Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Voice From Gallipoli: Part I

To most of us, a hundred years ago probably seems like ancient history…it was that place where women wore their hair in buns, horses pulled carriages and most countries around the world still had kings. Probably more things have changed in the past hundred years than in any time in history. Countries have vanished, movies have sound, and people use computer keyboards instead of typewriters. The things we eat, the things we do for fun, the ways we get around, have all changed. The world has gotten smaller...yet we have less control of it now than we ever did.  
Typewriter, 1917

As much as things have changed since 1915, many things have remained the same. Back in the 19th century, Science fiction writers like Jules Verne anticipated permanent colonies of people living underwater and others drilling to the center of the earth. We have achieved neither; in fact, we still wear clothes, go to work and eat food…even more interestingly, we still wage wars, despite the fact that a hundred years ago, the War to end all Wars was in full swing.
Landing at Anzac, April 1915
A hundred years ago this month, the Allies launched a campaign on a slender strip of land sticking into the Aegean Sea. The men who fought there are dead, but that bit of land, the Gallipoli peninsula, remains unchanged like an accusing finger pointing at High Command. The Gallipoli Campaign was a terrible failure and people have been debating ever since exactly why. Some blame the famous cliffs, others are more inclined to point out bumbling generals, still others say it was all Winston Churchill's fault.
The envelope
Personally, I’m more interested in the human element; the day-to-day lives of the soldiers…their thoughts and feelings, their fear and their incredible courage. Consequently, there was awe when my sister and I found ourselves reading two letters, written in pencil on cheap paper, postmarked 1915, from the hills of Turkey. They were from a British Lieutenant named Martin, sent to my great-grandmother. I haven’t the faintest idea who Martin was, where he lived, or how he came to know my great-grandmother. However odd his reasons for writing to her were, I am eternally grateful that he wrote and that my great-great grandmother kept his letters.     
The letter
The following transcript, I have taken as faithfully as possible from Martin's scrawl, preserving the original spelling and punctuation. This is the first letter, the second I will save for another blog post. So, without further ado, I will let you have Martin in his own words:
21 July
11th Division
My Dear (name),
You will be somewhat surprised to receive a letter from me written in the wilds of Turkish Mountains.
I have been soldiering since Aug 1914, have had a few experiences, then I am, very brown, pretty fit- thank heaven, but a dirty looking object- Thank heaven we can wash & then have a razor! 
I struck(?) a Brigade outpost- up here, lucky bargee, but- unfortunately I shall be relieved in a few days. I have 23 men and provide a detached post down in the valley.
Turkish stamps, 1916
My only neighbor is an old Turkish gentleman, who lives in a hut nearbye, & spends most of his day endeavouring to convince me he is a Greek. He however provides me with new laid eggs which are as manna from heaven here, and as he possesses a cool well, the first- cool water since England, I have forgiven him his misdeeds.
Needless to say I have placed a sentry day & night over the said well, and one never knows what these gentry are up to.
He is also very anxious to sell me his goat's milk, and has even offered it as a gift, but that I have declared "verboten" to the men.
It's hot, and the flies are a bit unkind, but its much better than the other show. Where it not for the bloody murder and carnage raging, it would be ideal.
Allied troops looking towards Achi Baba, Gallipoli
We have a splendid view of "Achi Baba" and at night it is very interesting to watch the big guns at work.
I have a very lazy time here. Get my camp cleaned up 6 A.M, mount my sentries and the rest of the day slack. I spent most of the afternoon stalking a vulture with a service rifle, but couldn't persuade him to come close enough so there was no waste of good munitions.
Going 'over the top' at Gallipoli
You will no doubt be surprised to get this but I have very pleasant recollections of the little friendship we formed when I was in America. My difference with your brother need make no difference, I think he treated me very badly! But this is no time for recrimination.
I can give you no news. We censor our own letters, but we are under our word of honor not to talk about the show.

I wonder how you are, if you are married? You ought to marry a good fellow, with your good ideas and sentiments.
Olympic, Titanic's sister-ship, served as a troop transport
the bizarre 'dazzle pattern' was meant to fool u-boats
I married the day before I first left England. One day's honeymoon and then I was wired for and went to the front next day. She is perfectly splendid, & of course miles too good for me!
A penniless lieutenant!
Isn't it too wonderful.
But I can tell you this atmosphere of blood and death is teaching we men something & those who get through, I am convinced will come out better men. Our mails out here are unfortunately none too regular, and one gets very hungry for a sight of one loved one's handwriting.
I have just dined off a tin of sardines, with the wondrous name of Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly on it. I got hold of it somehow.
I shall be back with the regiment soon alas in the dirt & heat.
I prefer France!
Well so long now, if I should come  through, perhaps we may meet again. In the meantime my regards to the family and kindest thoughts to you.
Yours very sincerely,