ALAN TUCKER WRITES ABOUT GALLIPOLI
Alan Tucker is a recipient of a 2014 May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. Alan will be running historical fiction workshops for the State Library in schools in the Brisbane metro area from the 1-8 August. See here for more information about these workshops and how to book.
Alan’s writing career began twenty years ago. For the first decade he wrote and illustrated Australian history books: the Too Many Captain Cooks trilogy followed by Iron in the Blood which won the 2003 CBC Book of the Year, Eve Pownall non-fiction award. For the past decade he has specialised in writing Australian historical fiction.
Below is an extract from his book My Australian Story: Gallipoli. It tells the story of the war through the diary of 14 year old Victor March, who lies about his age to enlist in the AIF and is among the first of the soldiers to land at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915.
Sunday, 25th April
I can’t sleep. No-one can. Men are either quietly talking to their mates, writing another final letter or like me, staring out into the darkness. The night sky is clear and thousands of stars punctuate the heavens.
I let my mind wander free of fear, friends and family. My eyes glaze and the stars blur: I imagine myself at one with nature. It is in nature I must trust in the hours and days to come. I will need all my natural survival instincts as well as the contours of natural ridges and rock formations to protect me from enemy gunfire.
My survival will also depend on my ability and that of my friends to put into action all that we have practised these past eight months.
The attack has been timed to the minute.
Thirty minutes from now we’ll climb down the rope ladders into the lighters and find our seat. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been chosen as one of the 500 men from my battalion who will be in the first wave to land. It is quite an honour. The remainder of our lads will land in the second and third waves later in the morning. The Turks won’t know what’s hit them.
In two hours’ time, when all the lighters are full, we’ll be towed by steam launches towards shore in lines of three.
In three and a half hours we’ll be cast loose by the launches and our naval crew will row us silently to the shore where, at 4.30 a.m., as the first rays of dawn light the sky, we’ll disembark, wade ashore, drop our heavy packs and move swiftly and silently with bayonets fixed onto Turkish soil.
We’ve been ordered to use cold steel to dispatch any Turks we encounter. By killing in such a way we’ll maintain the element of surprise as long as possible.
We’ve been told by our officers that we MUST succeed in securing the beach front because no retreat is possible once we’re ashore.
Two miles inland is our goal.
Cold steel and stealth are our most effective weapons.
Any minute now the order to form a line and climb down into the lighters will be given.
Thursday, 29th April
I can hardly write of the horrors I have experienced. I am so exhausted I cannot think straight. My battalion has fought day and night for four days and our reward? Late last night we were relieved at the front and sent behind the lines to rest. Rest! Bullets whiz past our heads and Turkish shells explode all around us. Our only protection is the overhang of the cliff above us. I lie slumped against it now gazing out to sea.
Our fleet fires relentlessly onto the Turkish positions in the hills above us. Turkish guns return fire on our cruisers and destroyers and lob shells into the shallows just beyond the beach where I ‘rest’.
There is no rest. There is no advance. The Turks were better prepared for our attack than we were told they would be: and they are far tougher soldiers than our commanders predicted. In short, we are stuck, as one of my cobbers said, between a rock and a hard place.
We cannot go forward and we cannot go back: not that anyone has mentioned such a dishonourable action as retreat.
Our commanding officer assembled us at noon. It pains me to write that half of the officers and ranks of my wonderful battalion have been killed. We’ve suffered 450 casualties in four days. The other two Australian battalions must have suffered a similar number of casualties and who knows how many New Zealand, British and Indian troops have also lost their lives.
What ground have we gained? Very little. Our perimeter is a few hundred yards into this damned peninsula, at best.
Despite our battalion’s best efforts and the heroic deeds of several individuals, we cannot push the Turks off the high ground. And while they command that position, we are sitting ducks here below. All we can do is dig in. We’ve dug trenches to fight from and for protection as we go about our daily business and dugouts (like wombat holes) to sleep in. Some of these are mere shelves, dug a foot or so into the trench walls so we can get a few minutes of sleep and not be trodden upon.
The cold nights and gut-grabbing hunger are a blight upon us all but the tiredness is worse. It kills our optimism, lowers morale and leaves us vulnerable to careless moves, and here on Gallipoli one wrong move can be fatal. The Turkish snipers are deadly and always on the job.
The past four days have blurred into one to such an extent that I can hardly remember my life and routines before the landing: and, sadly, I cannot imagine a future beyond the next few minutes.
If it wasn’t for my cobbers, I would find it hard to go on. My cobbers are my saviours: Needle, Robbo and Fish got through the landing unscathed. I lost contact with them in the confusion and was relieved to see them safe and sound when the battalion assembled today.
It was heart-breaking to hear the many silences, as the battalion role was called, when dead or wounded comrades failed to answer their name.
From the book MY AUSTRALIAN STORY: GALLIPOLI by Alan Tucker
Text copyright © Alan Tucker, 2013
Cover copyright © Scholastic Australia, 2013
First published by Scholastic Press, a division of Scholastic Australia Pty Limited, 2013
Reproduced by permission of Scholastic Australia Pty Limited
Queensland Literature Coordinator - Queensland Memory