night as ‘a long lonely wait in the dark on one’s own’. Straining to see in the darkness Gasparich could just make out ‘a shadowy form’ about 30 yards (27 metres) to his right. Time dragged too ‘as the minutes slowly, very slowly ticked off’.[10] Frederick Tavendale of the Wellington Battalion had been given the task of providing the covering party from the Wellington Battalion. He needed to find 15 men ‘and I had no trouble in finding 15 volunteers and I volunteered myself’. He recalled the tension and the loneliness of those last hours:

Well, you were a bit nervous when you were on your own when you had been used to a crowd with you all the time. When you were on your own for the last quarter of an hour, it was a bit nerve racking then and you were told not to run when we left the frontline.[11]

Glendwr Morgan, of the Canterbury Mounted Rifle, was one of the last New Zealanders to land on Gallipoli being part of the 6th Reinforcements. He was also one of the last to leave and he recalled the strain felt on that last night.

The tension was pretty great because it had to be entirely noiseless. Orders were in whispers and passing words in whispers … You were stealing away in the dark. Absolutely no lights or smoking … It was eerie and the tension was great. We were expecting a blast of fire at any time which didn’t come and everybody was tensed and worked up. Much relieved when you got on to a lighter.[12]

James Rudd was also one of the very last men to leave and he had not expected to get away. Armed with Mills bombs, an effective weapon which had finally reached Gallipoli, Rudd recalled:

We were given a couple of hand grenades, which we hung on our belts & told to use them when the Turks were close enough, we were in fact, a suicide squad & no one ever expected us to get off.

I remember getting onto the barge, Anzac Cove sitting down by my old cobber, Jake Harris & falling asleep leaning against him & he saying & he seemed to be miles away, Jimmy, you are one of the last blokes to leave the Gallipoli Peninsula.[13]

As he was leaving Gallipoli, Malcolm Galloway, who had landed at Gallipoli with the 5th Reinforcements, paused at one of the field cemeteries. As the moonlight pierced through the clouds he noticed a cross there in memory of Trooper Rupert Pyle. Galloway and Pyle were rugby team-mates and in 1910 their team had won the Wellington championship. Galloway couldn’t help thinking that Rupert Pyle had scored his last try at Gallipoli: ‘If ever I was near to weeping it was at that time’.[14]

Cross erected to the memory of Trooper W.R. Pyle. Gallipoli Military Campaign: Otago Gully Headquarters, November 1915, Gallipoli, by Lawrence Doubleday. Te Papa \u003ca href =\"https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/909553\"\u003e (CA000316/002/0019) \u003c/a\u003e

Cross erected to the memory of Trooper W.R. Pyle. Gallipoli Military Campaign: Otago Gully Headquarters, November 1915, Gallipoli, by Lawrence Doubleday. Te Papa (CA000316/002/0019)

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The complete success of the evacuation surprised many of those who carried it out. Roy Bruce of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles left on the last night. It was an experience that ‘will remain a memory all my life’. He wrote in a letter to his wife in early January that: ‘Why we were not discovered I do not know’. With orders to hold to the last and the hospitals prepared for heavy casualties, Bruce felt that the allies had escaped a potential bloodbath. He wrote: ‘It was a wonderful piece of organisation, & backed by all the luck in the world, magnificently successful’.[15] John Thomson described the evacuation in his diary as ‘undoubtedly one of the most remarkable feats of the campaign’.[16] Even the senior commanders were surprised at how smoothly the evacuation had gone. The Anzac artillery commander, Napier Johnston, described it in his diary as being ‘really … a wonderful evacuation’. The remark was followed by a typical gunner’s obsession: ‘I am particularly pleased at saving all my guns’.[17] General William Birdwood had been placed in overall command of the evacuation. He felt the irony of his appointment as he had strongly opposed the decision to go. But to him ‘fell the fate of Sir John Moore in having to carry it out’. Getting the men out without loss Birdwood described as ‘rather a wonderful performance’.[18]

Watching from a navy vessel off shore, Charles Pearce saw the stores at Anzac Cove set ablaze just after 4:00 am on the morning of 20 December. It was ‘a splendid sight to see the flames leap up simultaneously on the various beaches’. At 7:30 am the Turks commenced to shell the front line trenches ‘but soon found out that the birds had flown and opened up a heavy barrage on the beaches’. Pearce’s ship sailed away but not before giving the Turks ‘a few salvoes of 8” [from the 8-inch guns] as a parting salute’.[19] They were the last shots fired at Anzac Cove.


FURTHER READING

Harper, G. (2015) Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand Soldier in the First World War 1914–1918

Dr Christopher Pugsley. Names not numbers. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 

Dr Christopher Pugsley. A Gallipoli conversation after Anzac Day 2020. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 

Matthew Tonks, 'The evacuation from Gallipoli in the soldiers’ own words' WW100. 

Shaun Higgins, 'The Anzac evacuation of Gallipoli.' Auckland War Memorial Museum. 

REFERENCES


[1] Waite, p.277.

[2] Waite, p.292.

[3] Joe Gasparich, quoted in Shadbolt, p.86.

[4] Joseph George Gasparich, ‘Reminiscences of Gallipoli 1915’, p.36, Anzac (NZ) Recollections, The Liddle Collection.

[5] M.S. Tuck, diary entries 27 April & 2 May 1915, The Liddle Collection.

[6] Garry Clunie, letter to My Dear Old Brother, 24 December, 1915, in From Gallipoli to Palestine: the war writings of Sargeant G.T. Clunie of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, 1914-1919. Clunie and Austin (eds.), pp.51-2. 

[7] Albert James Newton, letter to Dear Father, Mother and Brother, 25 December 1915, MS 921 Papers of E.W. and A.J. Newton, AWMM, Auckland.

[8] George Ewan Soutar, diary entry, 13 December 1915, PC-0320, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

[9]Garry Clunie, letter to My Dear Old Brother, 24 December, 1915, in Clunie and Austin (eds.), p.52.

[10]Joseph George Gasparich, ‘Reminiscences of Gallipoli 1915’, pp.38-9, Anzac (NZ) Recollections, The Liddle Collection.

[11] Frederick William Tavendale, interview with Peter Liddle, June 1974, The Liddle Collection.

[12] Glendwr Marcus Morgan, interview with Peter Liddle, June 1974, The Liddle Collection.

[13] James Rudd, recollections recorded for Peter Liddle, nd., p.7, The Liddle Collection.

[14] Malcolm Scott Galloway, interview with Peter Liddle, June 1974, The Liddle Collection.

[15] Roy Bruce, letter to My dearest girl, 9 January 1916, MB32415/0063, Macmillan Brown Library, University of Canterbury.

[16] John Henry Thomson, diary entry 17 December 1915, PC-0316 Hocken Library, Dunedin.

[17] Lieutenant Colonel G.N. Johnston, CRA NZ & A Div, diary entry 20 December 1915, papers of Brigadier General G.N. Johnston, CB.CMG.Doc10239, IWM.

[18] William Birdwood, letter to My dear Rintoul, (Colonel D. Rintoul, Housemaster of Clifton College), 28 December 1915, Private papers of Field Marshal Lord Birdwood, Documents 22581, IWM.

[19] Charles Pearce, diary entry 19 December 1915, PC-0325, Hocken Library, Dunedin.