Thursday 17 April 2014 by David Heness. 4 comments
First World War Centenary, Anzac Connections, Collection, Personal Stories

  • Private Cecil Anthony McAnulty was barely able to stand. Exhausted from the intense fighting of the previous two days, he used a brief period of respite to pen his experiences of the past few days to paper. Cecil had written in his diary every day since he had left Australia. When he had completely filled his first diary he began a second, writing on whatever scraps of paper he could find and often using the backs of envelopes sent from home. For many soldiers writing helped them make sense of what was happening.

    Two days earlier, on the afternoon of 6 August 1915, Cecil had been one of the nearly two thousand men of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade to charge the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. He had waited anxiously as the Turkish shells exploded before them, the fumes suffocating and the shrapnel deadly. The whistle had blown three times and Cecil and the others had charged towards the formidable and entrenched Turkish line. He was in the thick of it now. In what he described as a trance, Cecil pushed through the heavy machine gun and rifle fire with shrapnel shells bursting around him. Having crossed the nearly one hundred metre wide gap to the Turkish lines he found himself in an extremely exposed position along with several other Australians. “This is only suicide, boys,” Cecil exclaimed to them. “I’m going to make a jump for it.” Cecil’s account of what happened next ends mid-sentence with the words: “I sprang to my feet in one jump…” There are no further entries after that.

    It cannot be said conclusively why Cecil’s account ended so abruptly. We know that he and the other Australians took the Turkish line within twenty minutes of launching the attack. We also know that the Australians spent the next four days defending their gains against continual and ferocious counter attacks by the Turkish that often involved hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets. It is possible that the Turkish launched one of their counter attacks at the time Cecil was writing his last sentence and he was required to drop everything and respond to it, never to come back to it. It is also possible that he was killed whilst in the middle of writing that last unfinished sentence. What we do know conclusively is that the 27 year old was killed in action sometime between 8 and 10 August in the intense fighting at Lone Pine.

    Cecil’s sacrifice, as well as that of many others, helped the Australians achieve what would be the only Allied victory of the August Offensive in 1915. The assault on Lone Pine was originally intended to be a diversionary attack to draw the Turkish Army’s attention away from the planned larger British assaults to the north. It would incidentally become one of Australia’s earliest victories of the First World War. However, it was not without great cost.

    Both of Cecil’s diaries, which describe his experiences from embarkation to his final acts at Lone Pine, have been digitised as part of the Anzac Connections digitisation project and are available to view online here.

    Diaries such as these are precious. The act of writing in a diary was an empowering one for many soldiers. If you were killed your tale would be told. Your individual actions and experiences, your intimate thoughts and feelings: they would not fade away in a war where sometimes tens of thousands were dying each day. It was also cathartic in that it allowed them to make sense of what had happened and what they had done, helping providing some measure of rationalisation. Cecil’s diaries are representative of the general experience at Gallipoli, but also convey his unique insights and experiences. You can feel the anticipation and nervousness with him as he prepares to emerge out of his trench and charge the Turkish lines at Lone Pine. You read with sadness as he writes “hope to get through alright,” knowing what he does not know, that these days will be his last. You are with him when, being hardly able to stand due to exhaustion, he writes his last entry. Then without warning he leaves you.

    The account of his last days is immortalised in these diaries. Accordingly, they are as precious to us here at the Australian War Memorial as they were to him.

     

    Cecil's last diary entry on 8 August 1915

Comments

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