Annie’s Secret-8

Chapter 8

Hayden was busy every day, delivering equipment to farms or driving out to give quotes and advice.  Annie stayed at the Customs House, answering phone calls and keeping track of sales and expenditure.  It wasn’t long before they had sold most of their stock.  Hayden needed to return to Sydney to attend another Disposals Sale.  As Jack was the local agent for TAA he suggested Hayden fly to Sydney and so save himself a long and tiring drive.

Before he left he came home one night carrying a notebook.

“This is fascinating reading.  When Jack was in the war he kept a diary of what it was like. Do you realise how precious this is?  He writes about Gallipoli and France and all the things he saw and did.  I promised I would treat it with the utmost care and he said I could borrow it for a couple of weeks as long as I didn’t burn the house down.”

For the next two nights he was so deeply wrapped up in the book that Annie felt he may as well be in Sydney already.  But when he left she felt bereft for it would be a week before he returned.  Each day she guarded the shop but the nights were long and lonely.  Flipping through a much read Women’s Weekly she looked for something else to distract her.  Jack’s diary sat on the table beside their bed so cautiously she opened the worn and faded cover and began to read.

Gallipoli 1915

When it hit, the bullet felt like a kick from a horse.  I staggered in the sand and then examined my hand, which appeared bloody and mangled in the intermittent light of the bullets.  I must find my ring, my shocked brain insisted.  My fingers moved when I tried them and I slowly realised the blood was coming from elsewhere.  My hand was intact.  It was somewhere in my upper arm where I had been hit.  The dressing station was higher up, above the beach so I climbed towards it, taking care to avoid further bullets. Waiting my turn, a cup of Bovril in my good hand, I listened to the cheerful chat around me as soldiers made light of their injuries.  There was a sense of unreality as they were all wounded, most in considerable pain.

A doctor examined my upper right arm, plugged the hole and wrapped a bandage around it.  I was able to walk to the barge, carrying my ticket proclaiming my injury, treatment and future destination.  A pinnace towed our barge to a trawler on which the patients were hauled or carried.  This in turn motored out to the hospital ship, SS Reiwa.

I lay in my improvised bunk on the ship wondering when it was going to leave Anzac Cove.  Now I was wounded I wanted out.   I wasn’t invincible but I was alive.  I thought back over the last ten weeks. 

We’d all been so keen to get here.  The first lot of Australians and New Zealanders had returned to Egypt, bloody and wounded.  There was an air of bravado and pride that they had been there, fought the Turk and lived to tell the tale. My Brigade was champing at the bit.  Eventually it was decided we would follow the 1st and 2nd Light Horse to Gallipoli, even though it meant leaving the horses behind to an uncertain fate.

The arrival at Anzac Cove on 20th May was a waiting game. We crowded the decks looking shorewards, hearing the rumbling of heavy artillery and watching the flashes of the guns. It was almost as if we were viewing a fireworks display.  What we were witnessing was the battle of Quinn’s Post which resulted in the deaths of one hundred and sixty Allied troops and many thousands of Turks.

Machine gun fire was still strafing the beach as my mate Derby and I made a dash to shelter, using a broken boat to make an emergency dugout. However, some time later an eerie quiet took place as both sides ceased fire to bury their dead.

I started my army career as a Driver in the 3rd Light Horse Train but my duties were now far removed from driving a horse wagon loaded with ammunition.  With a new dugout on the hill below the Ambulance tent I spent six weeks unloading and distributing goods from the barges.  The 3rd’s role was largely defensive but still extremely dangerous. Up until I left, 1600 men had been killed in the area of the Ordnance Store alone.

I went to war thinking that you stood in a trench firing at the enemy until you were shot or the enemy was defeated. Instead it looked like chaos, albeit organised.  There were people running in various directions, all with roles to play, amid bursting shells, bullets, bombs and flares.  The fact that men swam in the waves of Anzac Cove under fire, ran up and down the dirt tracks for water and exercise, with a complete disregard for the rain of bullets, was amazing to a newcomer like me.

My mates and I often sat on the path above our dugouts admiring the view. If a shot was fired we would jump straight down the cliff and roll, in most cases miraculously missing the bullet. It was exhilarating to see the warships bombarding the Olive Groves and Achi Baba but on 25th May something happened. Our ship “The Triumph” became the target.

A huge column of water burst up from her side.  “She’s been hit!” called one of my mates. We watched horrified as the ship began to list. Men jumped into the sea, rescued by numerous small boats racing to the scene.  Strangely the world became silent as the Turkish artillery stopped to let the rescuers do their work.  After twelve minutes the ship capsized, her green underside showing briefly before she slid to the bottom of the sea.

As summer approached the conditions became unbearable, but there was no choice but to adapt.  The stench of fallen bodies continually filled the air and the flies!  Never had I seen so many flies.  They bred in the dead bodies and in the open, stinking latrines.  They stuck to the food and added unwanted  protein and crunch to the unsavoury fare.  They crawled in every orifice in their search for water. And the lice! I sat outside my dugout in the altogether, trying to outdo my mates in finding the most “grey backs”.  Washing was out of the question.  The small amount of water allocated was reserved for drinking. Swimming in the sea could be a date with a bullet.  I would have welcomed active duty rather than trudging up hills carrying water and supplies. It was considered by us all to be “stopping work to carry bricks”.

Clothing had become minimal.  Trousers were cut down to become shorts and mostly shirts were removed.  Only a pair of boots and a slouch hat protected us from the elements.

It was common practice for our men on Ordnance to occasionally drop a case on its corner so that it would break open and the contents would fall into the sea.  Under cover of darkness we would dive down to collect the few tins to supplement the daily rations.

I was returning along the beach one night when I saw a senior officer approaching.  I hastily shoved the tin of treacle inside my shirt.

“Wonderful evening, lad.  Makes you think of home, what with the beach and the surf.  Even Johnnie Turk is quiet for once.”

“Er, yes, Sir, reminds me of the coast at home in Victoria.” I suddenly became aware of a strange sensation around my stomach area.

“I come from Sydney, myself.  Cronulla Beach was my favourite haunt.”

By this time the treacle had reached my shorts and was advancing slowly, like lava from a volcano.  Soon it would be trickling down each leg.

“Excuse me Sir, I have to report to the Ordnance Store.”

“Of course, don’t let me hold you up.”

With that I ran into the cover of darkness and began to remove the offending sticky mess.  Sand and salt water seemed ineffectual and it took many days of fighting ants and flies to feel normal again.

Annie shut the diary and closed her eyes.  She imagined the young Jack suffering from his wounds and lying in the hospital ship.  She had never thought about the logistics of war.  She visualised men shooting at the enemy but hadn’t thought about how their ammunition arrived or where their food came from. 

Hayden was due back soon and she must have a talk to him about the unpaid accounts.  Lots of people owed them money and more was going out than was coming in.  Finally she fell asleep, only to dream of running down a hillside desperately avoiding bullets which ricocheted around her.

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