Where Anzacs shed their blood

The diary of Private Donald Turner, published in instalments in The Northern Herald  in October 1917, is a recent discovery made by a member of the public using the Microfilm collection at the State Library of Queensland.

This serialized diary is a compelling first-hand account of the landing at Anzac Cove, 25 April 1915 and the subsequent conditions the troops fought in. Private Donald Robert Turner enlisted in December 1914 and was assigned to the 2nd Reinforcements for the 9th Infantry Battalion, in the first AIF.

He described in detail the landing, in darkness, early on the 25th April -

“We went away from our ship like ducks gliding away from the banks of a lagoon. Everybody was so much stirred up that a dozen was trying to talk all at once in a low tone” …

“I cannot tell how we are going to get out of the boats with our packs on our backs. If mine becomes too heavy I shall throw it away”.

His words evoke a chilling picture, of men landing in darkness, not knowing if, and how they were going to survive. A few days later - 30th April 1915 – he wrote -

“Today seems to be a day for cleaning things up a little. The dead are being buried, and all cases of wounded are being sent away. The warships are doing splendid work. They are the key of our safety. Without them we would be in the sea.”

Later entries detail the hard work of digging trenches, and dodging shell and rifle fire. He describes himself as being lucky so far to survive the barrage and bemoans the lack of reinforcements to assist them in the battle.

Postcard sent by Donald Turner, to his brother Alex, 16 April 1915. Courtesy of the Turner Family.

Private Turner and his pals were sent out on patrols at night to locate any of the missing, some of whom may be "in urgent need of assistance". This work was often interrupted by Turkish patrols, and the ANZACs would have to lay low until it was safe to continue.

As their situation worsened, food and water supplies became limited, men were exhausted, with fewer and fewer of them on hand to fight. Conditions were appalling. Turner often referred to the men he served with, Frederick Camillus Diogenes Vanza, Frank (Francis) Quinlan and Jack (John) Leak, his pals.

His last entry reads:

"28/7/15 - Rifle fire on the left was heavy. I am done. Cannot sit up. All my pals are coming to see me but they cannot do any good. I think I will have to leave my dear pal Vanza. He is going to stay with me tonight."

Private Turner fell ill with dysentery, as did many of his fellow soldiers and was evacuated to hospital in Cairo for treatment in September 1915. He was later repatriated to Australia with a severe back condition that prevented him from being able to continue on active service.

His dear pal Frederick Camillus Diogenes Vanza (1882-1915)was wounded in action two weeks after Turner was evacuated. Vanza died on 14 September 1915 on board HS Nevasa, and was buried at sea.
Francis William Quinlan (1885-1926) was wounded in the head on 11 August 1915 and returned to Australia after treatment in hospital on the island of Malta.
Jack (John) Leak (1892-1972) went on to win the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in France, June 1916 and is the subject of an earlier blog published by the State Library of Queensland in 2013.

The Northern Herald contains several published extracts, starting from 4 April 1915 through to 27 August 1915 when Turner was evacuated.

  1. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/150913870 19 October 1917 [entries from 4/4/1915]
  2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/150910899 26 October 1917
  3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/150915899 9 November 1917 [entries from 8/6/15]
  4. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/150909769 16 November 1917 [entries 28/6/1915]
  5. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/150910555 30 November 1917 [entries 7/7/1915]

We were able to make contact with Private Turner's great-niece and are proud to be able to link her and her family to the heroic story of her late great-uncle. They happily supplied us with copies of several original items that the family had retained. The diary has not survived.

'Northern Herald' masthead, November 1917. TROVE, National Library of Australia.

Read more ...

Service records, National Archive of Australia

Marg Powell, Specialist Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

 

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