3. Gallipoli, 191
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On December 4th 1914, the Australians arrived in Cairo. It was, at last, Egypt and the "Shadow of the Pyramids". Breathtaking and unimaginable this land of Pharos, legends and Napoleon. To all the members of the battalion the orders were to build what would be called Mena camp there in the shadows of the pyramids. The Battalion training began and it must be mentioned that the training of the third battalion was extremely hard, hardest of all the Battalions. Night raids, long marches followed by sham attacks lasting for days on end through the desert until finally the battalion had been ground down into nothing and then built back up into grizzled sinewy soldiers toughened and ready for combat. The training was, ready or not, over. The orders came for the attack upon the Turkish Peninsula Gallipoli using an amphibious landing, the most difficult of all maneuvers. Before the battalion left Mena camp Sir Ian Hamilton reviewed the men. In the official report he declared them as "Fit For War" (2) as any unit he had ever seen.
On April 15th, the HMS Derfflinger, with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions tucked upon her decks put out to sea. The destination, Lemnos Island and the protected harbor at Mudros was in the Aegean Sea and located due west of the Galipolli peninsula. By this time Bourke and the Battalion knew very well that that it would be their job to storm the cliff of Gallipoli. On Lemnos the Battalion received training in troop transport in conjunction with the Navy. These transports would serve as the ship to shore methods. It is difficult to imagine by today's military standards that an amphibious landing could have been possible so long ago. Boats moving very slow that were extremely vulnerable to all fire from the shore guns. But as it went no more sham fighting for the Third Battalion or Bourke. On April 25th 1915, a day that lives in history for the Australian Nation as ANZAC Day, Private Charles Bourke, my Great Uncle and the entire First Brigade boarded HMS Derfflinger. At 12:30 am she left her anchor at Mudros harbor and steamed for the Galipolli coast. No more sham fighting in the desert.
Helles Beach and The River Clyde
The landings at Helles beach were set to go off at the same time as Anzac and they did. The River Clyde troop transport was to steam well into the bay to unload the men. This process was to be done by slipping the soldiers through a hole cut into side of the ships hull and down a ramp to the beach. Due to the complete lack of surprise and the strategic positioning advantage of the Turkish defenders, the landing became the first of many disasters of command and sacrifice of thousands of troops. Turk machine gunners sighted the huge cargo doors of the Clyde and simply mowed down company after company as they came through the opening. Eventually the Allies pushed enough men through to create a beached but not until "The ocean was red with blood a quarter mile out to sea."
The Anzac Landings by Charles Dixon
The landings at ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corp) Cove were met initially with little resistance. This did not last however and the landing soon turned into a ferocious test of will, courage, bravery and skill. Once upon the beach the soldiers found a rocky steep jagged hillsides covered with shrubs boulders and Turkish machine gun pits. It was here that Aussie and Turk alike earned their place amongst the worlds bravest of men.
The Third Infantry Brigade was first to go ashore and landed before dawn. The standing and most direct order of all was to "Push on at All Cost"! As they landed, moved up and fought their way inland the defenders began to realize what was happening and frantically called for reinforcements. The Australian Third Brigade was quickly running into stiff Turkish counter attacks all along the line and was at risk of being over run. The Third Brigade had established a thin line of defense by fighting their way off the beach and up the ravines that lead to the high ground overlooking the cove. Deep gully's separated by sharp steep ridges lead away from the plateau toward even higher ground further inland then to long ridgeline held by the Turkish defenders. The Third Brigade managed to fight to the top of the plateau and move inland, carving out small islands of Aussie held land that would later be named after the men that died capturing them.
As the Third Battalion men filled the shore boats dawn of April 25 began to crack through the darkness. Accompanied by the crack of machine and rifle fire and the thunderous clamber of artillery, the war for Charles had begun. I can only imagine, with my greatest efforts of empathy what the intensity of that day must have been like. The reality my Uncle must have been forced to deal with and continue to function as a soldier fighting, pressing onward, as soldiers do. It is impossible to describe but must be imagined. The close combat, carnage, screams, horror, as life itself begins to shrink into seconds and reality turns to what he must do, kill or be killed.
The fighting was desperate and horrible for the Australians. The men were unfamiliar with the land, the terrain and enemy. Once ashore, Colonel R.H. Owen quickly organized the Third battalion into platoons and companies. "All companies forward" was the order, up the cliff and up into the fighting. The Turks on the ridge tops across the far side of the gully held the high ground and poured a continuous fire into the Australians. The advantages of holding the higher ground, possessing a large number of hand thrown bombs and trench mortar cannon were evident immediately as the fight with the Australians became closer in proximity. The hand thrown bombs would come over so quickly that the Australian infantryman could throw them back over the top toward the Turks and with great dismay the Turk who initially threw the grenade bomb would find himself either being blown to pieces or seriously wounded. This game lasted awhile until the Turks grew wise and shortened the fuses on the bombs. To the horror of one private who's hand was blown off as he threw the bomb over the top. He was seen later "Carrying his handless arm, dazed and shocked his blown off hand still attached to his wrist by a few sinews"
Because fighting during those first days was so close together and under such steep rugged terrain the fighting had to be combined with sapping (digging/tunneling). Troops on either side fired continuously until the barrels on their guns heated up and expanded so as to jam the cartridges. The digging of defensive cover while under fire became such a priority during Galipolli that by the end of the campaign the ANZAC Corp became known simply as "The Diggers", a name still used for soldiers in the infantry. Many references have been made to trench digging. One of the more notable, "Dig your own trench now or they will dig your grave later" (This tried and tested slogan made famous on the ridges of Spoin Kop, South Africa fifteen years earlier and the British had trenches dug under cover of fog on what the engineers thought to be the summit of the Kop. As the fog lifted the troopers that were made to occupy the trench system were horrified to find that the actual top of the ridge was above them still some hundred yards. When the fog cleared the Boer soldiers under General Luis Botha slaughtered the troops and made famous the stand to defend the Tugela Line with the use of strategically placed and well dug trenches)
Casualties climbed, men fell, but the Australians held the line as night slowly fell on the evening of the 25th. The fighting and digging continued and so did the ferocity of the Turkish counterattacks. In every section of the line, at some point was vicious hand to hand fighting. Private Bourke was in the center section of the main line with D company. After four days of continuous fighting 3rd Battalion had lost over 300 men and officers. By some miracle, while others dropped around him Uncle Charles remained unhurt.
Throughout the rest of April and into May the fighting continued on Galipolli. Each side continued to dig, snipe and raid. As attack turned into counter attack each side sustained heavy losses. Monash Valley was the main valley leading from the frontline to ANZAC Cove with which supplies would be transported. It was named after the commander whose troops captured and secured it. The steep ridge tops above Monash had been turned into outposts. Over time, a system of underground tunnels would connect the outposts. The Allies would dig a series of network, communication, bombing and fighting tunnels. But for now as they lined up on the map each post, from Quinn's and Courtney's post in the north to Steele's post in the south the Australian line was largely unconnected. There was however constant sapping going on dipping into Owens Gully. The tunnel heads almost joined each other connecting 3rd and 2nd Battalion. They were short about 50 yards on May 18th. Just out in front of the D company trench was a 500 yard plain that led to the Turkish trenches. Just beyond the Turkish Line was and old pine tree that stood bare limbed, tall and alone. This section was named the Lone Pine sector and was directly in front of D company's portion of the trench. Private Bourke of D Company would have been involved in extremely heavy fighting as the level of fire rarely dropped below continuous even at night.
The Turkish Attack of May 19th
The night and early morning of May 19th was the first substantial Turkish counter attack. Three Turkish Divisions had been moved from the Sulva area in an effort to break the ANZAC stronghold up Monash Valley. The 16th, 5th, and 2nd were moved into place for the attack. However Australian pickets and listening posts were alarmed to the troop build up and the allies had a spotter plane fly overhead to see what the Turks were up to. The result was that virtually the entire ANZAC force was waiting on the firing step of the trenches when the three Turkish Divisions were sent over the top. Shortly after midnight, May 19, D company was ordered to stand to. D Company and 3Rd Battalion were positioned on the front right part of the 1st Division Trench Line. Out in front of the trench was a plain, now called the Table Top and beyond that further along toward Turkish lines was The Lone Pine Ridge. Facing the 3rd Battalion was the 16th and 2nd Turkish Division. The Turkish troops were considered some of the very best the Turkish leader Liman Von Saunders had to offer during the campaign. Von Saunders major mistake however was in the fact that by the attack going in at night, the troops had yet to see the ground they were to cover and many became disoriented and confused in the heat of battle. At one point observed an Australian infantryman "The whole division turned at an angle almost 45 degrees to us. For no reason they exposed themselves to a murderous fire from three sides, machine gun, rifle, cannon anything we could use we threw at them." They kept coming wave after courageous, bitter wave. The night and early dawn attack of May 19 resulted in useless Turkish bayonet charges. The third Battalion met and repulsed them again and again. There is no diary or personal record that shows the exact events of Charles Bourke. D company sector was infiltrated and at one point was fighting hand to hand with the Turks. This is the same area and night of Private Jackas famous bombing raid that earned him the Victoria Cross. Private Bourke was in the middle of the entire attack. Firing as fast as he could load. Living the terror and horror of fighting off wave after wave of men. The battle went through the night. As morning slowly crept up the cliffs and onto the plain over which the Turks had been charging the night before Von Saunders immediately halted any further attacks. No mans land was covered with dead Turks. "The Turks looked as if to be sleeping on the battle field". 3000 Turks lay dead and rotting in no Mans land. Private Bourke witnessed the intense suffering of thousand upon thousands of soldiers dying slowly under the cloudless sky. What did he feel now about Country and King listening to those poor souls thirsting for water, crying out for help? Unable to give assistance for risk of being shot themselves, all either side could do was wait.
The failure of the attack was a hard lesson learned for the Turks and was paid for with the lives of some of their best troops. After the Turkish attack and until May 24th there was only intermittent sniping. The problem was the rotting corpses in the hot sun. The stench was so bad that even pilots flying overhead complained about the smell. An Armistice was reached and both sides were allowed to bury their dead. Some fraternization is said to have occurred, exchange of cigarettes and some mutual burials.
Fate and his guardian Angel was guiding my Uncle as he fought his way up the hillsides of ANZAC Cove those first few days and nights of the invasion. Here and there fighting off Turkish counter attack defending the line against divisions size attacks, himself unknowingly in front of the largest Turkish offensive of the Battle. Private Bourke had gone through it all unhurt.
June 1st D company began two tunnels leading forward toward the Turkish lines. As a result the Turks began heavy sniping upon D Company's section of the trench. The Allies, now planning an attack against the Turks along the Lone Pine area were sending reinforcement to the area. This being done in view of the Turkish lookouts brought even more ferocious fire down upon the company. On June 21st and 25th D Company was heavily shelled. By the 27th, the slightest movement would draw enormous fire from the Turkish machine gunners and mortars.
On July 2nd my Uncle was hit seven times by what is reported to be Sniper Bullets. He is not killed but wounded.