Yesterday was Anzac Day, but in Perth where I am we were restricted to driveway dawn services at our homes. But I took the opportunity to re-read the first part of The Desert Column (I have 3 copies - the page numbers are from the 3rd impression 1932 - but I think the A and R editions have the same numbering) - detailing Idriess's experiences at Gallipoli.
Idriess arrived at Gallipoli on the SS Lutzow, a captured German transport (not to be confused with the German battlecruiser, SMS Lutzow!) on the evening of 18th May, 1915 - some three or so weeks after the initial ANZAC landings on the 25th April - but he didn't make it to shore until the 20th May (p.5). He witnesses the armistice to bury the dead on 24th May and the sinking of the Triumph on the 25th (pp.18-19) and then the Majestic is sunk on May 27th (p.20) - both torpedoed by the German submarine U-21. He recounts the story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick (pp.15-16 - I will do another post on this) and is a sniper with Billy Sing. He is wounded twice and is away hospitalised from 2nd June until 28th August and from early September, and then doesn't re-join his regiment until after the withdrawal from Gallipoli.
Idriess highlights the larrikin attitude of the Australian and New Zealanders (he calls the latter En Zeds, not Kiwis); their bravado in the face of death. "Our landing party is ready. What oiling of rifles; excitement; laughing and swearing. . . " (p.5). Their boat came under fire as they attempted to get ashore: Idriess records, "Someone laughed loudly. Lots of us laughed, some smiled, some shouted derisively advising the far-away Turks where to aim " (p.7).Two infantrymen were cooking their breakfast, ignoring shellfire until the last minute when they grabbed their pots and ran. "We all laughed," said Idriess (p22). They get the Turks to shoot at a bulleye (p.54) and they imitated sheep (p.41). Idriess refers to the Australians not saluting officers (p.67) while in Cairo when convalescing (in his diary entry, 19th February, 1916), in which he writes, "We are getting it hot about not saluting officers in the street. A man would need an automatic arm. We have been told, too, that the disgraceful Australian soldiers will not be allowed to go to France if they do not salute officers in the street. Bow-wow!". While at a convalescent home, Idriess makes contact with girls in a harem next door (pp.64-66)! He mentions bathing at the beach, under gunfire (pp.18, 20-21) and a humorous!? incident when Gus Gaunt runs the gauntlet, "To see Gus running naked from the beach, trying not to spill a bucket of water while Turkish bullets hastened his feet, was really moving - likewise his language" (p.46).
There is endurance under hardship. The bullets, the bombs, the shrapnel and shellfire, the wounded and the dead; the dirty, miserable conditions. Idriess records (p.55), "We are right in Lone Pine now and the stench is just awful; the dead men, Turks and Australians, are lying buried and half-buried in the trench bottom, in the sides of the trench, and built up into the parapet." There are maggots everywhere; he tries to eat biscuit and jam, but the flies are overwhelming (p.55).
There is mateship. Idriess is wounded in his knee and it gets infected, but the man in the dugout next to him shares his dinner with Idriess and helps him (pp.28-29). He is saddened when mates are killed or injured - all too many - like Corporal Noisy (p.28), Allan Williams (p.39), Bates (pp.49-50) and King (pp.59-61). He refers to "my mate" and "my new mate" (p.58) and he is happy to have his mate Gus Gaunt with him on the hospital ship and then at hospital in Alexandria (pp. 61-62).
There is another side. After describing the sickening state of affairs in a trench at Lone Pine, idriess ironically says, "What ho, for the Glories of War!" (p.56). He says, "War is a sickening thing" (p.21). When he sees soldiers forced to drill in the open when there is enemy fire about and a shell lands in their midst, killing and wounding a number of them, he says it was "a shameful, horrible thing", "tragic idiocy", a "Gawk Act!", and "It was a case of sheer murder. The officers responsible should be shot like mad dogs." While convalescing (September 21st) he says, "I wish the war were over. I am getting such a longing for the bush again" (p.62)
Idriess refers to the Australian spirit like this, "It was the old Australian spirit leaving Cairo and Alexandria yesterday. yelling and cheering, laughing and joking at the least little thing. That is the spirit that will never die" (p.40). It's funny, but I don't think Anzacs as such are mentioned by Idriess in this whole campaign - except for his inside cover map where Anzac Cove is named.
Let me finish with a reference to this spirit in a broadcast speech Ion Idriess made for Colonel Cameron on Anzac Day, 1936. I think this Col. Cameron is likely the Lt-Col. Donald Cameron who gives a recommendation at the start of The Desert Column (p.ix) and the Major Cameron referred to there-in (p.67, et. al. ). This Anzac day address was an item I saw in the Sydney Rare Book Auction February 13 - Lot 16 - unfortunately some other lucky person got this lot:
"For you are now heirs to the spirit of Anzac Day. A host died for an ideal which was you, that future generations of Australians might live and give all that is in you to help make the world a happier and brighter place. That is the Spirit of Anzac Day . . . That Spirit lies again in you."
LEST WE FORGET