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No solid mass of bullets
About 200 ships, one of the largest armadas in history, gathered at Mudros Bay, Lemnos, to sail to Gallipoli on April 25. The British and French landed at Cape Helles, the Anzacs at what would become known as Anzac Cove. At Anzac, men were lowered into rowboats, mostly lifeboats, and towed toward shore by pinnaces before being cast off to row the last few hundred metres.
Australian war historian Charles Bean said that, contrary to the recollections of some, the first landing was not amid a solid mass of Turkish bullets and a cacophony of bugle calls.
‘Neither then nor at any time later was the beach the inferno of bursting shells and barbed-wire entanglements and falling men that has sometimes been described or painted.’
Turkish artillery was rushed to the high ground but did not start firing shrapnel until about an hour after the first Australians landed.
Men who were in Duncan Chapman’s boat were later to write matching accounts of their landing:
Scotty Speirs: As one of the oarsmen of the cutter that took us ashore on that memorable morning, I think I can claim to know something about it …. Lieutenant Chapman was the first man to set foot on the beach.
We got into the cutter from the Queen, and the four boats containing A Company, in common with the rest of the storming party, were taken in tow by a steam pinnace and taken as close as possible to the shore. Then she cast off and a few strokes of the oars put the bow ashore. Lieutenant Chapman was right forward, and hopped over, and was followed quickly by the rest.
Somewhere about 17 men were out of the boat before the first rifle shot rang out. They sure made up for lost time after that, for the air seemed pretty full of bullets for a bit. But we got there. I did not see Lieutenant Chapman till four days later when what was left of the 9th mustered on the beach.
Jim Bostock (Signaller): Lieutenant Chapman was in the bow of the boat (which was No. 1 tow) and I was crouched alongside him … my duty was to be in close contact with Lieutenant Chapman so that I could transmit or receive any messages. Glancing over the gunwale of the boat I could dimly discern the other pinnaces and their boat tows, always slightly behind and to the right of us. When the pinnace cast off we consequently had a slight lead and our No. 1 boat naturally maintained an advantage over the others as soon as the rowers commenced their work.
I can remember Lieutenant Chapman calling ‘All out!’ … and we immediately hopped over the side. I saw the Lieutenant’s silhouette as he hopped overboard and I followed him, in water up to our waists, and we scrambled ashore. I was Lieutenant Chapman’s signaller, and so I had to stay close by him all the time. As his orderly, with a pair of semaphore signaling flags in the straps of my back, I followed him on to the beach after our boat had grounded at 4.30 a.m. on April 25, 1915.
… I consider that I was the second man to land. It was whilst taking off my sodden pack on the beach that the first shot was fired, followed by the rattle of machine guns that swept the beach, and it was there that I saw the first man killed – young Courtney – who received a charge of machine-gun bullets across his forehead. I followed a charge up the hill led by ‘Jock’ Fletcher, and so commenced the Gallipoli campaign.
Scout Sgt Coe wrote that he was among the men who followed: ‘As Wilson of the Scouts was helping take off my backpack the first shot rang out … a pause … then seven more.’
By 6 am on the 25th the men who had climbed the cliffs at Anzac Cove were in possession of the First Ridge and advancing towards the Second. An hour later, some of the men had even got as far as Legge Valley and the Third Ridge but the promising advance was halted by the Turkish 27th Regiment led by Mustafa Kemal.