Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Letter from Lone Pine

Diorama at the Australian War Memorial Showing the Turkish Defensive Complex

One of the most famous assaults of the Gallipoli campaign, the Battle of Lone Pine (6–9 August 1915) was intended as a diversion from attempts by Allied forces to force a breakout from Suvla Bay and the Anzac perimeter on the heights of Chanuk Bair and Hill 971. It was in this log-covered trench complex, in total confusion, amid screams of anguish and despair, Lone Pine became a furious nightmare of hand-to-hand combat. "We were like a mob of ferrets in a rabbit warren," one trooper said. "It was one long grave, only some of us were still alive in it." It was a "success" at the price of 2,200 Australians killed or wounded and about 7,000 Turks killed or wounded.

The Lone Pine Battlefield Today

One senior Australian commander described the results thus:

In one charge it was so hot that we had no time to remove the wounded and, horrible to tell you, We had to tread on these poor dead and dying men lying in the trench to keep the gaps in the line filled. All war is horrible but this trench warfare is awful. A large proportion of wounds were in the head. I cannot wear my tunic today because it is all soiled and stained with a poor boy’s brains which were splashed all over it  I saw the whole side of this lad’s skull simply ripped out and his brains splashed round. . .

When we left yesterday the trenches were indescribable. You must remember that not only our dead but the dead of the two previous days’ fighting, Turks and Australians often locked in a last death struggle, still lay there in large numbers in spite of all efforts. Many had had in fact been removed but they were so many in all that no real impression had been made. 

Moreover their poor corpses were continually smashed by the enemy’s shells and torn with bullet wounds. I leave the rest to your imagination.  Such a lot of people write to me asking about their boys. I try to tell them all I am allowed to, but I am afraid I will be able to tell little of the fight. It was all like a horrible nightmare. Fancy seeing a man you knew blinded and with hands blown off trying to get up on his feet. . . .

I must end now dear, I fear I am wandering a bit but I think you will excuse me. The Brigadier came down and congratulated us and said we have added to the reputation and our glory which will last for ever etc etc. but you could have my share of all the glory of the Battle of “Lonesome Pine” (as the hill is called from the one straggly old pine that once grew on its rugged top but which our Artillery has long since torn to ribbons and splinters) for one of the poor boys who died or was mangled to death there.  

Goodbye my dearie, goodbye. Pray that war may never come to Australia.

8 August 1915
Letter extract from Pompey Elliott, Commander 7th Battalion, AIF

Pompey Elliott with His Family Prior to Departing Australia

Harold "Pompey" Elliott was a senior Anzac officer, businessman, and politician. At the August Battle for Lone Pine he commanded the 7th Battalion, AIF. Four of the seven Victoria Crosses awarded at Lone Pine went to Elliott's battalion. He later commanded 15th Battalion at the disastrous Battle of Fromelles. Though the losses were not considered his fault, they limited his promotions, embittered him, and probably contributed to his suicide in 1931.