Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ammunition Carriers at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

On Anzac Day next week there will be much talk of Gallipoli. Some commentators might mention the dangerous daily work of the ammunition carriers and might even refer to the July 1965 issue of the Journal of Limbless Soldier's Association, when William H S Kerr wrote on p 83:
I refer to those gallant and resourceful men, Bill McDonald and Lieut McHattie, of Newcastle, who, from the crack of dawn as the saying goes, were in charge of those pack mules - sometimes two and three. They scrambled up those hills and valleys of thorny scrub and steep ridges, without roads or tracks, hour after hour and day after day, to be sniped at from everywhere and shelled from all directions and had to supply the troops with food and ammunition.
(Note: I'm not sure of Bill McDonald's fate but McHattie died of wounds on the Western Front in 1917.)

Here's another description of this very high risk task, from Stephen Boulton, who enlisted in January 1915 as an Artillery Gunner in the 1st Division of the AIF and also carried ammunition to the troops at Gallipoli. He outlines his duties in a letter to his mother back in Sydney, a letter written on 19 Nov 1915 from his hospital in Malta, to where he was evacuated from Anzac Cove with severe dysentery:
You ask what work I was doing on the Peninsula. For the first fortnight or 3 weeks I was attached to the Brigade Amm. Column and had my dugout amongst the rest of the Column in Shrapnel Gully and generally started work at 8 o'clock at night, just about dark. Then proceeded down to the Ammunition Park on the beach from where we carried shell to the different batteries round Anzac. Each shell with cartridge case etc. for the 18 pounder field gun weighs about 25 lbs each, so we only carry two at a time, one on each shoulder. This is not a great weight but having to climb gullies and steep hills covered with big boulders and rocks it fairly pumps the wind out of you and numerous rests are taken.
All this is done during the night, some nights we would only get one or two trips, but others, where a lot of firing and heavy bombardment had taken place, we would be kept going till the small hours in getting the required number of rounds up. This sort of work is always done at night when possible as there is a good deal of risk attached to it and the Turk snipers are always on the look out to stop ammunition from getting up, and the brass cartridge cases of shells make an easy target to pick up. Of course we use all the saps communications trenches and firing line for cover and you are always told to keep off the sky line even at night time.
For the first week my shoulders got terribly sore with carrying the shell. Other shell of course was carried heavier than these, but we only took one at a time then. The 4.7 gun, one that was used at Ladysmith in the Boer war, went nearly 100 lbs weight and meant a walk of nearly 2 miles from the beach. Then there was the 6 inch howitzer which shells went over 100 lbs. without their charge. This work of course was rather uninteresting, but being fairly out in the open all the time, there was a fair amount of risk attached to it and the infantry chaps in the trenches used to tell us when we rested alongside them in the firing line they would sooner have their job. Some nights we wouldn't get any shell to carry at all, but about a dozen of us would be told off with pick and shovel to dig a gun pit for a new gun to be in a new position and be concealed. This was always done at night so as to keep its position utterly unknown to the enemy.
After leaving the B.A.C. to be lent to the D.A. Park I moved as you know my dug out down to the hill rising off the beach and quite close to my work which was done on the beach alone, amongst all the Ammunition. In this case we generally worked throughout the day, stacking ammunition unloaded off the punts and barges on the beach. Also loading ammunition of all kinds on to mules to go to the trenches and batteries where they could get to.
These mules with their Indian drivers are wonderful animals and adored by the Indian Johnnies as they are called. A mule could carry as much shell on specially made saddles as 4 or 6 men, so you can imagine how valuable and useful they were. They indeed saved the situation for us and did wonderful work with their transport of stores munitions etc. The Indians take the greatest care of them and after getting his cart loaded should anything in the way of a case of jam or bag of sugar fall off the Indian will never stop to pick it up as the load is made all the lighter for his mule who is all he thinks about. They suffered fairly heavily from shrapnel fire, but the Indians used to say "plenty mule get killed" but "plenty more mule."
This work on the beach came pretty heavy as the lifting of the big shells and boxes of 18 pounders and .303 small arm, am sure affected my insides and never gave me a chance of getting well over there, as if I had a rest for a day I would be better, but as soon as I returned to the lifting the whole recurrence would occur as bad as ever.
Excerpt from Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F., available online. For more details, see Louise Wilson's  website

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