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The Experience of War: The Commonalities of Shared Experiences in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915

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The Experience of War: The Commonalities of Shared Experiences in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915

David Retherford

To what extent can the examples of individual testimony offer a sense of collective experience? The experience of war can only be understood through the commonality that is shared amongst all the participants.  Perception varies greatly from one individual to the next. What one may view as surrounded, may be seen as scarce to the next.  Therefore, it is vital to compile individual testimonies and find the universal commonality amongst them in order to formulate a collective experience.  With regards to the Great War, the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 was a comprehensive example of the collective experience of war. The commonalties of the experience of war included but were not limited to the relationship between officers and men, death and the lack of basic human necessities such as water.

The experience of war through the form of diaries, autobiographies, and recorded oral statements should be viewed as one of the more powerful tools of historians of military history. Alistair Thomson’s article, Anzac Stories, stated that some of the popular histories about the experience of war rely heavily on personal testimonies of the participants.[i]  Theses popular historians (such as Peter Hart) read the diaries and then extrapolated on the events in order to define the experience of war. These interpretative strategies of personal testimonies point to a different type of history and not just about what really happened.[ii] Reading the diaries that are written as the events are unfolding is the only way to understand the individual testimony to the experience of war. One such strategy is to find the common theme amongst the testimonies and then formulate an experience of war.

The following essay will illustrate that the individual testimony of the diverse nationalities represented in the Gallipoli Campaign when viewed through the kaleidoscope of their collective experience was a way to understand the experience of war. The Gallipoli Campaign on the straits of the Dardanelles galvanized the concept of coalition warfare which can be seen through the diversity of its members. ‘One of the most fascinating aspects of the campaign is the richly varied ethnic background of the Allied troops involved. There were English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Australians, and New Zealanders.’[iii] In reviewing the diaries from these participants, a common denominator was found among them: the relationship between officers and men, death, and the lack of water.

An in-depth analysis of the relationship between officers and men will be explored as it pertains to trust and morale.  Continuing with the morale theme, the experience of death in the Gallipoli Campaign will be viewed in the following aspects: shock of comrades’ violent deaths and the unburied dead on the battlefield. The lack of basic necessities such as water will be examined from a planning, logistical, organizational and statistical point of view. It is necessary to reiterate the importance that the lack of water had on the opening days of the invasion of the Dardanelles and the renewed August offense. Peter Hart simply summed up the experience of war in his work ,Gallipoli, by stating that ‘The true picture of war is a jigsaw puzzle made up of thousands of individual stories from men unfortunate enough to have experienced it.’[iv]  The experience of war has always been driven by human nature.

The interaction between officers and men illustrate and define soldiers.  For the purpose of this paper, a narrower view of this topic is in order.  Therefore, trust and morale between officers and men will be the focal points.  This notion of trust comes from the article, The Relation between Trust in the Supervisor and Subordinate Organizational Citizenship Behavior, written by Ronald J. Deluga.[v] Deluga stated that the supervisor requires the subordinate to exhibit extra production behavior and that the subordinate must feel that they can trust the supervisor. Success in military operations rely whole heartedly on trust. This trust is twofold: (1) the troops trust that their leaders will supply them with their necessities and (2) the leaders trust that the troops will follow their orders with integrity. Integrity in the military is a core value.  

With the baseline of trust and morale established between officers and men, a closer look at each individual role is appropriate.  S.L.A Marshall described in his work, Men Against Fire, that an effective ‘commander should appear friendly to his soldiers, speak to them on the march, visit them while they are cooking, ask them if they are well cared for and alleviate their needs if they have any.’[vi] In Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone’s diary, there was an example of an effective symbiotic relationship.  Malone had seen that his men were in need of tools to dig into their position. Malone sent his HQ staff to the beach to collect all the tools that his men needed while they remained fighting.[vii] This example clearly illustrated that his men had trust in their commander to provide the tools necessary for their success and safety. ‘Thus, the pattern of increased unit cohesion, motivation, respect for leaders, and organizational identification that would be expected when a unit's leadership team members are cohesive should also lead to more effective group performance.’[viii] General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, described in his diary an ineffective symbiotic relationship. Lieutenant-General Mahon (commander of the 10th Irish Division), upset by the fact of being surpassed for a promotion by a junior in seniority, abandoned his command while they were in the middle of combat.  Sir Ian Hamilton further stated that ‘a Lieutenant-General in the British Army chucking up his command whilst his Division is actually under fire- is a very unhappy affair.’[ix] This single act alone erodes the trust and morale that men have in their officers and organization. 

British infantryman Private Robert Lee described several times in his diary that the relationship between himself and a select few officers was wonderful. Lee dined on several occasions with a few different majors. This interaction with superior officers created a disproportionate reality and at times when reading his diary, it is easy to forget that there was a war going on.  It is these relationships and leaders that drive morale and engaged the troops to fight on.  Lee’s morale was maintained at a high level throughout his entire diary. This level of personal engagement strengthens the trust, fosters an increased morale among the troops and strengthens the bonds of unit cohesion. The relationship between officers and men is one of give and take.  The leaders expected the enlisted troops to perform on the battlefield. Whereas, the enlisted troops expect the leaders to provide basic necessities.

The discussion of death as it relates to the experience of war will be twofold: (1) the sheer shock of their comrades being killed on an industrial scale and (2) the immediate fallout from the dead and unburied on the battlefield.  Death is a universal experience shared by every living entity on the earth. No other experience of the human nature comes close in comparison or is as absolute as death. Death favors no flag over another.  ‘Among the most unforgettable of the early impressions of those who survived their first days on the Peninsula was the sight of these 7th Battalion casualties lying for several days unburied on the shoreline or in the stranded, waterlogged boats.’[x] Graphic scenes similar to this one can be found in the majority of diaries regarding the Gallipoli Campaign.

In a recently discovered diary written by a young Turkish officer, Lieutenant Mehmed Fasih, in the 5th Imperial Ottoman Army, a detailed description of the death of a fellow comrade can be read. This death shook him to the core.  Fasih stated that the ‘loss of such a solider upset him greatly’[xi]. Fasih had already witnessed several deaths, but they did not affect him to this extent. Fasih stated that ‘as I gaze at his face, my sorrow overwhelms me so that when I throw into the grave the first handful of earth, I break down. Allow my tears to flow freely and terribly upset.’[xii] The psychological impact of continuous exposure to random acts of violence that result in death and maximum carnage take their toll on the human psyche to an unmeasurable precedent.

The baptism by fire that was especially endured by the Anzac had a particularly devastating effect on the rank and file in regard to death.  In Tom Richard’s book, Wallaby Warrior, he described the following scene in a first aid clearing station on 21 July 1915. ‘At Dr. Butler’s there was a fellow who complained several times of weak, nervous attacks. But the doctor only grumbled and called him a shirker. This evidently bothered the patient very much and it was a very unfair accusation. The outcome was the fellow blowing his head off with his rifle today.’[xiii] Clearly this scene contains the characteristics red flags of modern day post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) which can manifest due to continuous exposure of death on the battlefield.  This is a highly misunderstood and overlooked condition.

After the initial shock of the first experiences of death, the soldiers on both sides of the trench began to take stock in the tragic number of unburied troops that neither side could reach. After four weeks of continuous fighting, there was an agreed armistice on 24 May 1915 from 7:30-4:30pm to clear and bury as many bodies as possible.[xiv]  There was already an alarming number of troops on both sides falling ill to viruses contracted from unhygienic conditions on the battlefield.  In George Mitchell’s diary, he stated ‘we were on debatable ground. I have grown blasé with strange sights but the novelty of this impressed me more than anything else in this war…Mixed parties squatted together exchanging cigarettes etc. The Turks and their officers were frankly friendly.’[xv]  Lieutenant Colonel Malone stated that it was an awful sight; however, it lacked dread and awe.[xvi] The purpose of this one day armistice on the surface was the morale of the troops on both sides demanded that the leadership step in and allow the burial of their comrades. The deeper purpose was to clear the battlefield of bodies that left unchecked would evolve into bigger problems such as diseases (dysentery, influenza, and typhus) that could potentially be contracted by drinking contaminated ground water.

Turning our attention to the experience of war as it relates to the necessity of water throughout the entire Gallipoli Campaign.  Mainly, the focus will be three-fold: (1) the preparations made prior to the invasion landing on the 25th of April 1915, (2) the depravity of water during the first week, and (3) the halt of the August offensive of 1915. In one form or another all the participants suffered from lack of water. Perhaps S.L.A Marshall’s statement summarizes the entire issue of lack of water. ‘There just wasn’t enough water on Gallipoli; most of it had to be brought in lighters from the Nile. A canteen per day per man was about the ration; in such heat it wasn’t one fourth enough to quench thirst.’[xvii]  Continuing examination around the issue of hydration will expose not only strategic failure of planning, but will also demonstrate the local tactical errors that occurred simply based on improper hydration of the soldiers.

Critical synthesis of the relationship of officers and men with the issue of hydration will now be analyzed. Operational orders issued by Lieutenant-General Birdwood of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on 24 April 1915 indicated that the troops should ration their water so as not to deplete it early in the day.  Once a solider starts drinking, they cannot stop and their water bottle will empty quickly.[xviii]  General Birdwood’s statement was made to drive the well-being of the soldiers with regards to hydration.  According to John Gallishaw, an infantryman, ‘the first night we went into the firing line we were issued about a pint [.5 liters] of water for each man’.[xix] This simple, but critically important fact retained trust of the men upon the officer and their leadership and helped to preserve unit cohesion. The Australian official Historian C.E.W Bean in his work, The Story of Anzac, further illustrated the lengths that Birdwood went to provide the necessary tools for his troops to be combat effective. General Birdwood had the foresight of proper planning to combat the issue of hydration.[xx]  His troops had a sufficient amount of water because of the arrangements he had made to bring water from Egypt to the landing.  Birdwood made logistical measures to have kerosene carriers shipped in with the ammunition and other war necessity supplies. These kerosene carriers were utilized to supply water to the troops until operational infrastructure was in place.

Statistical data will now be reviewed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a person requires a minimum of 3 liters of water a day, depending on climate and individual physiology, to survive.[xxi] Birdwood was the commanding officer of 30,000 troops.  A total of 80,000 troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on the first twenty four hours of invasion.[xxii] This would mean that a minimum of 90,000 liters of water (4,500 kerosene carriers) would be required daily for Birdwood’s troops alone, until further infrastructure was established.  The average kerosene carrier held 20 liters of water. This would mean that an astonishing 12,000 kerosene carriers would be required to sustain the entire 80,000 troops for one day of operations.

The amount of water calculated previously does not include water for personal hygiene. It was just shear potable water. Tom Richards, a stretcher barrier, stated in his diaries that ‘water is not at all plentiful and I’ve had to wash my underclothes in the sea water’[xxiii] Furthermore, Robert Lee concurred that ‘water is none too abundant and we have to send a fatigue party twice a day to get our bottles filled and the carts are a good way off so each drop has to be carefully considered before put to any use.’[xxiv] Forty eight hours after the initial invasion, the shallow wells produced enough water to sustain 25,000 of Birdwood’s initial 30,000 troops. ‘By the second evening [Birdwood’s engineering team] had sunk twenty shallow wells, which gave 20,000 gallons daily of good soakage water.’[xxv]  This of course did not take into account battlefield casualties from the initial invasion.  Even though, Birdwood had made plans to provide water to his troops; there was still a deficit of water to sustain the full force of them.  It took nearly a week for the firing lines to establish themselves and a rudimentary water resupply system began to take root. This fragile infrastructure would further sustain them into the next great offense in August.

On 6 August 1915, the British made plans to renew the offense with the goal of taking Suvla Bay and the Anzac taking Chunuk Bair. Winston Churchill in his work, The World Crisis 1911-1918, described the disposition of troops as follows: General Davies held the Helles sector with 35,000 men, General Birdwood held the Anzac attack with 37,000 men, and General Stopford held the Suvla attack with 25,000 men.[xxvi]  This made the entire offensive 97,000 strong. This would require a minimum of 291,000 liters of water per day. W.P. Braithwaite wrote an operational order to supply water to the troops pending disembarkment via mules with special 8-gallon water bags.[xxvii] This unfortunately did not materialize in a timely manner. There was simply not enough water to sustain this offensive for a successful attack. Arthur Beecroft stated in his diary that ‘we could not curb our thirst’.[xxviii] Beecroft further described that they were making great progress until the heat and thirst set in. Some of the wells on the mainland had been purposely contaminated and there was practically no rations of water.[xxix]  This was on the first day of the offensive attack.  The water shortage began to consume the troops’ thoughts to the extent of making them counterproductive.[xxx] By the end of the first day, Stopford had made the decision to postpone his offensive because his troops were tired and thirsty and he was unable to get water up to them.[xxxi] Lieutenant F. Howitt of the British 11th division gave a detailed description of a water barge that was landing and trying to unload twenty tons of water onto the beach within the first twenty four hours of the offensive.  The men rushed the barge with water bottles around their neck.  In their desperate attempt to obtain water and quench their thirst, they rendered the barge useless.[xxxii] Twenty tons was comparable to 20,000 liters of water which would roughly supply 40,000 men with .5 liters each. The preparations were implemented with the hope that there would be maximum execution and minimum resistance.  There were no contingency plans in place to prolong the supply of water to enable the troops to achieve their objectives in the renewed offensive of August.  The disintegration of water supply to the troops caused the offensive to grind to a halt because the primary group was not putting effective fire on the enemy. [xxxiii] From a mere statistically perspective of water, the offense would never take root and be successful.

In conclusion, the experience of war can only be understood through the kaleidoscope of individual testimonies. The individual testimony was important for the raw experience. One cannot read a single journal or diary and then formulate a collective experience of war. Each person has their own experience and opinions which can differ greatly from person to person.  It was prudent to mention that these experience can differ simply due to your geographical position on the battlefield and rank.  Private Robert Lee’s experience on the Gallipoli peninsula was an entirely different than that of General Sir Ian Hamilton. It was therefore essential to research several journals or diaries and extract the common themes that drive these experiences and extrapolate a collective experience.  Some of these common themes include lack of water and the relationship between officers and men. Sir Ian Hamilton had the responsibility to get water to the troops and Robert Lee had the trust in his leader to provide it to them.

The experience of death on the Gallipoli peninsula during the Great War was unforgiving, merciless, and unprejudiced.  Death is an experience that all living things endure. Whether it be from old age or death on the battlefield. It was an experience driven by raw emotion.  Death can never be articulated into words, only the circumstances surrounding the passing of another human being. The soldiers who fought and endured on the Gallipoli peninsula have written about their shared experience of death, which gives outsiders a perceived experience of war as it relates to death. The experience of death directly coincided with troop morale.  The one day armistice for burial of the dead was essentially in order to maintain troop morale and health.

Water, an essential building block, is required to sustain life.  The most commonly related amongst the majority of diaries regarding the Gallipoli Campaign is the complete lack of water and the need for hydration. Quite rightly, historians can draw that the Gallipoli Campaign’s failure may be attributed to the complete lack of sufficient quantities of water. The Suvla Bay’s offensive grounded to a halt due to the lack of water to the troops. Napoleon is famously quoted as stating that an army marches on its stomach; however, in this circumstance it was water.

In order to establish a collective experience of war as viewed through individual testimony, it was essential to study a plethora of diaries and extrapolate a common theme amongst them. It was the job of the historian not to taint the narrative with their own opinion, which would take away from the experience of war.  The personal testimonies of individuals are invaluable due to the raw experience contained within their pages.

Bibliography

-Bean, C.E.W. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 volume 1: The Story of Anzac. University of Queensland Press, Australia (1921). ISBN: 0159-5261.

-Beecroft, Arthur.  Gallipoli: A Soldier’s Story. Robert Hale, London (2015). ISBN: 978-0-7198-1654-3.

-Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis 1911-1918. Free Press, New York (1931). ISBN: 978-0-7432-8343-4.

-Crawford, John and Peter Cooke (Ed). No Better Death. Exisle publishing, New Zealand (2013). ISBN: 978-1-77559-128-3.

-Crawford, John (Ed). The Devil’s own War: The Diary of Herbert Hart. Exisle publishing, New Zealand (2009). ISBN: 978-0-908988-22-8

-Cullen, Kit. Jack’s Journey. Allen & Unwin, Sydney (2013). ISBN: 978-1-74331-770-9.

-Danisman, Hasan Basri (Ed). Gallipoli 1915: Bloody Ridge (Lone Pine) Diary of Lt Mehmed Fasih 5th Imperial Ottoman Army. Denizler kitabevi, Turkey (2003). ISBN: 975-92686-2-0.

- Deluga, Ronald J. (1995) The Relation Between Trust in the Supervisor and Subordinate Organizational Citizenship Behavior, Military Psychology, 7:1, 1-16, DOI: 10.1207/s15327876mp0701_1

-Gallishaw, John. Trenching at Gallipoli the personal narrative of a Newfoundlander with the ill-fated Dardanelles expedition. The Century co. New York (1917). ISBN: 8888000593362.

-Hamilton, Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. George H Doran Company, New York (1920). ISBN: 9781477448670.

-Hart, Peter. Gallipoli. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2011). ISBN: 978-0-19-983686-4.

-King, Jonathan. Gallipoli Diaries: The Anzacs’ own story day by day. Scribe, Melbourne (2014). ISBN: 9781922070913

-Lee, Robert. Letters from Gallipoli. Matador, Leicestershire (2015). ISBN: 978 1784622 077.

-Liddle, Peter. The Gallipoli Experience Reconsidered. Pen and Sword (Great Britain), 2015. ISBN: 978 1 78340 0393.

- Mael, Fred A and Cathie E Alderks. (1993) Leadership Team Cohesion and Subordinate Work Unit Morale and Performance, Military Psychology, 5(3), 141-158.

-Marshall, S.L.A. World War I. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York (2001). ISBN: 0-618-05686-6.

- Marshall, S.L.A. Men against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (2000). ISBN: 0-8061-3280-9.

-Palmer, Svetlana and Sarah Wallis (Ed). Intimate voices from the First World War. William Morrow, Great Britain (2003). ISBN: 0-06-058259-6.

-Reed, Bryan and Bob Reed. 2011. “Technical Notes on Drinking Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies: How much water is needed in emergencies?” WHO. Accessed 5 April 2016. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/envsan/technotes/en/

-Richards, Tom. Wallaby Warrior: The World War I diaries of Australia’s only British Lion. Allen&Unwin, Sydney (2013). ISBN: 9781743316610.

-Shils, Edward and Morris Janowitz. Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II, Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 1948. pp 280-315.

-Thomson, Alistair (2006) Anzac Stories: Using Personal Testimony in War History, War&Society, 25:2, 1-21, DOI: 10.1179/072924706791601900.

End Notes

[i] Thomson, Alistair (2006) Anzac Stories: Using Personal Testimony in War History, War & Society, 25:2, 1-21, DOI: 10.1179/072924706791601900. p2

[ii] Ibid. p20

[iii] Liddle, Peter. The Gallipoli Experience Reconsidered. Pen and Sword, Great Britain, (2015). p xv

[iv] Hart, Peter. Gallipoli. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2011). p ix

[v] Deluga, Ronald J. (1995) The Relation Between Trust in the Supervisor and Subordinate Organizational Citizenship Behavior, Military Psychology, 7:1, 1-16, DOI: 10.1207/s15327876mp0701_1

[vi] Marshall, S.L.A. Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (2000). p103

[vii] Crawford, John and Peter Cooke (Ed). No Better Death. Exisle publishing, New Zealand (2013). p163

[viii] Mael, Fred A and Cathie E Alderks. Leadership Team Cohesion and Subordinate Work Unit Morale and Performance, Military Psychology, 5(3), pp141-158.

[ix] Hamilton, Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. George H Doran Company, New York (1920). p276

[x] Liddle, Peter. The Gallipoli experience reconsidered. Pen&Sword, South Yorkshire (2015). p81

[xi] Danisman, Hasan Basri (Ed). Gallipoli 1915: Bloody Ridge (Lone Pine) Diary of Lt Mehmed Fasih 5th Imperial Ottoman Army. Denizler kitabevi, Turkey (2003). p61

[xii] Ibid. p61

[xiii] Richards, Tom. Wallaby Warrior: The World War I diaries of Australia’s only British Lion. Allen & Unwin, Sydney (2013). pp67-68

[xiv] Liddle, Peter. The Gallipoli experience reconsidered. Pen & Sword, South Yorkshire (2015). p119

[xv] Palmer, Svetlana and Sarah Wallis (Ed). Intimate voices from the First World War. William Morrow, Great Britain (2003). p129

[xvi] Crawford, John and Peter Cooke (Ed). No Better Death. Exisle publishing, New Zealand (2013). p208

[xvii] Marshall, S.L.A. World War I. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York (2001). p185

[xviii] Cullen, Kit. Jack’s Journey. Allen & Unwin, Sydney (2013). p86

[xix] Gallishaw, John. Trenching at Gallipoli the personal narrative of a Newfoundlander with the ill-fated Dardanelles expedition. The Century co., New York (1917). p59

[xx] Bean, C.E.W. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 volume 1: The Story of Anzac. University of Queensland Press, Australia (1921). p573

[xxi] Reed, Bryan and Bob Reed. 2011. “Technical Notes on Drinking Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies: How much water is needed in emergencies?” WHO. Accessed 5 April 2016. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/envsan/technotes/en/

[xxii] Hamilton, Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. George H Doran Company, New York (1920). p11

[xxiii] Richards, Tom. Wallaby Warrior: The World War I diaries of Australia’s only British Lion. Allen & Unwin, Sydney (2013). p47

[xxiv] Lee, Robert. Letters from Gallipoli. Matador, Leicestershire (2015). p34

[xxv] Bean, C.E.W. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 volume 1: The Story of Anzac. University of Queensland Press, Australia (1921).  p573

[xxvi] Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis 1911-1918. Free Press, New York (1931). p489

[xxvii] Hamilton, Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. George H Doran Company, New York (1920). p395

[xxviii] Beecroft, Arthur.  Gallipoli: A Soldier’s Story. Robert Hale, London (2015). p79

[xxix] Ibid. p 97-100

[xxx] Hart, Peter. Gallipoli. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2011). pp352-353

[xxxi] Hamilton, Sir Ian. Gallipoli Diary. George H Doran Company, New York (1920). p248

[xxxii] Hart, Peter. Gallipoli. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2011). p352

[xxxiii] Shils, Edward and Morris Janowitz. Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II, Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 1948. p281

Categories: military history - history

About the Author(s)

David Retherford has an undergraduate degree in History of Science from the University of Florida. He, also, has a Master’s degree in War Studies from Birmingham University in the UK. David is currently pursuing a second masters by research at Birmingham University. Currently conducting research into the development of American combat intelligences tactics in the First World War. David lives and works in Tampa Bay, Florida with his wife and 3 small children.