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The Turkish Offensive

The Turkish Offensive
Queens ParkMaryborough, QLD 4650

Turkish May offensive: The Man with the Donkey dies and another legend is born

‘You couldn’t have bought a loophole for a quid’

‘Every man always had a good word for your son, as he was always so happy’

Before dawn on May 19, more than 40,000 Turkish soldiers amassed in valleys. Mustafa Kemal had orders to drive the Anzacs into the sea but aerial reconnaissance by the RNAS gave the Anzacs warning of the coming assault. During the night a crashing barrage of shells was hurled at the Anzacs in what Charles Bean recorded as a roar like that of a great stream over a precipice.

Waves of Turks were slaughtered in no man’s land by pre-dawn hails of Anzac bullets. Fresh waves staggered around and over the bodies of dead and dying comrades. At Courtney’s Post, Turks lobbed bombs and leapt into the Anzac trench. The breach was critical and initial attempts to retake the positions failed. After diversionary bombs were thrown, alone Anzac hurtled into the trench to kill seven Turks and capture three. A legend was born as the fearless 22-year-old Victorian timber worker, Private Albert Jacka, recaptured the trench as dawn broke, earning Australia’s first Victoria Cross of World War I. Jacka was to be awarded the Military Cross and bar at the battles of Pozieres and Bullecourt in the next two years.

Lt Frank Ross: On the 19th, 20th and 21st May, the Turks tried to drive the Australians into the sea, and lost 7000 in the attempt. During this attack, Jimmy Byrnes was killed while engaged in bringing ammunition from the beach, by a carefully hidden gun which sweeps the whole of our beach and is commonly known as ‘Beacher Bill’. It killed and wounded about 500 of our men. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.

Major W. C. Harvey 20.06.15: You have no doubt read of the wonderful storming of the cliffs on the part of the Australians on 25th April. We are in the same place as where we landed, waiting for the British and French troops to come up from Cape Helles. The enemy have several times attempted to drive us into the sea but unfortunately for themselves, they did not know what stuff the Australians are made of. I shall never forget the memorable 19th May, when they approached our trenches to within 50 yards, chanting a weird sort of cry, ‘Yaller, yaller, yaller,’ but we stuck to it and they lay in thousands in the front of our lines. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.

Jack Daniels: On May 19 the Turks attacked about 3 o’clock in the morning in 4 lines, and the Australians “tuned” them up properly. It was a job to even keep our supports out of the trenches, and you couldn’t have bought a loophole for a quid. It was a difficult matter to curb the ardour of the Australians that day. After 3 attempts the Turks were repulsed with heavy loss, it being estimated that they lost about 5000 killed and 15,000 wounded. When they retired their guns opened suddenly on the Australian lines, along which it was reckoned they threw about 17,000 shells in 3 hours. It was here I lost my mate, Archie Biggs, as fine a fellow as ever donned the King’s colours. I chummed up with him at Enogerra and we had stuck together all through. A high explosive hit a tree stump about 12 yards in front of me and struck my comrade, who fell backwards in my arms dead. That, I think, cut me up more than anything else. Just a second before he had said ‘It’s a bit hot here Jock, but we’ll have a good time when we get back to Brisbane.’ M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.

Herbert Wilson, 15.03.16, sent to Mrs W. F. Zarnke, Wondai: It was on the 19th May when your brave son Albert met his death. I was in charge of a party of 15 men of the 9th Battalion, carrying ammunition to the firing line. The Turks were making a desperate attempt to break our line and our position was shelled very heavily and we had to cross the ground in full view of the Turkish guns. We managed to dodge the shells until we reached a spot known as Casualty Corner, when a well-aimed shot killed four and wounded five of our small party, one of the shrapnel bullets striking Albert in the heart. I was a couple of feet away from him at the time. Death was instantaneous. It’s a wonder any of us were left to tell the tale. On the night of the 20th, a number of your son’s mates gathered around to pay our last respects to one of our brave heroes while he was being laid to rest. Every man in the tent always had a good word for your son, as he was always so happy, even while we were risking our lives on Gallipoli he was always smiling. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.

About the same time as Albert Zarnke died, not far from Casualty Corner a man leading a donkey was killed by a shrapnel bullet to the heart. John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a stretcher-bearer who had used a stray donkey to help carry wounded men down the cliffs, died in Shrapnel Gully 24 days after the landing. A few weeks later Charles Bean wrote a colourful report of the fatalistic man with the donkey that caught the imagination of Australians back home. Myths grew and a portrait of ‘Simpson and his donkey’ became an enduring symbol of Gallipoli. Simpson (pictured holding donkey) was not the only stretcher-bearer using donkeys to bring down the wounded. It is thought the famous portrait is probably modelled on New Zealand stretcher-bearer Richard Henderson.

Albert Zarnke of Wondai was one of 160 Anzacs killed and 468 wounded in the May 19 assault but more than 3400 Turkish soldiers lay dead and more than 6700 had been wounded. With thousands of Turkish bodies rotting between the trenches, an overpowering stench and warnings of disease, shooting stopped uneasily the next day. Envoys were blindfolded and led to enemy trenches: four days later a formal truce allowed the Anzacs and Turks to bury their dead in shallow graves. Nine hours later the truce ended and the eerie quiet was shattered again by shells and bullets.