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‘So long, Tom,’ was the answer at Lone Pine, ‘see you again in half an hour’.
‘… fourteen of our boys stone dead. Ah! It is a piteous sight. Men and boys who yesterday were full of joy and life, now lying there, cold – cold — dead –‘
Hours before the two columns marched north from Anzac on the dark night of August 6, the diversionary Battle of Lone Pine had begun, pitching Australian forces against formidable entrenched Turkish positions.
In sections securely roofed by pine logs, attackers had to break through from above to leap into hand-to-hand combat. The main Turkish trench was taken within 20 minutes but success was not long savoured: fierce counter-attacks brought four days of savage hand-to-hand fighting, more than 2000 Australian casualties (nearly half of the force), and seven Victoria Crosses. The Turks had about 7000 casualties.
Before the fighting began, Charles Bean described the scene as the New South Welshmen of the First Australian Brigade filed into the Australian trenches of Lone Pine.
‘The men chaffed each other drily, after the manner of spectators waiting to see a football match. Some belated messenger hurried along the trench to find his platoon, and, in passing, recognised a friend. “Au revoir, Bill”, he nodded, “meet you over there.” “So long, Tom,” was the answer, “see you again in half an hour.”
Anzac artillery bombarding the Turkish lines fell silent at 5.30 pm. Australians leaped from their trenches, charged across no man’s land. By 6 pm, after furious fighting, they occupied the Turkish trenches but the real battle of Lone Pine was just beginning. Reinforced Turks launched fierce counter-attacks to regain their valuable territory.
Edited extracts from the Anzac Portal, DVA, Australian Government, Gallipoli, and the Anzacs:
At Lone Pine fighting for both sides was all about throwing bombs across hastily erected barriers, dashing around corners in trenches and getting off a few rounds at the shapes of advancing men, slipping over the dead and avoiding the dying and wounded. The dead and wounded, according to Sergeant Cyril Lawrence of the 2nd Field Company, Australian Engineers, were impossible to avoid:
‘Right beside me within a space of fifteen feet, I can count fourteen of our boys stone dead. Ah! It is a piteous sight. Men and boys who yesterday were full of joy and life, now lying there, cold – cold — dead — their eyes glassy, their faces sallow and covered with dust … somebody ’s son — now merely a thing.’
The Anzacs fought to hold sandbag barriers hastily erected during their attack. Dozens of small-scale actions were fought on 7, 8, and 9 August to hold off the determined Turkish efforts to drive the Australians out of their new Lone Pine positions.
Typical of these actions was the one fought by men of the 7th Battalion, from Victoria, on 9 August. Lieutenant Frederick Tubb was in command of a captured Turkish trench and some of his men had been assigned to catch the Turkish bombs (grenades) and hurl them back before they exploded.
Gradually, these men were killed or mutilated. One of them, Corporal Frederick Wright, clutched at a bomb that burst in his face, killing him. Another, Corporal Harry Webb, described by Charles Bean as an ‘orphan from Essendon’, continued to catch bombs until both his hands had been blown off. He walked out of the Pine and died.
Tubb later described what it had been like:
‘Three different times I was blown yards away from bombs. Our trenches were filled with dead, mostly ours … We were glad to get out … I cannot write of details but many of our brave boys were blown to pieces. As fast as we put men in to fill the breaches they were out. I kept sending for reinforcements and bombs, all our bomb-throwers were killed and so were those that volunteered to fill their places.’
Conditions in Tubb’s trench got worse. Tubb himself was wounded and soon only two soldiers were left fighting with him — Corporals William Dunstan and Alexander Burton. A huge explosion virtually demolished their main barricade and, as Dunstan and Burton worked swiftly to rebuild it, Tubb covered them with his revolver. A bomb killed Burton and temporarily blinded Dunstan.
Reinforcements arrived from nearby: the barricade was held and not again seriously attacked. Tubb, Burton, and Dunstan all received the Victoria Cross. Seven Victoria Crosses and a host of other awards at Lone Pine signify the intensity of the fighting.
Early on 10 August, the ferocious Turkish counter-attacks ceased. Anzac casualties were 2000 killed, wounded, and missing; Turkish losses were estimated at more than 6900.
While the Australians held their gains at Lone Pine, one of the Turkish officers opposing them there, Major Zeki Bey, realised that this was not the main attack. He later told Charles Bean: ‘… all these days I had been looking over my left shoulder seeing your shells bursting on the rear slopes of Chunuk Bair … I knew things must be happening at Chunuk Bair which were more critical by far, and, if you succeeded there what use would be our efforts at Kanli Sirt [Lone Pine]?’