David W. Cameron
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Sydney (Bondi) and later moved into the western suburbs of Sydney, Campbelltown (when it actually was a town with about 10,000 people, if that). I graduated from the University of Sydney with First Class Honours in Archaeology.
An archaeologist – I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my then hero Louis Leakey.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
That politics was a worthy profession.
My father’s love of reading, which he passed onto me; my first trip to Gallipoli (from then on I wanted to know more); and my research career, which gave me the confidence to write my first book.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
I strongly believe that books will never be obsolete, they may change in form, style and length (to take into account the entrenchment of texting, blogging etc) but books will always be around. A book has gravitas that no other form of media can hope to approach. There is nothing like sitting down with a good book in a comfortable chair. It’s like being a kid and opening that first Christmas present.
6. Please tell us about your latest book, The Battle for Lone Pine: Four Days of Hell at the Heart of Gallipoli…
It tells the story of a number of individuals during the battle for Lone Pine at Gallipoli – Australian and Turk. Not only those in the front line, but also those supporting them in the rear areas, including nurses, cooks, sappers, engineers, stretcher-bearers etc. It follows a number of individuals through those four terrible days of slaughter in August 1915. It is the first book to deal specifically with this battle and the consequences for those involved. It is not just a ‘battle’ book but an intimate narrative of a number of individuals.
Over four days in August 1915, Australians and Turks were thrown into some of the fiercest fighting of the war, on a small plateau in Gallipoli known as Lone Pine. Thousands of lives were lost. Seven of Australia’s nine Gallipoli VCs were earned during brutal hand-to-hand combat in dark tunnels and in trenches just metres apart, bombarded by terrifying volleys of grenades.
The Battle for Lone Pine is the first book devoted to this cornerstone of the Anzac legend, drawing on unforgettable first-hand accounts scratched into diaries and letters home. The stories of the diggers, as well as the engineers, nurses, sappers, commanders and more, provide an invaluable record of the battle and serve as moving testimony to their courage in appalling conditions.
Today, pine trees are planted in remembrance around Australia. In Gallipoli, the Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial attracts large crowds to commemorate Anzac Day. David W. Cameron’s absorbing history reveals the fate of those who fought on the ground where they gather.)
It draws attention to the need for the appropriate conservation and preservation of the Anzac battlefields of 1915.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
My parents. They were battlers who made good and were always there in support and taught me the value and importance of family.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write a best seller.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read – Read – Read.
PS: Don’t let the blank screen phase you – just start writing and keep writing. Half the fun is going back and editing your work. The end product is never like the original – so just start! (and keep the water on the boil.)
David, thank you for playing.
A rush of adrenaline mixed with fear gripped 27-year-old Private Cecil McAnulty, from Middle Park, Victoria, as he and his mate Frank charged across no-man’s-land, on a plateau in the hills of the Gallipoli Peninsula not far from the coast, towards the Turkish stronghold nicknamed Lone Pine. As members of the 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion, they were in the centre of the attacking waves sweeping towards the covered trenches on the west of the plateau, on 6 August 1915. Artillery shells exploded all around and machine-gun bullets ripped into their fellow men in khaki scrambling to meet the enemy. Cecil saw men either side of him trip over the thick knotty roots of shredded scrub, while others got momentarily tangled in scraps of barbed wire that littered the killing field; some fell and never got up. Officers yelled orders that couldn’t be heard above the deafening sound of exploding ordnance. The paddock erupted into thousands of tiny explosions of dirt as bullets and shrapnel kicked into the dry barren ground. Larger eruptions caused by high-explosive shells sent geysers of earth skyward. Men disappeared in the smoke and dust, or, hideously disfigured and dying, yelled for help, as others charged past, oblivious or terrified, desperate to escape the same fate. Both Cecil and Frank thanked their lucky stars as they reached the Turkish trenches. Cecil later wrote in his diary: ‘I can’t realise how I got across it, I seemed to be in a sort of a trance. The rifle & machine gun fire was hellish.’1 However, their troubles had just started, as the front-line trenches were mostly covered with thick timbers and earth. Some stopped to try and dig their way through and drag the heavy timbers aside; however, most, like Cecil and Frank, continued on towards the uncovered trenches to the rear of the Turkish stronghold. The small-arms fire was increasing in intensity as the Turks north and south of the battle poured enfilade and oblique fire into the attacking Australians, caught in the open. Cecil yelled to the others, ‘This is suicide, boys! I’m going to make a jump for it.’ 2 Frank and three others followed him and jumped for cover behind a Turkish parapet.
Less than fifty metres away, 22-year-old Lance Corporal Joseph Aylward and 24-year-old Private George Hayward, of the 4th Australian Infantry Battalion, were attacking the northern flank of Lone Pine. They were to secure trenches and stop the Turks from across the narrow gully to the north from rolling up the Australian lines. A machine gun to their right was spraying streams of lead across no-man’s-land. George lit the fuse of one of his homemade jam-tin bombs with the cigarette dangling from his lips and quickly dropped the hissing projectile into the partly covered Turkish machine-gun pit – the resulting explosion silenced the gun. As George and Joseph pressed on, they realised that they were in danger of heading off the plateau battleground and descending into the gully below. Joseph turned back to see men from the second and third waves of the attack now struggling to reach the enemy trenches, as the Turks on the northern side of the gully awoke to the charge. His small party made an easy target too. Some fell, a crimson patch quickly staining the gritty ground around them. George, Joseph and the others dived into an open communication trench just in front and reluctantly made their way down into the gully, not knowing what awaited them.
On the southern side of Lone Pine, a new arrival to the peninsula, 25-year-old clerk Lieutenant Charles Lecky, set his eyes on a spot on the enemy’s front line, where black sandbags were embedded in the trench parapets, and focused on running straight towards it. He didn’t hear the exploding shrapnel and swish of machine-gun bullets that swept the plateau. Then he fell, tumbling into a shell crater. Stunned, Charles found a fellow officer in the hole, trying to plug a bullet hole in his arm. The man asked for help to get out. Charles tried but toppled back under the weight of his equipment. The wounded officer, 22-year-old Captain John Pain, was a survivor of the landing four months earlier. He pushed Charles up with his good arm and, in the middle of no-man’s-land with shells and bullets roaring all around, Charles pulled the captain out of the crater. They both raced towards the Turkish trenches.3
Melbourne solicitor and citizen soldier 38-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, commander of the 7th Australian Infantry Battalion, was anxiously watching the charge through a trench periscope just north of the attack, immediately opposite the Turkish lines at Johnston’s Jolly, as the position across the gully from Lone Pine was known. The periscope had been carefully wrapped in hessian and fixed against a sandbag parapet, in the hope the camouflage might save it from Turkish sniper fire for a few hours at least. He knew that if the attack failed, his own men were to be thrown against the trenches at the Jolly, which were judged to be more heavily defended than Lone Pine. But even if they were successful, Elliott and his men were not out of the woods – they were slated to reinforce Lone Pine, which itself would be a treacherous task in such conditions. Indeed, so fierce was the struggle ahead of them that, within days, four of his men would be awarded the Victoria Cross for their outstanding valour in the fight to hold Lone Pine.
After the first few days of the Gallipoli landings by British Empire and French troops, on 25 April 1915, most had resigned themselves to stalemate. But, with their reputations at stake, the senior British and French commanders at Helles – the southern tip of the peninsula – insisted on trying to break through the Turkish lines. To salvage the campaign, and perhaps their careers, they would expend the lives of huge numbers of their men. About eighteen kilometres further north, below the hills that form the southern end of the formidable Sari Bair Range, on a beach they named Anzac Cove, the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) had more than enough on their hands just trying to defend their precarious foothold on 160 hectares of Turkish soil. The idea of advancing beyond the coastal ridges and cutting off the southern reaches of the peninsula to Turkish reinforcements was likely far from their minds.
Yet, within months of the landing, that was the objective: to sever the peninsula west to east, isolating the Turkish garrison at Helles and silencing the guns that were blocking the advance of the combined British and French fleets through the Dardanelles.
By June, General Ian Hamilton, commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (charged with occupying the Gallipoli Peninsula) and his subordinate, Lieutenant General William Birdwood (commander of the Anzac sector), had decided to pin all of their hopes of breaking the Turkish defences on the launch of an offensive immediately north of Anzac Cove, in order to occupy the dominating heights of the Sari Bair Range before pushing east to the Dardanelles. To further assist in future operations, another landing about ten kilometres north at Suvla Bay would be incorporated into the ‘August Offensive’.
To help draw Turkish attention and troops away from the northern heights of Sari Bair, a feint was designed to keep the Turks focused on their southern flank. This would be an attack by the men of the 1st Australian Division against the well-entrenched and fortified position known as Lone Pine, on ‘400 Plateau’. The capture of the Sari Bair Range was to be the first of four phases that would be implemented along the Anzac sector, each pending the success of the former. Lone Pine itself would serve as an important ‘jumping off’ point for the next phase of the offensive – the capture of Third Ridge and the coastal promontory, Gaba Tepe, a few kilometres to the south. From there, the goal was to sweep across to the eastern shore of the peninsula. Given the failure of this opening stage of the operation, orders for phase two were never drafted.4
The battle for Lone Pine, 6–9 August 1915, has rightfully gone down in Australian military history as one of the toughest and most brutal ever fought by Australians in any war. It comprised four days of intense hand-to-hand fighting and bombing in an area covering just a few hectares, with Australian and Turkish trenches often just a few metres apart. Men used anything at hand to gain an advantage in the close confines of the Pine, including fists, bayonets, knives, rifle butts and entrenching tools. Indeed, close to 2800 Australians became casualties during these four days, and Turkish casualties were said to be at least double that number. Unlike most battles in the Great War, casualties at Lone Pine were not dominated by artillery and machine-gun fire, but from small arms, bayonets and homemade bombs (grenades). In the claustrophobic maze of trenches, clogged with the dead and dying, surprise encounters resulting in fierce isolated skirmishes, and the sudden appearance of a bomb, which might be lobbed back and forth several times before it exploded, added psychological horrors to the harrowing ordeal.
Of the nine Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians for the Gallipoli campaign, seven were for outstanding actions of bravery and valour during those four days at Lone Pine. Five were earned in a single day of the fighting, a record in Australian military actions. Many who were there believed a host of others would also have made worthy VC recipients, but the officers who were intent on nominating them died fighting in Lone Pine before they could put pen to paper. Indeed, all of the battalion commanders who took part in the initial attack became casualties, two of whom were killed. It is perhaps fitting that Australia’s official commemoration of the Gallipoli conflict is conducted each Anzac Day in the Lone Pine Cemetery, built over what was in 1915 the killing field of the no-man’s-land between the Australian and Turkish trenches. The western wall of the cemetery sits on the original Australian frontline trenches at a position nicknamed The Pimple, while its eastern wall rests upon the original Turkish front line at Lone Pine, known to the Turks as Kanli Sirt, or ‘Bloody Ridge’.
Given the significance of this tragic battle to Australian military history – Australia’s only victory at Gallipoli, at devastating personal cost, amid a wider tactical failure – it is surprising that there has never been a single book focusing on it before now. Only the war correspondent Charles Bean, in his Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 (Volume II), deals with Lone Pine in any detail. Indeed, this narrative could not have been written without continued reference to his groundbreaking work, along with the volumes of unpublished documentation that he collected over the years relating to the battle, including correspondence from participants (all available at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra). Also, since Bean’s monumental work there was a steady increase in diaries and letters donated to the Australian War Memorial and other research institutions, describing actions at Lone Pine as well as in support ‘behind’ the lines. Thus, in addition to the accounts of the fighting men, from both sides of the conflict, this book draws on the newer material to endeavour to include the important contributions made by non-combatants. This includes senior commanders, sappers, stretcher-bearers, cooks, artillerymen and base nursing staff. Presented here for the first time, then, is a detailed account of Australians’ involvement in one of the Great War’s most intense assaults, whose tragedy was deepened by being a victorious battle within a defeated campaign.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.