Wartime magazine issue 26

A cruel falsehood

A visitor to the Memorial recently asked about the rumour that one of the men in the celebrated photograph of the entire 11th Battalion taken in Egypt includes a man who had actually died but who was being supported by his mates. This falsehood is distressingly persistent. The story seems improbable and, as it turns out, is impossible.

It seems improbable that men could enter a hospital, take a body, transport and dress it and hoist it 25–30 metres up a pyramid (traversing a dozen or so blocks each up to two metres high)­— and down again—without being detected and stopped. It is surely inconceivable that if officers or NCOs saw men man-handling a body in this way they would not have stopped it; and how could they not have seen it?

More particularly, only four men of the 11th Battalion died of illness between 1 January 1915 and the battalion’s departure for the Aegean in March, and two of those men died in Alexandria. This means that there were only two possible occasions when a body was available to be used in this way. The photograph is undated, but research by Curator of Photographs Joanne Smedley and 11th Battalion expert James Hurst independently confirms that the photograph was taken on Sunday 10 January 1915. One man died in January, but on the 14th, and at Alexandria. No member of the 11th (or of the AIF) died on 9 or 10 January 1915.

What evidence is there for the story being true? The answer is: nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumour. I conclude that this story is an urban myth, as stubborn and groundless as others of its kind.

Surely that many of these men were killed or wounded on Gallipoli in a couple of months’ time is a more important and poignant fact to remember.

Dr Peter Stanley
Principal Historian