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'God knows it was hell'

Photo of Anzac Ordnance Stores, 1915
'Old kit at Anzac Ordnance Stores, 1915'

This is an extract from the diary of Corporal S.W. Siddeley, Australian Army Medical Corps, First A.I.F., where he describes his participation in the battle at Helles, Gallipoli, in early May 1915. The photographs below were taken at Gallipoli some months afterwards.

Please note that the battlefield description may be disturbing for some readers.

8th May 1915
'The order came for us to advance and the 2nd Field Ambulance made their base hospital where we halted. The order was given to charge and Brigadier McKay [sic] yelled out ‘Come on Australia’ and the charge which made the 2nd Brigade famous took place. Our dear boys were knocked over like skittles, God knows how many died for Australia’s honour God knows it was hell. The [Army Medical Corps] had to rush out and attend to the wounded and we made our dressing station on the bank of a creek. This creek we had to work up to the firing line.

A dug out was made to shield the wounded and ourselves. The wounds we attended were awful. Arms and legs blown off, hands and feet blown off. Mouths blown away and hundreds of others, we were about mile from the firing line and bullets were landing all round us and would often hit our medicine kits…

How many wounded were treated God only knows and how many dead we had God only knows. When the wounded slackened Capt. Matheson and self made for the firing line to attend to the wounded who had been missed by stretcher bearers.

…The cries for stretcher bearers were awful and very few stretchers were to be had so the majority were carried down from the firing line to a place of safety on water proof sheets some men were asking to be shot but I had not the heart to do such a thing and so gave them morphia or opium to ease the pain and some very bad cases I gave an overdose and their sufferings were relieved in a few minutes for even the firing was hell, bullets and shells landing all around us and on several occasions the wounded whilst being treated were again hit. We were in the valley of death and on fully of a mile stretch of ground lay dead and on several occasions I would stack 3 or more bodies so as to make a shelter whilst I was attending to the wounded. The wounded cried for water mine was drunk and the only water to be had was pretty nigh green, stagnant and unfit for animals.

… If some of the ladies knew or saw the agonies of war and what suffering we have to go through it would make their bones rattle. Managed to get 4 parties or 1 section of stretcher bearers and I led them to where I had 22 wounded men. They were in an old Turkish trench there was also a great number of dead in this trench. One man I went to help I found he was dead, his face was black so he had been dead for several hours. Upon looking at his disk I found he was one of my old mates.’

Extract from the diary of Corporal S.W. Siddeley, Australian Army Medical Corps, First A.I.F.

Another Account
Charles Bean, the official Australian war historian, wrote this about the battle:

‘Such was the advance of the 2nd Brigade at Krithia. In the actual attack, lasting little over an hour, it had moved 1000 yards across open moorland under heavy fusillade, the second half of the advance – beyond the Tommies’ Trench, being made in the teeth of rifle and machine gun fire such as Australians seldom again encountered during the war. Although in a short space they had lost 1,000 men, the advancing line had shown not the least sign of wavering….

It was recognised by many that the advance made at such cost during daylight could have been accomplished after dark almost without loss. In each of the Anzac brigades one ill result was a growing conviction that they had been needlessly sacrificed. … But the plan of attack was not M’Cay’s, the Commanding Officer’s. [He followed the official British plan] which, limiting themselves almost to the routine of an Aldershot field-day, in three days expended an army in merely approaching the enemy.’

C.E.W.Bean: The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918, Volume II, The Story of Anzac, from 4 May 1915 to the evacuation. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1924, p36, 42

Images of Gallipoli

These previously unpublished photographs were donated to the Museum in 1986. They are from a photograph album compiled by Sergeant John Lord, who was at Gallipoli late in 1915.

Photo of Rest Gully, Anzac
'Rest Gully, Anzac'
Photo of Gallipoli Peninsular, 1915
'Brown's Dip, Gallipoli
Peninsular [sic], 1915'
Photo of Anzac.
'Extreme right of Anzac'
Photo of Australian Gully, Anzac, 1915
'Australian Gully, Anzac, 1915'
Photo of Anzac Beach
'Portion of Hell's Spit, Anzac
Photo of Gallipoli, 1915
'Dug Out on Gallipoli, 1915'

Museum Victoria has a significant collection of military memorabilia, including uniforms, medals, diaries, photographs and letters relating to the campaign at Gallipoli.

If you have specific questions about the Museum’s collection relating to the First World War, please contact the Discovery Centre.

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