Evacuation of Gallipoli
In mid December, 94 years ago, the preparations to evacuate Gallipoli were well underway. Much has been written about the stealth with which the operation was undertaken. The Private Record collection at the Memorial has a number of accounts of the evacuation written by those who participated in it. The account below is from Sergeant Robert Clive Hunter who was serving with 6th Light Horse Regiment at the time. He recounts his experience in a letter to his parents shortly after the event.
9th January 1916
My dear Mother and Father
...things seemed to get a bit unsettled and we noticed units being shifted about, and all men at all sick being taken away; ... later on we noticed men being taken away in fairly large numbers, and heavy guns being taken to the beach. Of course we all had theories of our own... but it was not till we saw men's clothing, equipment, guns and all sorts of things going, that we realised something was really being done, and we were being taken off the peninsula and then towards the last, ammunition of all sorts, shells and rifle cartridges, bombs and all kinds of explosions were to be seen thrown, or being thrown into the sea, it seemed an awful shame and waste to see thousands of pounds of stuff thrown into the sea, but of course it was better there than in the Turk's hands.
... there we were, 10 out of each squadron, and an officer, left to hold probably thousands of Turks, only fifty yards, and in some places only about 14 yards from us.
It was a glorious night, bright moonlight, and we looked down on the sea as calm as Sydney Harbour, like glass almost... everything seemed so peaceful and clear that it showed up the ridiculous position we seemed in by contrast. And so we manned our firing line about one man per 20 yards or more and kept up a desultory fire, and a keen lookout. Every now and then old Beachy Bill, a Turkish gun, boomed out and sent a shell along the beach, as if to let us know they were awake. We all had to wear socks over our boots as mufflers when marching out. Abdul must either have had no knowledge of what was going on, or else was misguided, because at 2:15 we got ready and soon after fired our final shots and left, wearing socks, mocassins, bits of underpants, sleeves of shirts and all manner of things round our feet, we had several pieces of halting and got safetly to the boats at 3:10, all were on board ready to move out, and then the fireworks started. The fuses for blowing up various mines and guns, were timed for then or after that time, and first there was an explosion and then one of our artillery pieces was made useless, and then another, then a terrific explosion blew the whole of a neck of land out which had connected part of our position with the Turks, the mines here were about 50 feet deep and about 2 and a half tons of gun-cotton was used, goodness knows how many Turks went up, as our mines and tunnels went right under their trenches, then after other explosions, a pier up at Suvla Bay lit up and was apparently stacked up with shells and when they started to go off, there was a display, and all the time our little destroyer kept such a strong light between us and the Turks that they could not see us, though embarking almost under their noses.
... for a long time we could hear Abdul still firing away; apparently not then knowing we were all gone. Rifles were left set in all the firing lines, timed to go off at intervals after we left and no doubt this puzzled him a little...
From your very loving boy
Soon after the evacuation Robert Hunter was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to 2nd Battalion. He was killed in action in the Fleurbaix sector of France on 13 June 1916. The Memorial holds 40 typescript copies of letters Hunter wrote home to his parents between May 1915 and June 1916, the last dated the day before his death. Hunter's collection is held as 1DRL/0367.
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