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The Captured German Ships in Egypt and the Dardanelles.

The Great War developed with unforseen rapidity in a period of eleven days, from the delivery of the Austrian note to Serbia on 24 July 1914, to the general outbreak of hostilities at midnight on the 4 August. This sudden onset found a large number of German vessels in, and en route to Australian ports, evidently the German Admiralty was unprepared for the catastrophe precipitated by the Austrian ultimatum.

The vessels caught in Australian ports on the outbreak of war were distributed as follows:
Sydney Brisbane Adelaide Newcastle

Sumatra Canstatt Iserlohn Linden
Melbourne Prinz Sigismund Sydney Luneburg
Pommern Ulm
Westfalen
Germania


The North German Lloyd passenger steamer Seydlitz, moored at Circular quay, Sydney, cancelled her Australian itinerary, and cleared for Antwerp direct leaving port on the 3 August. The Eisass, moored at Woolloomooloo, cleared out a few hours before the deadline, without pilot tug or clearance, knocking down portion of the Woolloomooloo baths in her haste. Both the Seydlitz and the Eisass got clear away, turning up later in neutral South American ports.

The North German Lloyd vessel Pfalz left Melbourne for Sydney, early on the 5 August, and was proceeding out of the Heads shortly after noon with a pilot on board. When midway between Point Nepean and Queenscliff, a shell fired from the fort fell twenty-five yards astern of her, much to the consternation of all on board. This was the first shot fired by Australian forces in the war, and took place only two hours after declaration of war in London, but owing to the difference in time, occurred at noon on the 5th in Melbourne.

Captain Kulkhen was disagreeably surprised, but stopped his ship immediately, whereupon he was boarded by an armed naval party under Captain Richardson, the District Naval Officer, who took possession of the vessel, and ordered her return to Hobsons Bay. This new vessel was indeed a valuable prize being of 6557 tons register, and valued at 95,000 [pounds sterling], she had a deadweight capacity of ten thousand tons, and was capable of twelve knots.

The Austrian vessel Turul and the German Westfalen left Melbourne on the 4th August, and were interned on arrival at Sydney. German vessels without radio, and unaware of the outbreak of war continued to arrive at Australian ports, the Griefswald arrived at Fremantle on the 6 August and the Sharzfeis at Adelaide on the same day. The DADG liner Hobart, in charge of Captain Paulsen arrived in Melbourne on the 11th, and the Lothringen on 15 August. The master of the Lothringen was rather uneasy, but Capt Strickland the pilot naturally did not disclose that Britain and Germany were at war. It was not till the armed naval party boarded at Portsea that the German crew became aware of the international position. The vessels Hobart, Pfalz and Lothringen were anchored off Williamstown with naval guards comprised of naval trainees the local naval authorities controlling the vessels.

The Black German Neumunster was intercepted at sea off Fremantle by the Australian cruiser Pioneer, and was brought into Fremantle on 16 August with a naval prize crew on board. The Altona under Captain Hurwitz arrived in Port Phillip from Lisbon direct on the 21st and was stopped and seized off Portsea, this vessel had a cargo of 364 standards of timber. The Black German vessel Berlin arrived and was seized at Sydney on the 22nd, the small German vessel Signali from the islands put into Brisbane on the 23rd followed in the same port by the Zambesi from Nauru on the 20th.

The Hansa liner Wildenfeis, from New York to Melbourne under Captain Probst, arrived on 18 August and was seized at the Heads. The Thuringen coming from Antwerp to Fremantle direct was taken on 28 August. The last German vessel to come to hand was the North German Lloyd steamer Hessen, which entered Port Phillip Heads on 3 September, nearly a month after the outbreak of war. Captain Reiners was astounded, stated there was no sign of trouble when the ship left Antwerp on the 19 July. This was a fine vessel of 5108 tons register, loaded with a valuable general cargo, she had averaged nearly twelve knots on the outward voyage round the Cape direct.

Altogether 25 German vessels, and one Austrian fell into Australian hands, with valuable cargo comprising machinery, equipment for the Geelong cement works and other industrial projects. Twelve of these vessels were in port at the declaration of war, with 14 subsequently arriving. The total gross tonnage of these vessel was in excess of 120,000 tons, which was an indication of the large and growing Australian trade with Germany that amounted in value to 4.5 million [pounds sterling] imported, and 6.8 million [pounds sterling] exported, in the 1912/1913 financial year.

The Sumatra docked in Sydney was the first vessel to be requisitioned, and sailed with the New Guinea expedition on 2 September under Captain Cutler, with Mr O'Gallagher from Cockatoo Island appointed as Chief Engineer. A special Prize Court was set up to deal with the legal aspect of these seizures, and also to decide on the knotty problem of the delivery of manifested cargo to the consignees in the various states. Each state manifested a reluctance to permit the departure of vessels from its legal jurisdiction until all questions of financial responsibility had been settled. Individual orders were made out for vessels to sail to ports of discharge, some vessels sailed under their German crews, with naval guards on board, but this was soon altered and the majority proceeded with Australian personnel.

A few of the vessels including the passenger vessel Prinz Sigismund were handed over to United Kingdom authority, the balance remained under Australian control. The larger vessels including the Pfalz, Hobart, Hessen, Sumatra and Melbourne, were classified as suitable for troop transports and given the prefix `A' and a serial number, the balance were allotted as cargo vessels and given the prefix `C'. After the completion of; discharge of cargo at the various ports, the work of fitting out the troop carriers was actively undertaken, some like the Hessen were fitted out for the carriage of horses with over 400 horse stalls being installed.

The aid of the Merchant Service Guild, Engineers Institute and the Seamens Union was enlisted by the naval authorities to assist in manning these vessels. In Melbourne Captain Richardson appointed Olaf Manning, local Guild representatives Marine Superintendent. Captain Manning undertook the multifarious duties of providing crews, storing vessels and turning them into active units ready to assist the Australian war effort. After a stay of several weeks in Melbourne I contacted Captain Manning and asked for a position on the transports. He arranged an interview with Captain Richardson at Port Melbourne and I received an appointment as 4th Officer on Transport A45, formerly the Hessen, in mid January 1915, getting prior consideration owing to former service on HMAS Pioneer as a naval trainee under the compulsory scheme.

I joined my new ship at Victoria Dock where I found her a hive of activity, Cone Bros, Contractors of Port Melbourne were completing the installation of horse stalls, additional cabins on lower bridge and bridge deck, canteen arrangements in tween decks, and various troop amenities. The Hessen was a shelter deck vessel, with tween decks and small well deck for'd, built in typically strong German manner, she had quadruple expansion engines. Her lines were bluff and square, saloon and quarters rather meagre, substantial cargo gear working five hatches; she sat in the water with an appearance of great stability. Doubled off along side was the A7 formerly the Scharzfels and later known as the Conargo, which was transhipping some 3,000 tons of lead concentrate into the A45 for ballast.

The A45 was commanded by Captain Ronald Arthur Thomas Wilson, known everywhere as `Rat' Wilson, an ex BI commander with the florid complexion of a bottle a day man, a cold blue eye, and a moustache that varied from the waxed to walrus type.

Augustus E J Clutterbuck was the Chief Officer, ex P&O, a rather lantern jawed individual with a prominent nose and a hearty guffaw. The second officer was Alan Johnstone, ex Union Company, whose alleged motto was, `Its better to be a live sonofabitch than a dead hero'. Alan was a handsome boy, and a great lady killer, with a fund of witty anecdotes and a great social manner. The third was Malcolm McLeod from Stornaway, a Hielantman with the Gaelic accent, known on the coast as Scar McLeod.

The Chief Engineer was N Wilkinson, for many years associated with Buchanan & Brock, he had lately returned from a job as Harbour Engineer at Colombo. Wilkinson was a rather short very dark complexioned man with a healthy growth of whisker, good-natured and liked his glass in Anglo-Indian style; Armstrong, the second, a burly Tynesider; and Berry, the third, a good-natured lowland Scotchman with a twisted smile. The fourth engineer was a brother of the chief, without the Anglo-Indian veneer; the donkeyman was the chief's father so the engine-room was family concern.

The installation of the wireless was proceeding under the direction of Baisillie, Chief of the Commonwealth Wireless Service, a genius who designed the Baisillie quenched spark, which was an improvement on the Telefunken with Marconi equipment. This gentleman had the greatest frontal development of the forehead that I have ever seen, he closely watched and directed the installation which included the provision of compressed air from engine room to quench the spark. He was assisted by Mr King Witt the Radio Officer who was to proceed with the ship, the Assistant Operator Norman Gilroy(1) who came down to join the ship from Sydney was a youth who was to make his mark in the world.

The A45 was scheduled to transport the 2nd Reinforcements of the Field Artillery, and arrangements were under way for the accommodation of 410 horses and 150 artillerymen.

Norman Farrell, who had left Howard Smith's where he was employed as a purser, was to take up-a similar capacity on the A45. Norman was busy making financial arrangements with the Navy Office, which included the supply of a good number of gold sovereigns for eventualities of wages and supply abroad. Considering the lack of precedent, the organisation of the Transport Service proceeded with speed and efficiency. The motives of self-preservation and aid to the mother country in a time of national emergency brought out qualities of improvisation in the supply of goods and services previously not obtainable in Australia. The national pioneering character demonstrated its virile adaptability in a country not then overburdened with bureaucracy. The compulsory military and naval training scheme, only then in its third year, formed a solid foundation for the war effort. It had certainly proved a wise and timely provision.

Within five months the captured German vessels had discharged their inward cargoes at the various ports, had been fitted out and adapted for their various duties, including coastal trade, and had become a valuable asset in the nation's economy.

On 24 January the cattle trains commenced debouching artillery horses at the Victoria Dock siding alongside the A45. The officer commanding the troops, Major O'Brien, came down with naval and military brass for inspection of the vessel and conferences with the Master, but the whole business went through with little fuss. Thousands of bales of fodder were loaded into the orlop decks. Horse ramps led down to the tween decks and the advance guard of tough bushmen handled the horses expertly. Nevertheless it was a difficult task to embark and accommodate the horses in their respective stalls, but it was accomplished in two days.

On 27 January 1915 the vessel left Victoria Dock, officers, troops and horses all settled in their respective quarters. Our orders were to rendezvous off Cape Otway with the other vessels of the convoy, which consisted of the BL vessels Machobra and Chilka and the Clan McGillivray. We assembled with much exercise of flags, and took station astern of the Machobra, in what was destined to be a long and hard chase. Whether or not the former German crew of the Hessen (now A45), before leaving her, had effected some disability on the main engines, the Australian crew could not secure the speed the vessel had exhibited for her former owners. It was hard work to average ten knots, and that was the convoy's speed. A45 soon trailed astern. Engineer Wilkinson blamed the Australian coal, which quickly sooted up the fire tubes.

The passage across the Bight was uneventful, but the horses began to die from constipation, diagnosed by the vet by post mortem examination. The supply of Epsom salts was inadequate. We were routed direct for Colombo, but off the Leeuwin, after having lost ten horses received permission to proceed to Gage Roads to procure the aperient. A tender brought out several tons of the salts, the remainder of the convoy meanwhile hove to off Rottnest Island. At that time the whereabouts of the German cruiser Nurnberg was unknown, since she had bunkered at Honolulu, this occasioned some apprehension on the passage to Colombo.

My watch-mate Clutterbuck always appeared nattily dressed, and with the inevitable P&O telescope tucked under his arm. After clearing Fremantle we found that Rat Wilson after his matutinal inspection with Clutterbuck, Major O'Brien and Farrell and the ceremony of fixing the noon position left us to our own resources. Rat did not touch the bottle till the sun was over the foreyard and always remained master of the situation with great dignity. Farrell had established a wet canteen down the tween decks in No. 1 Hold, the lucky discovery of several large demi-johns of German run down the after peak formed a source of great revenue at 1/- per nip.

The A45 sailed through warm muggy days and calm seas, when the horses drooped in their stalls, the soldiers stripped to their buff carted water in buckets, a never ending task watering the horses, the clank of buckets was a day long symphony. Passing Aden the light breeze died. At Perim a stale heat from the desert enervated the ship's company, and the firemen's shovels rattled loudly on the stokehold plates for the trimmers coal. As the vessel's speed slackened, Wilkinson's voice could be heard arising from the fiddley encouraging and coaxing, but there was no draft, the smoke arose vertically, and the ship's plates became hot to touch.

Every day we progressed up the Red Sea five or six horses died. The vet was busy with purges and wore a worried air. Nicholson, the bosun, directed a stream of water from his hose over the steaming decks and the horse stalls in an effort to cool things down. The dead horses went overboard, and the sharks followed astern, shoals of thein, a welter of fins and lashing tails when a carcase was dumped.

Passing Jebel Teir, that bare volcanic outcrop, the mirage danced on the horizon. The mate's sights, due to the refraction, placed the vessel on top of Mount Sinai, we told him he was not Moses leading us to the Promised Land. Past Daedalus, Zafarana Ras Gharib Shadwan we crept up the Gulf of Suez, where in the evening a cool breeze crept down from the north.

We drew into Suez Bay on the early forenoon of 4 March 1915. On our port hand was the amphitheatre of the desolate mountains. Right ahead were the masts and funnels of a concourse of ships, fronting the palm trees and low white buildings of Suez. The anchor chain stampeded down the hawse pipe with a clatter and banging and the vessel shuddering brought up. The silence could be felt as the engines beat ceased after our long journey. The skipper and the CO troops went ashore hastily in a picket boat, which had come alongside to clear us. `Got to land these horses before we lose any more', said the Major, `we have lost over forty since leaving Melbourne'.

The bumboats drew alongside with their tarbouched hucksters, lemonade, confectionary and oranges piled in their stern. Clutterbuck added to the comity of the nations by instructing the bosun to turn the hose on them. Welcoming cries were turned to Arabic curses, imprecations, and threatening gestures. The mate excused himself, `biggest lot of bloody thieves in the world', he said, `pinch the eye out of your head'. But the soldiers were eager for fresh fruit and their first contact with the Arab. `Let them come alongside Mr Mate'. Clutterbuck yielded to force majeure, and soon there was a busy trade, the goods drawn up in baskets.

Shortly after noon the order came to berth at Port Tewfik. We proceeded into the barren uninviting harbour with the sandy foreshore, low flat roofed godowns and a few scraggy palms. The scene was one of military activity, sandbagged trenches, piles of ammunition and fodder stacked on the quays, sentries patrolling. We had reached the perimeter of the war area.

Alexandria Disembarkation

Our soldiers were in high spirits at getting ashore, the work of disembarking the horses began. They were assisted by a shore detail, the horses were difficult, being in a stupor with the heat and confinement. Tethered in horse lines at the quayside, they brightened up at the feel of terra firma, neighing, stamping and snorting, and feeling the atmosphere of their new surroundings, the end of the road. The following morning the troops disembarked, once again in uniform, they formed up for inspection on the quay and marched away, destination Mena Camp.

Orders came for the vessel to proceed to Alexandria. Leaving Port Tewfik, we passed into the Canal. The elaborate sandbag fortifications on the East bank arrested the attention, the work of months in parapets, embankments, buttresses and redoubts. These honeycombs were tenanted by an army of soldiers, who faced towards the terra incognita of the Sinai desert. They were stripped to the buff, burned with the sun, and greeted the passage of the ship with cheers and songs: a remarkable translation from the factories and mills of Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, and the mines of Wales and Northumbria, they seemed happy with life as sandboys, as indeed they were.

As we approached El Kantara, the scene of the Turkish attack on 3 February, the military activity was intense. Huge piles of stores and fodder were stacked on the bank among a labyrinth of sandbagged defences. Armies of Arab labourers toiled amidst these supplies, the remains of the Turkish barges were stranded on the canal banks. Our vessel bunkered at Port Said overnight, the scene out of Dante's Inferno, the Arabs covered in dust and clad in rags ran up the ramps from the coal barges urged on by an overseer with a whip. The strange Arabic chants came right out of antiquity.

After a night passage along the Delta we approached the harbour of Alexandria, the first landmark the conspicuous tall tower of Ras El Tin Lighthouse where the Pharos once stood. The sheltering crescent of the breakwaters enclosed a flotilla of men-of-war, liners, transports, tenders and store-ships. They were anchored in echelons in front of the inner-harbour and the white walls of the sultan's palace, the blue Mediterranean was scarcely ruffled by the afternoon sirocco. The picturesque triangular sails of the native feluccas dotted the harbour, a large grey battleship lent an air of stability to the scene.

The A45 joined the idle fleet, which had waited for many days upon the juncture of events at the Dardenelles. We anchored in the outer harbour, alongside an old friend the Clan McGillivray, detained here too, awaiting the march of events. The date of our arrival was 10 March 1915, also of my majority, which was celebrated, in suitable fashion. There were no orders for us. The A45 was to remain at Alexandria. The issue, which detained the ships, was whether the fleet that was bombarding the Dardanelles could get through without the army.

A period of halcyon days succeeded, the weather was cool, tempered by a warm sun, the harbour scene was full of interest and the days past in a pattern of routine and speculation. The highlight of the morning was the arrival on board of the ship chandler Moses and his entourage of clerks and assistants. Moses was a fat elderly Egyptian, of great prestige and dignity, he was clad in flowing cotton robes and an embroidered surcoat, which could not conceal his enormous stomach. His tarboosh surmounted a cotton skullcap, revealing a crafty face with a prominent nose, a ruddy complexion, which was always covered with beads of perspiration. Moses controlled the supply of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. He ordered his servants about with the air of a pasha.

Farrell and the hirsute elderly steward met him at the gangway, he greeted them with many Saieedas and bows. Escorted to the Purser's cabin, secret conferences then took place, the purport of which was communicated to Rat Wilson later. In the afternoon the bumboat came off, laden with fresh provisions, and there was much checking and chaffering by the commissariat staff.

Alexandria was in ferment, filled with Australian, British, French and Indian soldiers. The cafes, curio shops and bars with the Rue de Ramleh were doing a roaring trade, the bars were full of Australians in slouch hats, shirt sleeves rolled up. They skylarked around in carriages. The town had the atmosphere of a glorious spree. The foreshadowing of impending great events created an atmosphere of exhilaration and excitement.

Our wireless operators, King Witt and Gilroy went on the even tenor of their technical way. Johnston, the second mate, who knew Gilroy was of religious inclination, badgered him with risque stories, but Gilroy preserved an imperturbable countenance and was not to be drawn, though sometimes his blushes were apparent. We soon found that the protective aegis of Moses was helpful ashore. Bailed up one night in the region of the Street of the Seven Sisters, the mention of his name secured us an unmolested passage through the purlieus of the Arab quarter.

Towards the end of March there was a quickening tempo in the port of Alexandria. Transports arriving from England and Lemnos berthed in the inner harbour, where day and night activity proceeded in the bestowal of cargo and military equipment ammunition and stores. On 28 March the two radio operators, Farrell and myself, received permission to visit Cairo. We left by rail from Alexandria and were excited to see the enormous bulk of the pyramids lifting over the desert as we approached the city. A guide was selected from a milling mob of applicants at the railway station. He was provided with a fly whisk, a voluble tongue and an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient and modern Egyptian history.

We travelled in the pyramid train to Gizeh, along the tree-lined route, importuned by sly grog sellers and an army of mendicants. As one Australian soldier expressed it:
 Cairo took your breath away, at every step a hand stretches out to drag men
 off the straight and narrow way. Annoyed by ninety nine sellers of oranges,
 walking sticks, scarves, cigarettes, mirrors, sponges, hair brushes and
 fountain pens, all at double their value, the soldier was likely to be
 annoyed at the hundredth. There were upset trays of merchandise, and flows
 of pungent Arabic. In spite of warnings the cheerful Australian could not
 assume the English indifference to the native.


Our first stop was at Mena House for refreshment, here we saw an ice cold spring and a swimming bath in a beautiful oasis. The hotel was low flat and long, had one foot in a garden, the other in the desert, lines of horses were tethered under the gum trees. Our first project was to visit the Sixth battalion at Mena Camp, we finally located the Toorak boys, Paddy McDowell, who had a black eye from a fracas on the previous day, Charles Downie, Greenwood, and the Pratt boys, exhausted after the military review by Sir Ian Hamilton. None of these soldiers were interested in our design of climbing the pyramid of Cheops, so after exchanging news of home we left them preparing their equipment for imminent departure from the desert camp.

The climb to the summit of the great pyramid was exhausting in the heat, as the stone blocks were high, even when carefully guided by the athletic Arab expert who knew the easiest way. The reward on reaching the apex was a magnificent view of the Nile Valley, there was a distinct line of demarcation between the green of the cultivated and the sands of the desert. Unauthorised excavations conducted by Australian soldiers at the foot of the great pyramid could be clearly seen.

In the distance we could see the Mokattam Hills, where Cheops slaves had hewn the stones we now stood upon, close at hand the bulk of Chephren and Myercerinus. Gilroy's deep brown eyes were thoughtful as he surveyed these relics of an ancient belief. The Magnificence in decay of these ancient and prodigious monuments evoked in us all a feeling of wonderment and a sense of insignificance at our own fleeting and ephemeral existence. I had a coincidental meeting in this unlikely spot with Sergeant Charles Tivendale of the 7th Battalion, last seen in the trainee ranks at Armadale Victoria.

Our pyramid guide offered to descend the great pyramid and climb the pyramid of Chephren, within half an hour, for the sum of twenty piastres. We paid the sum and within a few minutes he could be seen toiling up among the alabaster blocks to wave triumphantly to us from the summit of the neighbouring pyramid. Descending we mounted camels and were photographed in front of the Sphinx, annoyed by sellers of ancient scarabs, made in Birmingham.

We returned to Cairo in the late afternoon, as the warm haze became a cold mist, pink turned to grey, a cool breeze danced out of the desert. The muezzin was calling the faithful to evening prayer as we left the mosque of Mohammed Ali, and gazed at Napoleon's cannon balls embedded in the walls. Our full day was rounded off by dinner at Shepheard's Hotel and a visit to the notorious Wasr to view the scene of the memorable battle on 14 February when hundreds of Australian and New Zealand soldiers had cut loose. There were burned houses and broken windows and an atmosphere of constraint.

The departure from Cairo by the night train was marred by the action of our dragoman. His effusive friendliness changed to one of enmity. He was paid forty piastres for his day's efforts but was dissatisfied and spat in the purser's face through the carriage window as the train moved out.

Our peaceful stay at Alexandria came to a close on 8 April, when the A45 was ordered into the inner harbour. The quays here were in a condition of great military activity, working day and night, piles of stores and equipment of all kinds being loaded onto a variety of vessels, ranging from Atlantic liners to Greek tugs. Piles of fodder lay at our berth, and were quickly loaded, railway trucks from El Kantara brought alongside the ammunition train and the guns of the 26th Indian Mountain Battery. The vessel double bottom and peak tanks were now washed out and refilled with fresh water.

We now learned that our role was to convey the Mountain Battery, with its personnel, mules, guns and supplies to an unknown destination. The embarkation of the mules, which had been supplied largely from Argentina was a difficult task, conducted by an advance guard from the battery, under the command of an English officer of tho Royal Artillery. Four hundred mules, stubborn and sometimes vicious, lashing out with their heels to the peril of the bystanders, were shepherded up the ramps, and disposed in the various stalls.

`Rat' Wilson, our venerable commander, was meanwhile attending many secret and august conferences but little information was vouchsafed to the rank and file. The Egyptian Gazette seemed well informed and quite uncensored and from its pages we learned our destination was the Dardanelles. Some of the Arab labourers informed us that Enver Pasha in disguise was watching the whole proceedings.

The loading of the Battery and its equipment took three days. On the morning of the fourth, the regiment arrived by special train, and their embarkation proceeded with parade ground precision. The unit was commanded by Major Bruce, his adjutant, two captains and two lieutenants, all of the Royal Artillery pukka Indian Army. The Battery was composed of 50% Sikhs and 50% Mussulman, a physically fine body of men, with great respect for their officers. The officers wore turbans with the Royal Artillery badge and motto Ubique and everything was done by rote.

We left Alexandria on the afternoon of 12 April to run immediately into a hard northerly, which persisted to Cape Pasonisi at the eastern end of Crete. Our soldiers suffered from mal de mer. The wind was cold and consistent, raising a choppy sea, which eased gradually as we approached the island of Lemnos. The A45 entered the narrow channel leading to Mudros Harbour and we beheld a great assemblage of ships dispersed at anchor round the land-locked bay some four miles in extent. We flew with great pride an eighteen foot blue Australian ensign, with the white stars. Passing the battleship Queen Elizabeth at the entrance we saw this flag being regarded with great interest by officers on the quarter deck, It was the first time the southern cross had been displayed in these waters, our vessel being the only Australian in the armada. Shortly after we anchored, a picket boat from the Queen Elizabeth came alongside and a midshipman hailing through a telephone instructed us to haul down the Australian flag and hoist the red ensign.

The first impression of the anchorage was the martial calls of the bugle. From the reveille to the last post they resounded around the basin of the harbour evoking moods of reminiscence, resolve and nostalgia. Two hundred ships had assembled here, a great maritime spectacle. They ranged in size from the 20,000 ton liner Minnewaska, down to small Greek tramps and caiques. Th Arcadian, the headquarters ship, was moored over near the small village of Mudros. Near the entrance, great lines of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, among them the queer lines of the Askold known as the packet of woodbines from her five perpendicular stacks. In adjacent anchorages were the vessels Novian, Galeka, Clacton, Lutzow, Derrflinger, and the vessel Manica formerly of the Bucknall Line, now transformed into a balloon ship.

The beauty of the Aegean spring transformed the aspect of the harbour after some days of inclement weather. The sea was limpid blue and the hills merged into the cerulean vault. There was a sense of timelessness and unreality, especially at sunset, when the hills changed their colour and the panorama was transfigured and foreshortened. The harbour was lively with invasion barges, provision and picket boats and native craft moving amongst the ships, the Taube from Constantinople paid its daily visit high in the sky above the white bursts of shrapnel.

Major Bruce and his officers sat at the saloon table, waited on by their batmen, each with his own whisky bottle, the beverage was taken with meals in medicinal doses. They discussed the hazards of the forthcoming campaign for which they had no precedent, with some dubiety. Our wireless operators, King Witt and Gilroy, inveterate diary keepers kept their own counsel. They listened nightly to the bulletins from the Balkans, Nauen, and the occasional scrapings from the Goeben and Leipsig on some affray against the Russians in the Black Sea.

The 6th and 7th Battalions of the AIF were embarked on the Galeka, a passenger vessel of the Union Castle Line; the vessel was tightly packed with troops, who welcomed the landing exercises and mock attacks conducted on the barren terrain of Lemnos Island. Our own Indians practised their lively assembly of the screw guns, which carried on the pannier of the mules was put together in incredibly short time. Some of them were also exercised in boat work, the Sikhs adapting themselves readily to work in the lifeboats, learning to pull oars in European fashion.

Several days after our arrival, Johnston, the second mate, received permission to volunteer for active service with the naval command. Manning a lifeboat with Sikhs, their beards garnered in nets, Johnston and I proceeded on the long pull across to the Arcadian where he intended to proffer his services. Our arrival at the accommodation ladder of this vessel excited some little interest from the unusual nature of our boat crew. Hailed by the quartermaster we explained our business and were permitted alongside. Johnston proceeded aft to the poop for an interview with Commander Keyes. He returned in half an hour and stated that his services had been accepted, and he was to be appointed to command a naval tug. A farewell party was given the night before his departure at which Johnston, an expert raconteur, was pitted against the Sandhurst and Poona humour of the Adjutant. Johnston barely sustained the honour of the Australian coast, his large fund of stories limericks etc. being outmatched by his military protagonist. The Young man from Bahia Blanca, and all the time-honoured whimsicalities were recounted with his usual pungent and facetious manner, but they were outdone by the smart and brilliant humour of the adjutant.

Johnston's new command came alongside the A45 the following day, She was a small and elderly tug, which had been acquired in the Pireaus, her name the Vincent Grech. Our shipmate transformed into a Lieutenant RNR went aboard taking with him several Australian seamen from our crew besides a lot of stores and equipment he had persuaded Capt Wilson and Farrell to part with. They departed flying the white ensign under the admiring eyes of the ship's company to unknown adventures.

A few Mohamedan soldiers were not happy about attacking their Moslem brothers, the Turk. The Sikhs, on the other hand, were indifferent who they fought, as long as it was the orders of the British Raj. Major Bruce said they would follow their officers anywhere, and so for that matter would the Mussulmen, but they had some religious qualms. The handsome young Subadar Rakool Singh, well educated, with innate good breeding came to my cabin and talked to me about the issues of life and death. I asked him about his attitude to the forthcoming conflict. He was imbued with fatalism. `Yes sahib', he said, `The Lord Krishna instructed the great warrior King Arguna, who hesitated to destroy his enemies in battle through compassion. Learned men grieve not for the living, nor for the dead. He who thinks it to be the killer, and he who thinks it to be killed both know nothing. It kills not, is not killed, unborn, everlasting, unchangeable it is not killed when the body is killed. Weapons do not divide it, fire does not burn it. Therefore you ought not to grieve. Having regard to your duty you ought not to falter for there is nothing better than a righteous battle! A man does not attain freedom from action merely by not engaging in action, nor does he attain perfection by mere renunciation. This is the teaching of the Lord Krishna.'

The occasion was the departure of a large number of transports on 23 April. They filed slowly out of harbour to martial music from the French fleet. All knew the hour of decision was at hand. I wondered what faith or philosophy sustained my young friend Gilroy at this Juncture, he was certainly tranquil and serene.

I was desirous of seeing my friends of the 6th and 7th Battalion, before their departure. So early on 24 April manned the lifeboat with the Sikh crew and rowed over to the Galeka. A sea of faces looked down at us as we pulled alongside. On deck, the soldiers were packed, equipment everywhere. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The soldiers good-humouredly assisted, Downie, McDowell, Pratt, Tivendale, the cry went up and down. They appeared from the lower deck, no time for more than a word and a clasp of the hand, `See you in Constantinople' they said. The Galeka's deck officer interrupted our greetings, `Sorry sir, you'll have to leave, were getting under way now'. The young Australian soldiers appeared exultant at the prospect of action. They were in fine physical condition and eager to go. As we pulled away, they gave us a cheer, the anchor was being hove up, and the Galeka began to move on her momentous journey.

Our captain had attended several conferences on the Arcadian at which he had received his secret instructions. In accordance with these, shortly after my return from the Galeka, we hove up anchor at proceeded out of Mudros Harbour. It was sunset and the anchorage was now almost deserted. We had a rendezvous at Kephalo Bay on the north side of Lemnos, where we arrived at midnight and joined several other vessels all darkened down. It was a beautiful calm night. Course was then set for the Gallipoli Peninsula at reduced speed. I turned in at midnight and shortly before 6 am was awakened by the crash of twelve-inch guns close alongside.

Hurriedly dressing I rushed out on deck, the sun was just rising over the land, which appeared three or four miles away, and we were proceeding at easy speed. It was difficult to orientate oneself off a strange coast, with a large number of ships, some already in position close up again the land, the balance moving in to their appointed stations.

Captain `Rat' Wilson was on monkey island. From this vantage point he conned his vessel through a confusion of ships, frequently consulting a plan that indicated his correct anchorage. He exhibited great equanimity. The salvo which had awoken me passed close over our heads from HMS Queen. Our vessel had passed close inshore of her station abreast of the line of fire. As the sun gained height, the scene could be described as sombre, magnificent and unique. In the words of the soldier poet Sir William Hamilton we are witnessing a spectacle that would be purchased cheap by five with years of life.

Looking into Anzac Cove we see a steep front broken into innumerable ridges, bluffs, valleys and sandpits covered with thick shrubbery and dominated the savage hills of the Kilid Bahr Plateau. McLeod and I were on the bridge, working the telegraph to the master's instructions we reached a position about a mile and a half from the beach, and close to Gaba Tepe. Asiatic Anne, a long range Turkish piece located on the Asiatic shore now commenced action, with a peculiar hissing noise as from defective casting several heavy shells passed over the ship causing McLeod and myself to cower behind the telegraph. Clutterbuck, who had experienced an anxious two hours vigil on the focsle head was glad to let go the anchor and make his way amidships. The time was now approximately 7am.

The battleships London, Prince of Wales, Majestic and Triumph now joined the Queen in a heavy twelve-inch bombardment. The ridges of the hills sparkled and eruptions of brown smoke from the lyddite shell like miniature volcanos. HMS Bacchante, a four funnelled cruiser with a pugnacious aspect, had poked her snout well inshore of us, close up to the small promontory of Gaba Tepe. She then commenced a terrific cannonade against the headland the sharp reverberations of the 9.2 guns with were harder on the ears than the more ponderous roll of the twelve-inch batteries from the old battleship. Gaba Tepe was plastered almost incessantly. Columns of smoke earth and fire rose and surrounded the headland, but in the lulls the rat tat tat of machine gunfire and the continuous crackle of musketry could be heard.

The Mountain Battery now made ready for departure. Major Bruce was clearly anxious for action. However, a trawler arrived alongside informing us that owing to congestion on the Beach, it would be several hours before our lighters would arrive. The stream of traffic lighters and boats towed by naval pinnaces and trawlers proceeded apace. Looking ashore through the telescope we tried to estimate the scope of our advance. It was pretty to watch the pure white shrapnel bursts, pirouetting gracefully over the beach and down the gullies, they exploded with a hollow sound, like corks being drawn. The scrub was on fire towards Gaba Tepe, and a column of smoke trailed away to the south-east. A few spent bullets buzzed over the ship.

At 10 am, the lighters came alongside, and the process of off loading the mules began. Lifted by the ships gear with belly straps, they protested with squeals and bellowing. Officers and troops, dressed as though for parade departed from the ship. With guns, ammunition, accoutrements, camp gear, signalling apparatus, and our fervent good wishes, they towed away towards the beach. We never saw them again. The Adjutant was left with 100 mules, and detail of signallers and attendants. They set up their heliograph on monkey island, and maintained watch on the shore.

The absorbing spectacle of the battle claimed our attention. With optimism we expected the advance to continue right over the ridges, to cut the peninsula in half. The sounds of the rival cannonade fire, at Cape Helles thundered in the south. Swathed in smoke, and outlined in flame the Peninsula shook. Towards evening the sound crescendoed into a continuous rumble with occasional earthquake shocks when the Queen Elizabeth's batteries went into action at Seddul Mahr.

The Baccahante continued an intermittent bombardment of Gaba Tepe, throughout the afternoon and evening. On the northern flank the London and the Majestic swept the ridge. As darkness closed down the Bacchante searchlight came on like a silver pencil transfiguring the headland. On the northern flank a destroyer, which had crept close in, performed the same office. The ghostly shrapnel bursts resounded hollowly against the hillsides, and momentarily lit up its white vapour. They had the appearance from the sea of candles being lighted and suddenly extinguished.

HMS Queen was in charge of our sector, under Admiral Thursby signal lights flashed and picket boats danced busily around her, it seemed apparent that a crisis approached. The beach as darkness fell presented an appearance of chaos, towards the south east the town of Krithia burning sent a huge column skyward and southward, it was outlined underneath with a dull red reflection and looked like a funeral plume over the Peninsula.

The emotions of the day have exhausted everyone, conjecture is rife, there is little news beyond what we see, and so retire to sleep, if we can, in the strange environment. On this critical day the crew had behaved very well, and had undertaken onerous and extra duties without complaint. Nicholson the Bosun, and Willie Ratter AB, both from the Shetlands were especially valuable in handling stubborn mules and assisting the troops. Captain Wilson revealed himself as a tree Briton, conned his ship in with great skill, and took personal risks with sang froid. The Bulla moved out of artillery range and remained at Gallipoli for another three weeks as a store ship. She returned to Australia and later served in the North Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

(1) Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy (1896-1977) Catholic Archbishop of Sydney (1940-1971) see Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 14 pages 275-278.
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Title Annotation:Australia in WW1
Author:Guthrie, Gus
Publication:Sabretache
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:7290
Next Article:National Service in South East Asia.
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