A BALGOWNIE SOLDIER’S DIARY – Part 2
South Coast Times 16 June, 1916
The following is a continuance of Pte. J. Masters account of experiences at gallipoli, received by his brother, Mr. R. Masters.
After seeing him to the hospital we parted, au revoir. He was the second in our battalion to get wounded. There was a spare man, the trombone player, he was put with me.
We got orders to leave our packs there, which was signal that there was something doing. We moved round again to our left, getting closer to Suvla Bay. All that time, just at the back of us, was a continious fire. Getting round to our position we had to cross a flat about two hundred yards of which was quite visible to our enemy. The first company of our battalion had to cross over in extended order — that’s about eight at a time, at a distance of about twenty yards apart. The first got across O.K., then they started to put the shrapnel in. All the time this was going on, we were looking on waiting our turn. You would just get about half-way across when they would put in two or three quickly. Suddenly a stray one came right in where we were sitting. By jove! You should have seen the scramble for shelter. Our turn came at length, just as we were half-way across, bang came one just over my head. My mate dropped the stretcher at the back; I thought it had got him. Looking round, I saw him rising again slowly, so we were off for our lives; got across, threw everything off and came back to collect our wounded. Such sight I do not wish to see again. We grabbed the nearest chap. He had his arm neatly blown off, and we took him to the hospital, where there was a continious stream all the time. As soon as they were dressed we had to take them on another couple of miles to the clearing station.
They got twenty-five of our boys in that lot, a fair introduction. When going back to collect the wounded they never offered to fire on us. We received a message from them saying when carrying stretchers always close them, otherwise they would fire on us.
After that we were camped with the Ghurkas for a week, our boys linking up the line between the Ghurkas and Tommies by digging trenches. This was tedious work, carried on only at night, out in the open, practically at the foot of Hill W., which was held by the enemy. You had to go for your life so as to get yourself under cover.
Our work here for three weeks was our worst experience. We were called out at all hours, bringing them in who had been “popped over.” To give you an idea, one of our boys who was carrying got three holes through his overcoat.
A rather good joke occurred here, the subject of which was G. Williamson, one of our old bass players, commonly called Doppie. After carrying in a wounded man he returned to halt for a spell; his two cobbers were waiting on him, sitting down opposite the General’s dug-out. As he came to them one exclaimed, “Where the h— have you been to?” The General, wondering who was outside, walked out; Doppie, not knowing, patted the General on the shoulder and said, “What do you reckon, old squire?” “What!” the General replied, “Do you know who you’re speaking to?” “No,” said Doppie. “You are speaking to a General. How long have you been in the Army?” doppie turned to a cobber saying, “How long is it Mick?” Mick replied, “I’m — if I know.” “Be about your business, quick,” the General said, “or I’ll put you in the guard tent.” — The squad then marched. The General is now in command of our second division — General Cox. The culprit went away from the Peninsula ill. I believe he is now on picket in England. Although in many tight corners we always had our little jokes, it was better than looking on the serious side of things.
We had a week with the Ghurkas, who, on passing our ranch on their way to the firing line, always had smiling faces. They would say “Turkey finish to-night,” and pull their kukri (knife), across their throat. They were cheerful little fellows, great fighters, and had great faith in the Australians. A common saying of theirs was — “One shell, English Tommie gets in his dug-out; two shells, Frenchman lie flat; three shells, Australian look round, say you b– b–!”
We moved round a little farther, into what we called the donga. It was one time a watercourse. We picked this spot as a shelter for a dressing station. I call it a shelter, but traveling one was half-exposed. Our enemy found this out; they got twenty-five of our boys in two days here. It was here our second in command, Major McManamey, got killed; he and the Colonel, while on the way back from the beach for their morning swim went to inspect a well. Johnnie Turk must have spotted them; putting one in which got the Major; killing him instantly. He was a fine man, one of our best officers. This routine continued day after day. Odd ones getting popped over. If the Turks saw a mob swimming, they put a shell right among them, although our boys took no heed of them, being so dirty and lowsey they took the risk for a good swim. My mate and I never missed a day, sneaking away when there was nothing doing.
The heat and flies were awful. After the charge of the Eighteenth, in which they got cut up, and in which we backed them up, there were hundreds of dead bodies lying between the trenches, and in them. Our boys made parapets of them, covering them up with dirt, then they began to swell up with the heat. I tell you, our boys had it pretty rough for some days. One had to eat his food with all this, but at the finish we got used to it. Our boys did a lot of work here, digging trenches; at first they were only two and a half feet; when completed one could carry a patient through any of them without being exposed.
Relieving the Ghurkas for two days, I will relate an experience. It was dusk when we marched off (two squads of bearers). It was a case of follow the leader. At last we came to our destination and were ordered to make ourselves comfortable. Waking the next morning we found ourselves sleeping just opposite a dead Turk, who had been buried in the parapet, his feet projecting; the smell was strong, but being dog-tired we, once asleep, didn’t notice it.
Well, that ended our career with the Ghurkas. Our next position was where the Sixteenth Battalion were, and known as Pope’s Range. The trenches for a time were a bit strange, being very shallow. Quite a few of our boys got popped through the head, which means nearly instantaneous. After they were there a while they kept their heads down. This was quite a change from the left, just like garrison duty. After a while they made lovely trenches of them, a new one in front of the old one, which took a bit of tunneling. Our worst lot here was the fatigue work, climbing up and down the hill, which was like, I would say, the last pinch of the bullock-track, Mt. Pleasant. It was only on a couple of occasions we were called out. The first introduction was to Big Stick bombs, which exploded like the effect of a hundred pounds shell. They are fired out of a trench, going about three hundred feet in the air, then coming straight down behind the lines. The first six must have got about a dozen of us. The first caught a lot round the cooking house just at dinner time. The flies here were so very troublesome, causing a lot of illness; a great number of our boys being sent away made it bad for the ones left behind.
1916 ‘[No heading].’, South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus (NSW : 1900 – 1954), 16 June, p. 18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page15464309