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A bleak winter looms

A bleak winter looms

After the heat, hundreds freeze to death in trenches.
‘It has been snowing all day and my hands are like blocks of wood’

Conditions during the summer had been appalling because of heat, flies, and lack of sanitation. By September, troops were preparing for a long winter but had little idea that instead of flies and sunstroke they would be sorely tested by the extreme cold.

James Kerr: Don Erickson, Vic Warry and Walter Boys are all round here, but as they were in the trenches a mile further on I did not have time to see them; but they have not had any serious work to do and don’t expect to get moving until about the middle of next month.

When I was round on the left I had a good opportunity of seeing our and the Turkish positions. I can give you no idea of the work that has to be done, yet each side is strongly entrenched with miles of barbed wire entanglements, and it seems an impossibility for either side to move. It will mean many, many months of hard fighting and will cost thousands of lives and munitions by the hundred tons. I don’t think the public has the slightest idea of the magnitude of these operations, nor the time it will take to bring them to a successful issue.

On our side, preparations for a winter campaign are going at top speed. There are all kinds of troops here, from every corner of the globe. There are Australians, New Zealanders, Sikhs, Punjabis, Gurkhas, Ceylonese, Egyptians, English, Scottish , Welsh and Irish regiments and there is a rumour that the Canadians and South Africans are coming here too, and perhaps we will also have a division of Italians.
Autumn brought whistling winds, rain and more. On 15 November another major storm flooded trenches up to 4 feet deep. Next came a blizzard of snow and two nights of heavy frost.

At Suvla, 204 men drowned or froze to death and more than 11,000 were treated for frostbite or exposure.
At Anzac Cove, 3000 soldiers from sunny shores became casualties of the freezing slush, as did another 1000 at Helles where a junior officer found 30 Worcesters frozen to death in a single trench.

Heavy seas made supplies harder to land and any withdrawal more difficult week by week. Those in favour of staying on argued that bad conditions at sea meant that losses in trying to withdraw might well be as high as a third of the troops.

Duncan Chapman (writing from the island of Lemnos): I have now rejoined my unit which has left the trenches and is out for a well-deserved rest. We are encamped on this lonely windswept island, and I can tell you it is cold and desolate. It has been snowing all day and my hands are like blocks of wood. We are in tents again but they are only single ones and the draughts are fierce. We will in all probability spend our Christmas here but only for the absence of shot and shell it would be worse than Gallipoli … tonight we are like a lot of Eskimos. Some are covered up to the eyes – it is so cold. By the time you receive this Christmas will be upon you – wishing all the brightest and best of the festive season with the hope I may be spared to join in the next.

– M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.