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A shift in attitudes to failed leadership and a valiant enemy
By June Anzac attitudes had begun to change. Incompetence shown by senior officers had shaken their affection for, and confidence in, the British Empire. Discontent with British leadership was even creeping into the notebooks of historian Charles Bean, a fervent Anglophile. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/war-historian-charles-bean-caught-up-in-his-own-war-of-words/news-story/8c41b6d09992c48a4f30d356676320d6
The Anzacs were also learning that their enemy was not what they had been told to expect. The Allies had naively discounted the ability and tenacity of Ottoman soldiers fighting for their homeland.
A leaflet issued to the British and Australians while they were still in Egypt read: ‘Turkish soldiers, as a rule, manifest their desire to surrender by holding their rifle butt upward and by waving clothes or rags of any colour. An actual white flag should be regarded with the utmost suspicion as a Turkish soldier is unlikely to possess anything of that colour.’
Anzac attitudes changed markedly after Turks tried to drive them into the sea on May 19. Wrote Bean: From this morning onwards, the attitude of the Anzac troops towards the individual Turks was rather that of opponents in a friendly game.
Sgt Bob Hunter: Mark my word, the Turk is a fairer fighter than he had been given credit for, and he can teach the Germans some manners. This is a funny thing. The Germans told the Turks we were black troops and cannibals and we were told the Turks took no prisoners but killed everyone and both are wrong, although I saw Turks on the morning of the 10th May knifing some of our fellows, and I know I shot two of them stone dead at a range of less than 30 yards. Fancy Bob Hunter missing at that range. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.
Duncan Chapman: It is nine weeks since we landed here, and many poor fellows have tasted the horrors of a campaign. Many noble acts have been performed, and courage is a quality that is not wanting among our fellows. In the Turk, we have a truly obstinate fighter, and he has well earned the title of the ‘Fighting Turk.’
Charles Bean: Anyway, near daybreak one morning there came out of their trench at Quinn’s a packet tied to a string, thrown so it lobbed near our parapet and lay outside between the trenches. Of course, our sentries waited for it to explode or fizz or burst into smoke or some such devilry. The sergeant near it looked at it very carefully through a telescope.
While he was looking Turkish hands must have come up and waved and then a cautious head. A head-on our side went up too, and gradually a line of heads on each parapet; and before the sergeant knew what was happening the man next to him had climbed up on to the parapet and stepped round the netting and into the deadly area between the trenches and was bringing back the packet. It was a small packet of cigarettes. In it, scrawled in indelible pencil and in badly spelt French, were the words, ‘A Notre Herox Ennemis’ (To our heroic enemies ).
Of course, some return had to be made, and so our men threw over a tin or two of bully beef. Presently back flew a piece of paper wrapped around a stone. It read ‘Bully beef non.’ After that, we threw some sweet biscuits and a tin of jam. Other cigarettes came back. I have seen some of them. They had on them the same penciled writing, ‘Notre Cher Enemi’ or ‘Femez – probably meant for ‘Prenez – A Vee Plessir’: that is, “To our dear enemy – ‘Take with pleasure’; another reads: ‘Envoyez Milk’ (‘Send us milk’).
Then one of them waved down with his hands and shouted ‘Fini’. And our men waved back, and down gradually went the two lines of smiling heads, and after a pause of a minute or two, the bombs began to fly again. They had begun at half-past 8 and they lasted until about a quarter past 9. The same courtesies repeated themselves the next morning. Dispatch, Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 13 January 1916, p.92
Duncan Chapman: July 8: I am at present seated in my Headquarters which in reality is a cubical cave dug into the ground about 8ft deep with some strips of galvanised iron + earth on top as a protection against bombs, shrapnel + stray bullets – but I am beginning to doubt the stability of it as occasionally at night I hear suspicious little noises as of bullets striking the opposite wall. Well, we have been here now about 11 weeks + have pushed well on into enemy territory.
Tpr Herbert Wilson: dated July 17 MC 6.9.15: I am still feeling fit but all the same I don’t care how soon everything is fixed up. We did get some scrapping to do. We were the first battalion to land and it rested with us whether the others got a good landing. However, we did everything that was asked of us, although we got a pretty bad time of it. The Turks use all sorts of rubbish in their shrapnel. One man got about 6 gramophone needles in his body and another got a safety blade in his lung. I wonder what they will use next. I suppose when they use all the needles they will fire the records and machines at us, and then we will have some music. Bob Hunter is still boxing on. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.
Duncan Chapman ( late June): We have firmly established ourselves now, and although the Unspeakable has made various attempts to dislodge us, and threatened to push us into the sea, his efforts have been abortive. He has come to respect the fighting qualities of the Australian and is now resorting to defensive measures, which, performed under the guidance of German Officers, are done pretty thoroughly.
Lt H. C. Harvey: On July 31, the 11th Battalion of the 3rd Brigade, supported by the 9th, captured a trench on ‘Turkish Despair’. Fighting was incessant throughout the day and the casualties were fairly heavy on both sides. The assault was preceded by artillery fire, lyddite, and high explosives from the shore batteries and a British destroyer. Six days later, on the morning of the costly attack on Lone Pine on August 6, the Turks counterattacked the trench and gained a footing for half an hour but eventually were driven out with severe casualties, and in the end, the Australians took complete possession of the whole ridge known as Bolton’s Ridge. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.
Confidence in British command ebbs
As regard for the Turkish soldiers grew, confidence in the British command on the peninsula was ebbing.
British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett viewed the whole affair as a debacle and doubted any headway could be made. He confided in his diary: ‘I feel certain the military authorities out here are concealing the truth from the authorities at home and they will not tell them the real facts about the situation because they are afraid they will be withdrawn altogether and then goodbye to the K.C.Bs, K.C.M.Gs, and all the other damned Gs and peerages they have in mind. But this is only playing with a great question when the whole safety of your country is at stake. But our leaders in the field are very little men. That is the trouble.’
Nearly all Anzacs enlisting in the Great War considered themselves British as well as Australians and New Zealanders. About 35% had been born in Britain or Ireland; of the rest about 98% were of British or Irish origin. Their experiences in Egypt and Gallipoli had started to expose distinct Australian and New Zealand characteristics. Disillusionment with the old school British leadership was growing.
The Australians shrugged at British camp regulations. Their commanding officer, Lt Gen. William Birdwood, told Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener that although his Australians were A1 in attack they were curiously callow and negligent. He feared a heavy night attack ‘as I cannot get the men to bestir themselves and hurry up to repulse an attack at once’.
Dr Geoffrey Partington was later to write: ‘The Australians were usually distinguished by boldness in attack, the British by discipline in retreat. The New Zealanders were widely thought, not just by themselves, to possess both Australian and British virtues in warfare.’
But in 1915, they all, first and foremost, considered themselves to be soldiers of the Empire.