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 Letters from Gallipoli

Letters from Gallipoli

From Malta

24/7/1915

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Murray,

I received your welcome letters while at Gallipoli about 2 weeks ago. I was pretty sick (dysentery) at the time so have been unable to write until now. Since then I have been sent to a military hospital at Malta. Under the skilled attention & exceeding kindness of the nurses here I have almost recovered & hope to be back at the front again shortly. You can scarcely imagine how delightful it is to be here after 3 months of continuous fighting and being under fire. There seems to be a great calm prevailing, everything here away from shell and rifle fire.

I think the first 6 weeks spent on Gallipoli will be indelibly stamped upon my memory. As you probably know we were lying in Mudros Bay the Isle of Lemnos for over 3 weeks before the landing on that memorable day, the 25th April. I was on the H.T. “ClAN McGILLVARY” and shall never forget the night of the 24th-25th when, precisely at 11:30p.m., the order was given to sail. I was doing signalling duty on the bridge & immediately sent the signal to the flagship “Under Weigh”. It was a beautiful night, typically Mediterranean. I never remember noticing the stars being so bright. The moon was about half full & set about 2 in the morning. We arrived at our destination about 2 o’clock. Shortly afterwards the landing commenced, the 9th Bn. having the honour of being the first. Not a sound was made, men boarded the little business-like destroyers or barges, in which case they were taken in tow by steam pinnaces, and off they started for the shore, with bayonets fixed.

A short time after they left a light was seen to go up from the shore, a few minutes later rifle fire commenced (from the enemy) above which could be heard the steady rat tat of the machine guns. You know now what happened after. Anyway, about an hour afterward, the pinnaces came back with their tows – many of them filled with wounded men. This was the first taste of Turkey and I can assure you I for one felt very queer. It isn’t a very pleasant job taking wounded on board. However I had to take my watch on the bridge from 8a.m. until 12 noon that morning. I had been on duty (with Bert Redpath) about 2 hours when “plump” and a large fountain of water went up about 100 yards ahead of us and we knew the enemy big guns from the forts were trying to get us. A few minutes later another dropped just astern &, having 3-1/2 million rounds of ammunition on board, the skipper decided it would be healthier for us if we moved out a bit further.

A little while later H.M.S. “TRIUMPH” and H.M.S. “MAJESTIC” took up position about 200 yards from us and the cruiser H.M.S.”BACCHANTE” about 400 yards. Well, Mr. Murray, I shall never forget being so close to warships in action again. My word! I never heard such a noise in all my life; they were firing broadsides and it seemed as if they literally shook the world.

By nightfall what a sight our ship presented, wounded lying everywhere, but somehow or other I did not seem to mind now. I must have become quite callous. We worked all night (excepting my watch) doing what we could for the wounded. I’ll never forget our wounded boys. I can honestly say I never heard one groan, just “Have you got a cigarette, mate?”, or “We gave ‘em hell”, and, do you know, when my O.C. said next morning “Get your 300 rounds of ammunition and stand by to get ashore”, the thoughts of our wounded lads pulled me together and I felt I didn’t give a damn for all the Turks on the Peninsula. However we got ashore without anything worse than a few rounds of shrapnel, without losing a man. The next 3 or 4 days 50 of us were kept upon the beach unloading stores & ammunition. During this time the Turks kept up an incessant shrapnel fire upon the beach but, however, the “BACCHANTE” stood in one morning and blew the Turkish guns that had been shelling us to pieces. My word, Mr. Murray, you don’t know what we owe to the “Good old Navy”.

On the following Friday night we had orders to “fall in” to go to the firing line, as an attack was expected that night. You can imagine our feelings as we proceeded up the Gully in the darkness, not knowing in the least where we were going excepting that there was a big chance of having our first dinkum go with the Turks. However we lay behind the trenches all night with the bullets flying over our heads. In the morning we were taken further up the Gully to rejoin our Battalion. On the way up Bert Redpath & I were detailed for duty with the Telephone Section. I have been with that Section ever since. The position we had in this Gully was very bad for it was commanded by two hills occupied by Turkish Snipers and they levied a very heavy toll upon us. Being linesman in the Section, my work necessitated by constant knocking about keeping the lines in repair and now, I look back upon that 6 weeks, I feel that God in His great goodness took special care of me.

We had only been on this job a few days before Bert Redpath was shot through the side. David, you don’t quite know what the feeling is to sit down by a chum & just wait. The same night, just afterwards, another mate – he had come to take Bert’s place in my “dug out” with me, got it between the shoulder blades and just above the heart.

The next day my Sgt. & I were out on a job & the enemy got a machine gun on us – how we escaped is nothing short of marvellous. The Sergeant had a finger shot off and a bullet in the palm of his hand and out at the wrist. I have had men shot all around me, yet I am well. I am indeed thankful.

I went over to see Bill McDonald twice but could not find him, however I shall have another try when I get back. It is very difficult to find anyone here. The 2nd Rfs. of the 13th have lost very heavily and at evening I often sit down & count up the boys of the old Company who will be left behind. I was with the 13th in their last fight at Quinn’s post.

It is very pathetic to see some of the little graveyards. There is one grave I shall always remember – at Quinn’s post – a wooden cross marks the spot made out of packing case, inscribed “In loving memory of twenty nine brave soldiers of the King”. Such is war.

After this 6 weeks continuous fighting, our brigade became so decimated that we were sent over to another Gully to rest & reorganise. Out of our original strength of 5,000 men I do not think we could muster more than 1,800, so you can imagine we had some stirring times.

Still, Mr. Murray, I am glad I came. It has been an experience I shall never forget & I do not think I should have ever forgiven myself had I stayed behind. Our task is not finished yet, for when we have beaten the Turks, we still have the Germans to crush and maybe many of our Australian boys will “lay down their lives” in France or Germany but one thing you can rest assured upon is that they will uphold the high standard that they have set up here. The Turk is by no means to be despised, he is a [a break here where the letter is torn]. I think he is much better than the German [a break here where the letter is torn].

Now I am about to write the children a few lines.

I frequently here from home. They at least are pleased that I came away to fight for the Old Land.

Now goodbye for the present, with best wishes for a bumper crop & good health, both to Mrs. Murray and yourself to say nothing of the children.

Believe me to remain,

E.W. Pennell
God Save the King

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