I’ve been away overseas enjoying a trip through Europe with my family and on my return, in order to familiarise myself again with my Sand in the Apricot Jam project, I started reading ‘The Story of Two Campaigns, Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919‘, by C.G Nicol, 1921. The prose is poetic the accounts illuminating and often heart wrenching. I sat with tears rolling down my checks as I read the accounts of the devastating August offensive at Gallipoli. It was during this offensive that my grandfather Jack was shot in the leg, wounded like so many, so many, around him. I remember wondering, when I started researching for this project, how on earth they evacuated the wounded in such hostile conditions during that August offensive and the words that came from the book confirmed my worst nightmares. Nicol wrote:
“Rarely have men suffered as the wounded of those days suffered, particularly those who were helpless. Away up in the desolate ravines they had to lie until the over-worked stretcher bearers could carry them to the beach. Afflicted with thirst—not the parching thirst that heat and dust and perspiration produces, but the agonising thirst that follows bleeding wounds; the thirst that makes the tongue swell and fill the mouth, that thirst that fills the body with the fire of hell, the thirst that makes men mad. Nor was thirst all. There was the burning pain of open wounds, the torture of the flies around them, the constant fear of again being struck. How awful it is to lie helpless and wonder where the next shell will land!”
It is impossible for me to appreciate what that must have been like I can only imagine, and then for the wounded, if they survived, to hear that it was all in vain. Nicol goes on to quote this passage from John Masefield’s book ‘Gallipoli’ to illustrate the bitterness that must have been felt by these solders
“They went, like all their brothers in that Peninsula, on a forlorn hope, and by bloody pain they won the image and the taste of victory; and then, when their reeling bodies had burst the bars, so that our race might pass through, there were none to pass; the door was shut again, the bars were forged again, all was to do again, and our brave men were but the fewer and the bitterer for all their bloody sacrifice for the land they served.”
Nicol ends with “But it was never done again. The door was shut and kept shut, until it was opened by the destruction of the whole Turkish Army in Palestine years later. Only the mounted rifles regiments, of the N.Z.E.F., shared in that final victory against the foe that barred the way on the bloody crests of Gallipoli.” The enormity of this hadn’t fully registered with me, until reading that passage, that Jack and his fellow Mounted Riflemen got to see it through to this bitter end with this enemy. Not sent to the Western Front to fight against the Germans like many Kiwis did, but having returned to the Middle East they followed through fighting the same enemy, the Ottoman Turks, to finally appease the losses of their brothers at Gallipoli. I wonder if he saw it that way, I’d be inclined to think he did.