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The Ghastly Landing

The Ghastly Landing

Unless you were there, it would be impossible to fully appreciate the horror encountered by our diggers when they landed at Gallipoli.

One soldier who was there was Capt. David Fallon MC. Here’s how he described part of his experience. This excerpt comes from his book “The Big Fight: Gallipoli to the Somme” – Chapter IV.

Orange City Life presents it as a tribute to the Spirit of Anzac and to all those who have fought for this great Country of ours.

Lest we Forget

  

There was a swift, sharp lightening of the sky back of the gaunt, black

cliffs and our boats seemed thrown out of the water, thrown up into the

air by the rocking thunder of the heavy guns of the Turkish batteries

behind those cliffs. The water that had been so smooth an instant

before, that was, in fact, so treacherously smooth, as had been the

silence, was stabbed and chopped and sent into wild spume by a great

rain of shells. Blinding blasts flared as suddenly as here and there a

boat with its living load was struck and shattered. Screams and hoarse,

impulsive cries began to mingle with the explosions.

 

Then the cliffs and the sand dunes spat deadly fire at us. In the

darkness I could not, of course, see it all. But it would seem from

what afterward I was able to learn that not one of the pilots of the

steam tugs thought of turning back. I could not see it all and had no

time to think of much other than myself and my platoon, a very few

seconds after the bombardment from the big guns of the forts began

dropping their big shells and the hail of the machine guns sang among

us.

 

Surprise?

 

They had our range as surely as if we stood ten feet away from them.

The water was cluttered with the accurate assemblage of their shots.

Our battleships had begun an angry, heavy retort but whether their

great guns were finding the marks, of course, we couldn’t know. It

would have been a mighty comfort to us then to feel that these shots

were smashing the Turks.

 

There was no indication of it. Their fire became more and more and more

intense. Boat after boat was being smashed. In not more than three

minutes after the enemy began his bombardment against our landing, my

own boat went to smash. A shell struck it at the bow. It shattered

the boat and must have killed at least a dozen men. I, fortunately,

was in the stern. With my comrades I was hurled into the air and the

next realization was that I was far over my head in water and that the

first thing I must do if I was not to drown was to get rid of my heavy

knapsack.

 

Thank the Lord, I had been a sturdy swimmer since childhood. I can’t

begin to picture to you how many scores of my comrades, unable to swim

or weak swimmers, died then and there--how many of them with knapsacks

on their backs and guns and bayonets in their hands yet remain at the

bottom of the Ægean Sea, a curious spectacle for the fish.

 

I fought my way to the surface. And I clung to my gun and bayonet. I

clung to them as frantically as any drowning man is supposed to clutch

at a straw. For the only escape from drowning was to get ashore and

ashore I knew there would be small hope for me without my bayonet.

 

When I got to the surface other chaps were struggling all around me.

 

“Help each other get rid of these knapsacks,” I yelled when I got my

breath. “It’s our only chance or we’ll drown like rats.”

 

So we struggled about aiding one another free of these encumbrances.

We had also to let our ammunition belts go and held on only to our

guns. The shore was not far off now and we swam for it. But as we drew

near--very near--within fifty feet or so, we encountered a devilishly

ingenious snare.

 

The enemy had constructed on stakes in eight feet of water a

barbed-wire entanglement along more than two miles of the beach. I

was overhanding it for shore, supporting my rifle in the other when I

ran my face full tilt against the barbed wire’s fangs. Others of my

comrades did the same. They cursed and moaned. We hung on to the barbed

wire but ducking every instant for a scream of bullets was all around

us.

 

I can’t tell you how many of the landing boats were smashed in the

landing at Gallipoli. None I believe knows with accuracy. How many men

were drowned outright none either can exactly tell. But there were

hundreds. Nor how many men, exhausted, striving for the shore, were

caught and held like netted fish in that barbed-wire entanglement will

never be known. That scores--yes, hundreds were, I cannot doubt. Some

of the men immediately around me I know were lost in the effort to get

past it.

 

It was too closely netted to get through it. Some possibly floated or

were lifted over it by the roll of the surf. I know only how I made

my own way out of the trap. And that was by drawing myself down along

the barbed strands until I found a space some two feet between the

barbed-wire barrier and the sea-bottom. And I crawled through!

 

A few strokes after that and I was able to take to my feet and wade

out. Well, hardly that. I plunged, stumbled, fell and finally crawled

out on the bullet-spattered and shell-riven sands.

 

I wasn’t paying the slightest attention to the bullets or the shells.

Honestly, I was too exhausted. Had there been an enemy to meet me as

I flopped on the sands the worst I could have done to him by way of

resistance would have been to pat him on the cheek. If that much. I

just flopped and panted and panted. And as my breath came slowly,

very slowly back to normal I was astonished to find that my rifle and

bayonet were still clutched in my hand.

 

Fortunately, the enemy’s own shells smashed their cunning, barbed-wire,

under-sea entanglement and such sections of it as were not ripped in

that fashion were made harmless by plucky bombing parties in battleship

launches.

 

I didn’t lay very long gasping on the beach for the music of the

bullets made me realize grimly enough that I wasn’t out surfing. I

staggered to my feet and began to take general notice. The boats that

survived had spilled their men into the surf and the men, huddling and

scared, had nevertheless carried on. They were fast crowding the strip

of beach. Officers were snapping out commands--heroically holding their

presence of mind and organizing their men. Organizing, that is, what

they could find of them, or any men, for that matter, that they could

find around them.

 

All these things had now become visible in the dawn--the sudden dawn of

the East. You must understand that the bombardment was ceaseless from

the forts, the guns of all our ships roaring back at them the while.

But it was the machine-gun fire and the rifle fire from the Turks

concealed among the sand dunes and the clefts of the cliffs that were

tearing our men down. Sometimes the big shells smashed holes in the

beach and sent up great clouds of sands that settled blindingly down

upon us.

 

Our landing party was grotesque and wavering under the frightful storm.

Shouts, yells, screams of pain, cries of alarm merged into a great

clamor. The most heartening thing, somehow, in the darkness had become

the Australian cry of “Coo-ee!”--sharp and musical, in which men had

called themselves together into groups. When the dawn came I was able

to find twelve of the sixty men of my command.

 

There was no living on the beach. The only way out of that immediate

hell was to charge across the sands and get into the shelter of the

dunes, to fight our way to the base of the cliffs and get away from the

shells of the cliffs, and to fight our way into enemy trenches in the

table-lands and rout the snipers from their lairs.

 

Don’t ask me how we did it. I am only prepared to describe how myself

and my dozen men accomplished it. I wasn’t, you see, exactly on a

sight-seeing party.

 

 

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