ANZAC voices - Improvisation at Gallipoli

12 December 2013 by Dianne Rutherford

Some of the objects on display in the new ANZAC voices exhibition illustrate the ingenuity of the ANZACs when faced with insufficient supplies and equipment at Gallipoli. When the ANZACs landed there on 25 April 1915, they expected a quick advance to Constantinople [Istanbul] so did not carry the equipment or supplies they needed for trench warfare. Although supplies were brought in throughout the campaign by boat, these could be delayed or destroyed through bad weather or Turkish shelling, so the soldiers at Gallipoli had to be industrious and inventive. They made weapons, equipment, board games and stationary from the items they found around them.

Two soldiers sit beside a pile of empty tins cutting up barbed wire for jam tin bombs.

The most famous example of improvisation at Gallipoli was the ‘jam tin’ bomb. The Gallipoli campaign was regarded as a ‘sideshow’ and did not receive the number of  grenades, or ‘bombs’, needed. The soldiers turned to the piles of tin cans and shrapnel around them to create the weapons they needed.

A ‘bomb factory’ was established above ANZAC Beach in May, by June it was producing over 200 bombs a day. On 7 August alone, 54 men worked to make the hundreds of bombs for the fighting at Lone Pine.

Old tins were filled with explosives and pieces of shrapnel; including nails, small pieces of shells and cut up scraps of barbed wire. The more elaborate versions used a second, smaller, tin to create a separate inner chamber that held the explosives with the shrapnel placed around it.

A very important piece of equipment  in trench warfare was the periscope. This allowed a soldier to look over the top of the trench without getting shot. some officers brought periscopes with them but there were not enough so improvised periscopes were made on Gallipoli using two mirrors attached to a piece of wood. These were angled so the soldier could see the reflection from the top mirror of the Turkish lines in the bottom one. They used mirrors taken from transport ships or their own shaving mirrors.

A sniper uses a periscopic rifle while his comrade observes for him through an improvised periscope.

The periscope ‘factory’ established on the beach at Anzac Cove had made 3,000 periscopes by the end of May and later manufactured the famous periscope rifle which helped soldiers shoot at the enemy without raising their heads above the parapet.

In June and July there was a paper shortage on Gallipoli so the soldiers became quite inventive in their attempts to keep in contact with their families and friends. In June Sapper John Howes of the 3rd Light Horse Signal Troop was so keen to write home that he cut off a piece of his uniform and wrote to his friend, sending it like a postcard.


Front of letter written on a piece of shirt.

He wrote:

Dear Gibby, Just a line to let you know I am still in the land of the living. I have been away from Egypt nearly 7 weeks now. I received your letter dated 4.4.15 also childrens. Hope you got my beads and wireless photos and cards O.K. I am in the best of health. Hope all are the same… Kind regards to you and yours etc Jack.

On the front with the address he wrote ‘Excuse paper & envelope’. Others created postcards from pieces of wooden or cardboard boxes, or wrote longer letters on their fabric rifle pulls (used to clean their rifles).

ANZAC voices is on display at the Australian War Memorial from 29 November 2013 until 30 November 2014.