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

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Hell Spit: One of the Many Names at Anzac


Original Sign (Australian War Memorial Collection)

The Anzac area of Gallipoli became a miniature version of the Western Front. More than 200,000 men packed into a battlefield 1.5 miles square, about the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Soon after the initial landings, countless trenches and tunnels cut through the rocky soil like capillaries, bringing fresh blood forward and carrying the wounded back. The soldiers assigned each of these features' nicknames. One narrow stretch of no man’s land was known in Turkish as bomba sirt, or “Bomber Ridge,” because of the near-constant exchange of hand-tossed grenades.  On the other side of the line, the Anzacs proved to be prolific and imaginative name givers.

A Sampler of Anzac Names
Note Location of Hell Spit

The convoluted lines required intimate familiarity with every fold of ground. Geographical features and trench complexes were all named, giving historical accounts a fantastical flavor. Men fought from, in, and over places like the Nek, the Pimple, Dead Man’s Ridge, Battleship Hill, Lone Pine, the Daisy Patch, Plugge’s Plateau, the Sphinx, Courtney’s Post, Shrapnel Valley, Baby 700, and Hell Spit. Since "Hell Spit's" etymology is both apt and easily demonstrated visually, let's look at it briefly.

Aerial View of Hell Spit and Beach Cemetery
Plugge's Plateau to Right

The slight headland destined to be nicknamed Hell Spit is the southern-most point of  the crescent-curved beach of 1000-yard-long Anzac Cove. It was so named because it was the most exposed part of the area held by Anzac troops. The  Ottoman artillery on the headland of Gaba Tepe to the south, bombarded Hell Spit during the day, as did the artillery to the north.

View of Hell Spit from the Northern End of Anzac Cove

Nonetheless, it was a position that had to be held and manned through the entire campaign.  Just inland from here is Shrapnel Valley, which connects the Anzac front line to the beach. Shrapnel Valley was a lifeline—all the stores went up this valley and all the wounded were evacuated back down it. 

View Inland from Hell Spit

At Hell Spit, its "Beach Cemetery" was one of the first graveyards established during the Anzac campaign, and most of the dead had to be reburied a number of times because their bodies kept being blown out of their graves. Today, Beach Cemetery holds the remains of 391 Commonwealth soldiers. The most famous burial is of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the "Man with a Donkey."

Beach Cemetery Today

The name of the first Digger who coined "Hell Spit" is lost to history, but we can be sure when his mates first heard him utter those words, they said to themselves, "Why that's a right proper name for this bloody never never, mate."

Sources: Slate; Wiki Commons, Australian War Memorial, and Donna Gaye, Roads Research Director


  1. It is not that the above is not important...I find it sad that, although I have been receiving "Roads" since it came on line, there has never been, on this anniversary date, July 14, any thing about The Champagne Hour and the 42nd, the Rainbow Division, to honor or, at least, inform concerning the great sacrifices of that day and the days that came after at Chateau Thierry, on the plain of the Ourcq River, Meurcy Farm and other "sites of memory" for those of us who had family there.
    Patricia Cockrell Wood

    1. Hi Patricia,
      Thanks for your readership over the years. I don't think, though, that we've neglected the Rainbow division over the years. May I suggest you type Rainbow in the site search engine on the top left of the page. I'm sure you will find over a dozen articles on the division, it's sub-units, and individuals.


  2. Margaret HammondJuly 15, 2021 at 6:56 PM

    Thank you Mike for this little gem of information in regard to the Gallipoli battlefield. It is one of my great fascinations as my grandfather fought at Gallipoli.
    Margaret, New South Wales, Australia