Gallipoli Eyewitness

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 26-Sep-2014

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 Review by WAYNE PROUDFOOT

 

 

Gallipoli Eyewitness


The diaries and photographs of Lieutenant Gerald Moore Gibson
 

by Robert Gibson and Steve Kendall







 “The whole earth is ploughed by the exploding shells and the holes are filled with water, and if you do not get killed by the shells you may drown in the craters. Everybody is rushing, running, trying to escape almost certain death in this hail of enemy shells. Today I have seen the real face of war.” Hans Otto Schetter, WW1 German soldier.

It has often been said that war dehumanises us, dulls our senses, that the sometimes iniquitous nature of war makes the insane seem mundane. Personally, I don’t subscribe to this theory. I believe the sometimes bland, almost matter-of-fact manner in which some veterans of early 20th century wars describe their experiences is both a connatural characteristic of that generation and a desire to recount their experience in a factual and sincere manner.

This is especially true of the World War 1 diaries of Lieutenant Gerald Moore Gibson which have been faithfully reproduced in Gallipoli Eyewitness. To me the details in this book epitomise the character of a generation of young men from Australia and New Zealand, the ANZACs, who were sent to fight not only at Gallipoli, but on other WW1 Battlefields; Fromelles; the Somme; Bullecourt; Messines; Passchendaele and Villers–Bretonneux, collectively known as the ‘Western Front' in France and Belgium.

Born in Essendon in 1891, Gerald was a cadet manufacturer when he joined the AIF in September 1914 at the age of 23, and posted to the Army service Corp (ASC) as a lieutenant. Formed shortly after federation, the ASC were responsible for, amongst other things, food, transport, mail and petroleum. When disbanded in 1973, those duties were taken up by the newly formed Royal Australian Corps of Transport (RACT) and Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC).

Gallipoli Eyewitness is made up of 2 parts, being 2 distinct diaries, the first based in Egypt, the second Gallipoli. Alongside the diary entries and photographs, written in the margins, is detailed historical data pertaining to the events, equipment and people Gerald references.  Researched and produced by historian and journalist Steve Kendall, these notes give context and meaning to what might otherwise seem vague or nugatory entries.

The first diary gives us a real insight into Gerald’s roll within the ASC, from ferrying dignitaries around Cairo, to organising vehicle repairs and ensuring his automobile, a 14/16-horsepower Clement-Bayard 1909 model, which he shipped to Egypt and presented it to the AIF, was in good running order.

Egypt, being a staging point, meant there was a great deal of uncertainty as to where Gerald and his company would be sent. On March 3rd, 1915 Gerald wrote:

“With the reports and statements demanded from headquarters, it looks as if it won’t be long before we go off. I think now as the Mena people appear to be going to Turkey and they look as if they will be going before us, that it could easily be possible that this division might be going to France”

While the first diary paints a vivid picture of what life was like in Egypt at the time, colonial attitudes and all, it’s the second diary, the Gallipoli diary, which had the most impact on me.

Arriving at Gallipoli on May 13, 1915, Gerald’s life was about to significantly change, and so too the tone of the diary, but during this time Gerald lost neither his sense of humour nor his Matter-of-fact style. His first glimpse of Gallipoli from the deck of his ship was recorded thus:

“Things seem a little messed up and we don’t know where our brigade is… The hills were very misty in the morning though we could hear firing; at 8 o’clock the mist cleared away and we could see the troops’ homes and tents on the slopes leading down to the water and every now and then we could see shrapnel bursting in the valley between the two ridges”.

As he took up his post on the Gallipoli Peninsula we learn firsthand what everyday life had become for Gerald:

May 23rd: “We ran a little short of water this morning and the Major put me in charge of the water issue all day. We had some rain last night and the day mud makes a great mess; one can hardly walk up the hill”…

May 28th: “Things have been very quiet up at the firing line. These quiet times are always ominous. We have heard for the last two days there is going to be a general offensive shortly. I suppose it means more big losses of life”.

June 13th: …”I often think of the fuss that was made over the  charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. I guess that will never more be thought of now as there is a Balaclava nearly every day in this war”…

June 28th: …”The heat is trouble and combined with the flies and shrapnel we are not having a tea party at present”.

July 19th: …”We might be attacked soon as this is the month all dead Turks go to heaven. I think we will be glad to help them on their way”.

Gallipoli Eyewitness is a compelling read. The almost surreal nature of Gerald’s writing, combined with the detailed historical notes, makes for a greater understanding of a conflict that saddens, humbles, and at the same time uplifts us all.

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

Ataturk, 1934

 

Available from Dymocks Bendigo and www.pbpublishing.com.au/book.html
 

 

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