Monthly Archives: June 2015

38. ‘Flag flapping’ patriotism

This is the first of 3 short posts that look at divisions within the local community that began to form from the very beginning of the War. From 1916, with the push for conscription, the division would reach levels unparalleled to that point, however from the very beginning of the War the signs of tension were there. This first post looks a ‘flag flapping’. The second looks at early ‘shirkers’; and the third at Germans in the local community.

In the early stage of the War, division arose over the proper display of patriotism. In the heightened anxiety and bravado of the times, the standards of patriotism demanded – of both individuals and institutions – encouraged true ‘patriots’ to go looking for and expose those whose loyalty could be called into question. Local newspapers were keen to assist, and had the power to legitimise and also intensify the debate. This was the opportunity for them to present themselves as the voice of the community.

On 2 December 1914, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a letter to the editor from an anonymous correspondent going by the name of  “Patriot”. The letter called into question the patriotic loyalty of the head teacher of Port Albert State School. The basic issue was the claimed reluctance of the head teacher to fly the flag, literally, and show an appropriate level of patriotism.  His indifference was compared with the enthusiasm apparent in all other schools across Australia. The possible counter claim that the school’s flag was old and tattered was already being discounted. It was a full-on attack on the head teacher’s sense of patriotism and the local paper chose to print it. “Patriot” wrote:

What has struck me forcibly for a considerable time, is the attitude of the head teacher of the State School, compared with that of other teachers all through the States. In every school in the State the teacher thinks it an honor for the national flag to be flying, and for the scholars to salute it. At Port Albert it is never seen now (when it should be proudly displayed more than ever) the excuse being the flag is tattered. In the days of Nelson and Wellington a torn flag signified honourable service. The teacher may probably be forgetful in such matters, but I would like to see patriotism installed in my children whatever happens.

The head teacher – Gerald Russell – had little choice but to reply in the next issue (4/12/14). He criticised the parent for writing under a pseudonym and then pointed out that the local school committee had …  already arranged for the purchase of a new flag. However, he was not prepared to leave the matter there and, given the very public attack on his sense of patriotism, he fired back at his detractor’s own patriotism, arguing it was more show than substance. It was clear that he knew who “Patriot” was because he went on to accuse him of not contributing to the school’s patriotic fund. He also questioned if “Patriot” had expected him, as head teacher, to purchase a flag with his own money, and then suggested that perhaps “Patriot’, if he was so keen on the idea, could himself have paid for the replacement flag:

Did “patriot” expect me to provide, from my own pocket, funds for that object? Had I known that gentleman was so keen on getting patriotism instilled into the minds of his children I might have deliberately suggested such an opening for himself. The wonder is that the children of such a parent should feel such a need. Let me suggest a practical way of achieving the same laudable result. There is a patriotic fund at the school for the purpose of receiving  children’s small offerings. “Patriot’s” children have not paid in a red cent. Is “patriot’s” patriotism of the blatant variety?

Thanks to the local paper, this was now a very public dispute across the district and the potential for arguments over the display of patriotic fervour to poison relations between a head teacher and his parents – with the students in the middle – was very obvious.

“Patriot” returned fire in the next edition (9/12/1914). This time he revealed his identity – “Patriot.” Otherwise known as Jack Robertson. Robertson was a fisherman from Port Albert. In his reply, Robertson takes on the persona of a parent forced, reluctantly, to call out the head teacher for lack of patriotic loyalty.  The attack on the head teacher, as one of the leading members of the local community, is severe; and the threat in the last couple of sentences is clear:

It has been common talk for weeks about our school teacher never displaying the Union Jack. I stood it as long as possible, but last Monday week was the limit. Three young men left on that day for Broadmeadows. They were born and educated here. There was no demonstration whatever at the school. Surely the time was opportune. A few of the bigger boys, who asked permission, were allowed to go to the station a few minutes before train time. The rest of the school were disappointed at not seeing their chums off. Another illustration: Last Empire Day every school in the shire had a celebration: Port Albert – nil. Mr. G. Russell says “Patriot’s” children never paid a cent into the Patriotic Fund at the school. They never did and never will. I prefer to send mine otherwise. I have contributed in a dozen different ways, besides making shirts, handkerchiefs, etc. If he has given as much (which I doubt) as I have he has not done too badly. He “delicately suggests”  I should install patriotism in my children myself. I have, from the time they were able to understand. I would not like that task left to him. He might only “delicately suggest” patriotism. I maintain a good teacher has a great influence over a child, and very often the making or marring of a child is started at school. We can look back with pride on a lot of our past teachers, men who were first and foremost in everything. Mr. G Russell wants to know if my patriotism is of the “blatant variety”? My patriotism is through every fibre of my body, and will stand the wear and tear. Will his? Mr. G. Russell never mentioned in his letter whether he is loyal or not. Probably he will when the new flag comes, if he doesn’t ——.

The 3 young men, former students of the school, referred to were Harry Lewis (1639), James Lindsay (1566) and Jack Robinson (1602). They enlisted together at Yarram on 24 November and they were given consecutive railway warrants (numbers 61- 63) for travel to Melbourne on 30 November 1914. The whole issue about farewells for young men who had enlisted was certainly topical at the time and no clear protocol had yet emerged. In fact, over the entire course of the War there was significant variation between local communities across the Shire in the way such farewells – and later on, welcome homes – were handled. As will become apparent in future posts, in some instances the local school did become the centre for such farewells, but this arrangement was not universal. Basically, the claim that the school did not give a decent farewell to the 3 young men was, in terms of practice at the time, somewhat opportunistic and even unwarranted; but the claim did reflect genuine concern that not enough was being done to farewell the young men. Certainly, people at the time would have read the letter and agreed that the school should have done something.

One week later on 16 December,  Russell replied. Inadvisedly, he determined to give the readers a lesson on the various forms of patriotism. Almost certainly, the locals were never going to welcome instruction by the local school master on the nature and varieties of patriotism. He drew the distinction between the true patriotism of the “young hero” who faced death on the battlefield, and the contrived patriotism of the likes of his opponent, “Patriot”. Labouring metaphors, the head teacher dismissed the “Patriot” as …  entrenched behind an ink pot and a sheet of paper … who could only … wield a bad pen, venomed by spite, and hurl mud bombs on all and sundry.

Russell also laid on the sarcasm, another ill-advised tactic:

We have it on the highest authority- his [Patriot’s] own: “Patriotism [is] through every fibre of my body.” Is it any wonder there is little left for me when he has such a superfluity of it? How fortunate we are in the possession of such a one. Slumber sweetly, ye babes of Port Albert. No danger of “Louvains” while “Patriot” … is with us.

The letter ends with a palpable sense of outrage that one of his own school committee has turned on him:

The most regrettable thing about the whole affair is that a member of the school committee should treacherously attack one whom, by virtue of his office, he was honourably bound to assist.

In the next edition (18/12/1914) Robertson replied, with what was to be his last missive. It was short but sharply pertinent. He obviously felt that he had won the contest. He claimed that the head teacher, with his talk of varieties of patriotism, was merely trying to dissemble and that for all his clever words he had repeatedly refused to address the basic charge, namely that under his leadership the school was not putting on the sort of patriotic display common in other schools, and which the community expected and wanted. As far as Robertson was concerned, the head teacher could be as smart as he wanted with his arguments and repartee, but he could not conceal this major failing.

Head-Teacher Russell replied in the next edition. He felt the need to emphasise his practical loyalty and pointed out that he had been … contributing five per cent of my salary to the State School Patriotic Fund since its inception. He welcomed the closest scrutiny of this claim and wrote that he doubted that Robertson was making the same sort of financial sacrifice.

Perhaps Russell sensed by this point that he had lost the argument; but he was still keen to point out the hollowness that could so easily characterise displays of patriotism:

Flag flapping is very well in its place, and it is the most blatant patriot that shouts “God save the King” the loudest.

However, the problem the head teacher faced was that flag flapping was precisely the type of patriotic display that the community expected from the local state school. The issue was not whether it was Russell or Robertson who had the finest sense of what true patriotism represented, or even who of the pair was making the greatest financial contribution to patriotic fund-raisers, but, rather, the key issue turned on what sort of visible patriotic display the local community could expect to see at the school. And the short answer was that they definitely wanted to see something; and they did not feel the need to argue this with the head teacher. Russell might have been the finest and most generous patriot in his private life, but the local community wanted the public manifestation of patriotism.

The last letter published on the matter appeared on 23 December 1914. It was another anonymous effort, this time signed Foreman of Jury. There is no way of ever knowing its provenance, but it looks like the sort of final word or verdict that an editor – in this case, A J Rossiter – could impose on a dispute that had seized the attention of the local community, a dispute that the local paper had enabled and promoted. Irrespective of whoever wrote the short letter, it is very clear that the head teacher had been found guilty as charged:

On the main points at issue, neglect to fly the flag, and failure to have any patriotic demonstrations on Empire Day and other suitable occasions throughout the year, the plaintiff, Patriot, gets the verdict. Penalty £5: to be paid into Empire Patriotic Fund, half by defendant, Russell, and and half by members of the school committee.

To some extent this last letter makes light of the whole episode and dismisses it with some gentle mockery. However, it is apparent that the background issue was not seen as trivial. The local head teacher had been publicly attacked over his perceived lack of patriotism and his reputation had been severely damaged. Doubts about his patriotism would have coloured the community’s dealings with him from then on. At another level a clear warning had been issued to all other local schools and head teachers that the local community did expect a highly visible form of patriotism to be on display.

The last point to make is that there was in fact a formal farewell for the 3 men referred to earlier. It came in the following January. It was written up in the local paper on 6 January 1915. This time the school children were involved. It is interesting to speculate whether (a) this formal farewell would have occurred and (b) the Port Albert State School would have been involved, had it not been for the earlier agitation of the “Patriot”.

The Port Albert railway station presented an animated scene on Monday last, when a large crowd assembled to bid farewell to three local soldier boys, James Lindsay, Harry Lewis and Jack Robinson. The school children sang, and the whole crowd joined in “Tipperary” and “God Save the King.” Detonators were placed on the line in honor of the volunteers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

37. “They Rose To The Occasion” : the AIF’s image emerges victorious

This post looks at the narrative of the AIF at Gallipoli as it was presented in 2 newspapers of the time: The Argus as a Melbourne metropolitan daily and the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, published twice weekly, as the local paper for the Shire of Alberton.

At the time, newspapers were the only media source of information. From the very start of the War they were subject to strict censorship, and the release of information covering ‘war news’ was highly controlled. In Australia, there was intense interest in the AIF’s fortunes, matched with the understanding that its first engagement in the War would represent a defining moment in the young nation’s history. Before Gallipoli there were 2 overriding preoccupations: would the AIF prove itself as equal to the British army on the field of battle; and how would the AIF mark itself as a distinctive Australian fighting force? Further, the first major campaign involving the AIF represented the chance to counter the negative publicity it had drawn to itself in Egypt. Overall, even before the first shot was fired, the legendary status of Gallipoli was assured.

The first reports of the landings at Gallipoli came very early. On Monday 26 April 1915 The Argus reported on the ‘allies’ landing in the Dardanelles. The troops were described as British and French and the Australians were not specifically listed. There were significant inaccuracies in relation to the landing sites given. Two days later – Wednesday 28 April – there were more accounts of the landings: they had taken place at several points on the Gallipoli Peninsula, covered by a naval force. The reader was reassured, falsely, that:

In spite of serious opposition from the enemy behind strong entrenchments and entanglements, the Allied forces were completely successful.

On 30 April there was a map of the Dardanelles with landing sites, but there were still major inaccuracies.

On 4 May came the first indication of casualties – the Roll of Honour – giving the AIF dead as 10 officers and 42 other ranks, plus another 96 wounded. In the same edition came the first of the congratulatory telegrams. The Governor General was reported to have congratulated Birdwood on the Australian troops’ … successful entry upon active field service. Birdwood’s cable responded that the … troops have all done splendidly. Importantly, there was also reassuring praise from the British. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking on behalf of the Admiralty, cabled praise for the Australian troops. The First Lord of the Admiralty (Churchill) was reported as extending congratulations to both Australia and New Zealand … on the brilliant and memorable achievements of their troops in the Dardanelles. Churchill was also reported as claiming that Admiral de Roebeck in charge of the British Fleet had expressed the fleet’s … intense admiration of the feat of arms of the Australian land forces.

On 6 May there was an article with the headline Heavy Losses of Officers. The death toll had doubled to 108, the majority of whom were officers. The Argus noted that if so many officers had been killed the number of deaths from the other ranks must have been far greater. It stated that despite the level of casualties, people appeared determined to see the campaign through; and it claimed that the true extent of casualties needed to be revealed as soon as possible. The tone of grim determination was being established.

On May 7 The Argus gave the first account of the actual Australian landings on 25 April. It was sourced from the Reuter’s correspondent in Cairo and it claimed to be the … first report of the actual fighting during the landing of the Australasian troops at Gaba Tepe. There was an accompanying map, showing the point of landing near Suvla Bay. The key headline was “Nothing Stopped Us”. The account highlighted the fighting qualities of the Australians:

When approaching the shore the Australians and the New Zealanders jumped from the boats into water that was often neck deep, and waded to land. They found the Turks occupying the ridges, and took three of these in succession in a running fight, extending over a length of three miles.

The picture of the Turkish defenders was far less complimentary. Prior to the campaign it been widely and popularly believed that the Turks, an inferior race, would be no match for the superior forces of the white British Empire. Now this seemed to be exactly what had happened:

One Australian said afterwards: – “Nothing stopped us. Our big lads lifted some of the Turks on the end of their bayonets and the other Turks ran screaming and howling in fear.”

The inferior Turks were also uncivilised:

The ambulance men were under fire, the Turks making a dead set against them, and shooting them down mercilessly. … It has been established that the Turks used dum-dum bullets.

The Turkish losses were great:

The Turks’ losses were enormous, the bayonet rushes of the Australians and New Zealanders causing great slaughter.

The same article made the incorrect claim that Krithia was practically captured.

May 7 also saw the first article in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – to do with the Gallipoli campaign. There was a brief reference noting that the list of dead was increasing and that as only officers’ names had been released to that point, the true casualty rate must have been far greater and worse news was to come. There was a local connection because one of the dead officers, whose name had been published, was a Major Hamilton from Malvern who had married a local girl – Una Bland, daughter of Mr & Mrs W Bland of – Yarram. He was described as … a brave man who had died for his country.

The local paper was always keen to promote the link to the local community and one of its preferred options was to include the letters sent back to Australia from local men serving in the AIF.

The same edition of the local paper reprinted an article from the The Age about men flocking to recruiting stations as the list of casualties grew. Rates of volunteering seemed tied directly to casualty levels. This was said to be the British way and another example of true British determination in the faced of tragedy:

Last week the recruiting figures were growing smaller and smaller, and fears were raised that there were few men left to come forward voluntarily. On Monday [3 May], simultaneously with the publication of the lists of Australia’s killed and wounded, the men came forward again in the old way, eager to do their part in the fighting.

Then on 8 May – some 2 weeks after the event – The Argus published the extensive account by Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett of the initial landing on 25 April. This piece turned out to be one of the most significant newspaper reports in Australia’s history.

Ashmead-Bartlett was a war correspondent for the British. He had seen service as a lieutenant in a British unit in the Boer War in and had worked as a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War (1904). In its introduction to the article, The Argus emphasised his credentials, noting that he was … chosen to represent the British press at the Dardanelles … and claiming that he was at … the very forefront of war correspondents. This claimed status as the British expert was employed to give credibility to his account. Ashmead-Bartlett went ashore at Gallipoli on the night of 25 April.

Any reader of the account by Ashmead-Bartlett would have been left in no doubt that the Australians had proved themselves on the field of battle to be the equal of the British troops. Apart from anything else, the claims were highlighted in the headlines of the article: They Rose To The Occasion and No Finer Feat in the War. Equal to Mons and Neuve Chapelle.

The article described in detail the fighting qualities of the Australians who had morphed into a race of athletes:

The Australians rose to the occasion. Not waiting for orders, or for the boats to reach the beach, they sprang into the sea, and, forming a sort of rough line, rushed the enemy’s trenches.
Their magazines were not charged, so they went in with cold steel.
It was over in a minute. The Turks in the first trench were either bayoneted or they ran away, and their Maxim was captured.
Then the Australians found themselves facing an almost perpendicular cliff of loose sandstone covered with thick shrubbery. Somewhere, half-way up, the enemy had a second trench, strongly held, from which they poured a terrible fire on the troops below and the boats pulling back to the destroyers for the second landing party.
Here was a tough proposition to tackle in the darkness, but those colonials, practical above all else, went about it in a practical way.
They stopped for a few minutes to pull themselves together, got rid of their packs, and charged their magazines.
Then this race of athletes proceeded to scale the cliffs without responding to the enemy’s fire. They lost some men but did not worry.
In less than a quarter of an hour the Turks were out of their second position, either bayoneted or fleeing.

He was impressed by the reckless and ruthless pursuit of the enemy – But then the Australians whose blood was up, instead of entrenching, rushed northwards and eastwards, searching for fresh enemies to bayonet. – and the courage of the wounded. He claimed he had never seen the like of it before:

The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten. Hastily placed in trawlers, lighters and boats, they were towed to the ships, and, in spite of their sufferings, cheered on reaching the ship from which they had set out in the morning.
In fact, I have never seen anything like these wounded Australians in war before.
Though many were shot to bits, without the hope of recovery, their cheers resounded throughout the night. You could see in the midst of the mass of suffering humanity arms waving in greeting to the crews of the warships.
They were happy because they knew that they had been tried for the first time and had not been found wanting.

While the Turks were referred to as a brave enemy, there were other less flattering descriptions of them:

Amidst the flash of bayonet and the sudden charge of the Colonials, before which they broke and fled, and amidst a perfect tornado of shells from the ships, the Turks fell back, sullen and checked.


Early in the morning of April 26 the Turks repeatedly tried to drive the colonials from their position. The colonials made local counter-attacks, and drove off the enemy at the point of the bayonet, which the Turks would never face.

Interspersed with the account of the fighting there was more commendation from the British. The British PM (Asquith) was quoted as declaring in the House of Commons:

The landing of the Australians and New Zealanders was opposed by a heavy fire at point-blank range, but they carried their positions with a rush, and their attack was pushed forward with the greatest dash.

Lastly, there was the greatest of claims, under the headline, No Finer Feat in the War. Equal to Mons and Neuve Chapelle.

There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and storming the heights, above all holding on whilst the reinforcements were landing.
These raw colonial troops in these desperate hours proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres, and Neuve Chapelle.

Both the tone and intention of Ashmead-Bartlett’s account were that of the Imperial Boys-OwnAt 3 o’clock, when it was quite dark, a start was made for the shore. There was suppressed excitement. Would the enemy be surprised or on the alert? – but the more relevant point is that the report suited the time perfectly. Here was what was accepted as definite, independent and expert proof from a British war correspondent that the AIF had come though its ‘baptism of fire’ and could count itself as a genuine part of the British Army. Moreover, here also was the beginning of something special: a fighting force that had its own, unique qualities. And now that the ‘truth’ had been presented in the paper it could never be undone. Ashmead-Bartlett’s account became the incontestable foundation for everything that was to follow.

There was more of Ashmead-Bartlett in The Argus on 10 May. Again he portrayed the Turks as not having the nerve to stand up to the Anzacs. And under the heading “These Colonials are Exceptions” he wrote:

Most troops, when under fire, especially volunteers with only a few months’ training, keenly feel losses at the beginning, more especially if these occur before they have had time to settle down, but these colonials are the exception to the rule.
Despite their heavy losses, the survivors were as keen as ever.

There was more praise for the AIF from Birdwood:

General Birdwood told Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett that he could not sufficiently praise the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities of the colonials. The manner in which they hung on to the position day and night was magnificent, considering the heavy losses, the shortage of water, and the incessant fire of shrapnel to which they were exposed in a position where they were without cover. They also had to face incessant infantry attacks of the enemy, after they retired to a contracted line. They set their teeth, and refused to budge a foot.

Ashmead-Bartlett found the Australians reckless, careless and dismissive of danger. He wrote, under the headline, Bathing Under Shrapnel Fire:

These colonials are extraordinarily good under fire, often exposing themselves rather than take the trouble to keep under shelter of the cliff. One of the strangest sights was to see the numbers bathing in the sea with the shrapnel bursting all around them.

On 11 May, in The Argus under the headline – The Dardanelles Australians’ Bravery. Disdain Of Cover. – an unnamed correspondent continued the same theme of reckless indifference:

An account has been received at Athens from an eyewitness of the recent fighting in the Dardanelles. He states: “The heaviest losses were borne by the Australians and New Zealanders, whose one fault was a complete disdain of cover. Their bravery and dash were amazing. In some cases the men, after rushing the first Turkish trenches in ten minutes, charged ahead despite the appeals of the officers, penetrating several miles inland and suffering heavily when Turkish reinforcements compelled them to retreat.

Back in Gippsland, the account by Ashmead-Bartlett was published, in full, in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 12 May, 4 days after it appeared in The Argus. The same edition ran a short report on local casualties. It gave total losses to that time as 172 dead and 936 wounded and specifically referred to several locals who had been wounded:

Private A .W. C. Avery, son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo Avery, Port Albert and Private F. W. Butler, Jack River and Private H. George, Murrumbeena, who some years ago was a resident of Port Albert, and later was employed in a store at Yarram.

Both Butler and George were subsequently killed. Avery was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ in 1917.

The local paper also began to publish its own accolades for the AIF. On 14 May, it reported a Reuter’s cable:

The “Times” states: – ‘The essence of the Dardanelles enterprise is the resource and vigour of the Australians and New Zealanders, who have been asked to carry out a task which would test the mettle of the most seasoned soldiers. They have already done well, and are now facing more deadly obstacles with the passion of enthusiasm.

In The Argus, Bean’s account of the Gallipoli landing did not appear until 15 May and by that point Asheamd-Barlett’s account had already effectively written the history of the event. Bean’s report – dated Alexandria, May 13 – was introduced as an account of the later stages of the landing of the Australian troops at Gaba Tepe. It was described as supplementing the earlier account by Ashmead-Bartlett. Bean’s account was more precise and while it lacked the jingoism of Ashmead-Bartlett’s style it did reinforce the heroic efforts of the AIF:

“Early on the second morning the 8th Battalion (Victoria) repelled four Turkish charges, and the 4th Infantry Battalion (New South Wales) made a most gallant attack with the bayonet. They drove the Turks back through the scrub till they came on the Turkish camp. Nine-tenths of our men went straight through that, until they were faced by three machine-guns in position farther back, and came under the fire of a battery. This battalion (the 4th) was afterwards ordered to retire somewhat, as its position was difficult to support.

On 19 May in The Argus there was more from Ashmead-Bartlett. This time he was keen to present failure as success. The British had been well and truly been checked in the south (Cape Helles) but he managed to represent this defeat as follows:

”The British,” he reported, “are not yet in possession of Achi Baba, at the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula, but have forced the Turks to disclose the strength and character of the defences, and we are in a position to estimate the difficulty of the task.

For Ashmead-Bartlett the failure had been a stunning success:

Our successful landing administered a staggering blow to the Turco-Germans, who, not without reason, regarded the peninsula as impregnable.

Also, on this occasion, Ashmead-Bartlett acknowledged that the Turks had fought with extreme bravery.

On 19 May, the local paper featured more international congratulations for the AIF. Under the heading of War News an unsourced report noted:

General Sir Ian Hamilton says the Australian troops are fit to meet any troops in the world. Outside the Guards they are the largest and heaviest army in the world.

Another also unsourced report claimed:

The heroism of the Australians at the Dardanelles is stated to be unique in the history of modern war.

The paper reported casualty levels as 255 dead and 1841 wounded. Intentionally or otherwise, the casualty level was increasing in proportion to the praise bestowed on the AIF.

The first poem to feature in The Argus on the action in the Dardanelles did so on 20 May. Predictably it touched on death in the cause of the Empire, with gallant souls set free by death in battle.

On 2 June, Bean’s account of the death of General Bridges featured prominently in the local paper. The tone was heroic: Bridges had scorned danger and had been dodging snipers for months. When he was hit, he did not want his men endangered taking him down to the beach:

General Bridges had proved himself a capable and strong commander, absolutely imperturbable amidst the turmoil of operations and wholly without fear.

There was a reference to the Turks not firing on the stretcher as Bridges was evacuated:

The enemy, probably because he saw it was a party carrying a wounded man, did no fire any shots in this direction till the stretcher had passed.
We have noticed that the Turk, whilst not always a scrupulous or humane fight[er], has sometimes acted very fairly and humanely. It probably depends on the individual.

In the same article Bean wrote about the Turkish attack on the morning of 19 May and the huge losses:

Our men were in magnificent spirits, never shooting without a good target, even sitting on the parapet or traverse, laughing and firing as fast as they could load. The next morning the Turks lying in front of our position were far thicker than I have ever seen. There cannot be less than 1500 dead. Our loss was trifling – certainly not more than one to ten of the enemy, and probably only one to twenty.
I have never seen men in better fighting form. They are earnestly hoping the Turks will attack again, which probably they will in spite of the severe lesson, as they are ready to stake a great deal on driving the Australians into the sea.

In The Argus on 7 June there was a report that set out to explain why earlier optimistic forecasts about the British and allied fleet’s ability to destroy the forts and force the Dardanelles had been wrong. The forts were proving too hard to hit and destroy and the mines and guns of the Turks were too great an obstacle and had caused major ship losses. Therefore the current land invasion, supported by artillery, was required. But the Turkish force by itself was only ever portrayed as a second-rate opponent. Without the leadership of the Germans it would have failed:

The Turkish soldier fights very well behind entrenchments, but he is a very bad gunner, and possesses absolutely no knowledge of the science of war. Had the defence of the Straits been left in his hands alone the Allied fleet would most probably have taken Constantinople by now. But the Turkish army, directed by highly trained German officers, and having advantage of their science and technical skill, is a very different enemy.

On 16 June, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a lengthy soldier’s letter home from the young – 18 yo – Syd Collis who was serving in the Medical Corps. He had written it in early May to his father, Mr Geo. Collis of Alberton. At the time, he was based at Heliopolis. He described his work tending to those who had been wounded at Gallipoli:

Soldiers will be returning to Australia now disabled, some with arms and lefts shot off. I saw a chap get his leg amputated. Some have their toes and hands shot off. It was awful that some of them got shot before they landed. Shrapnel is doing the damage. They are standing the pain like Britons, and wishing to get back to the front – quite as anxious as we are. Light Horse is no good, and all of them have volunteered to go to the front as infantry, our crowd included.

Collis focused on the claimed perfidy of the Turks. He told his father that the general consensus was that if you were wounded you needed to keep a bullet to shoot yourself:

They all say keep one bullet for yourself, because if you see the Turks coming and are wounded shoot yourself, because they have gouged our boys eyes out, and cut their heads off with the bayonet.

He also claimed the Turks also shot stretcher bearers, and they were scared of the Australians and ran from them:

The Turks run when the Australians make the bayonet charge. The Australians slaughtered thousands of them, and took lots of prisoners. They have great name and intend to keep it up.

Another report from Bean – dated 13 May, Gallipoli – appeared in The Argus as late as 18 June 1915. It gave a detailed account of the landing and fighting on the first day. The detail covered the specific action of each battalion on the day and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of individual officers. The language was more restrained than Ashmead-Bartlett’s. Bean described how the men pushed inland, with the Turks reluctant to face their bayonets:

With a shout the first boat-loads fixed bayonets, on the inner edge of the beach, and rushed straight up at it, and the Turks did not wait. Later he wrote: The enemy could be seen quite thick upon the third ridge, but they did not attack. … They did not advance; on the contrary, when parties of our men overshot the general line on the second ridge and went up to the third, they retreated before them and waited for reinforcements.

Bean also made the point about the battalions being mixed up and how the men formed small parties and then headed inland under the command of any available officer. It was an example of the men themselves exercising judgement and initiative in the heat of battle. These were troops who could think for themselves.

On 11 August the local paper featured more reports from Ashmead-Bartlett. He was keen to emphasise not just the physical prowess of the Australians:

The colonials are of amazing physique. No European nation possesses anything to compare with them. The Prussian Guard consists of picked men, but they are fat and ungainly. The colonials are great big-limbed athletes, with not a pound of superfluous flesh among the lot.

but also the collective and independent way they discharged their military responsibilities:

It is not so much an army as a community which has come together for the job, and framed its own laws to carry it out. They work in little groups, which are united either by home ties or mutual regard. These groups discipline themselves.

The preceding analysis shows how, in the weeks following 25 April 1915, Australians reading their newspapers were left in no doubt that the AIF’s first major engagement of the War had been an outstanding success. The men of the AIF had proved themselves to be true ‘Britons of the South’. They were at least the match of the British soldiers. They had proved their worth to the Empire. They had also began to craft a distinctive identity: ruthless in battle; contemptuous of danger; physically bigger and stronger than other soldiers; self-disciplined and enterprising; and with a natural cynicism that brought out the larrikin. It was a very tough, reassuring picture of the AIF, infinitely preferable to that of out-of-control, poorly disciplined rabble destroying Cairo, trashing the reputation of Australia and even being sent home in disgrace with VD. It was also a picture that both helped offset the grief generated by rapidly increasing casualty levels and promoted a surge in enlistments.

The preceding analysis also suggests that what was lacking over this period was any independent, objective analysis of the campaign. The reports were filtered through tight censorship, the tone was celebratory and jingoistic and no criticism of the campaign was even entertained. There was no place in the press for doubt, disbelief or question, at least at this early point. The simple motif throughout was the heroic struggle of the Australian soldier, in difficult circumstances, against an enemy who was in every way inferior and who could be treacherous.

Future posts will show how doubts over the worth of the Gallipoli campaign inevitably arose and a complex play of blame and counter-claim developed to cover what came to be seen as an unqualified military disaster. Indeed the historical debate over Gallipoli – certainly in Australia – continues to the present. See, for example, Robin Prior’s defining work, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth.

At the same time, there has never been any chance that the qualities of the AIF, identified and pushed so hard in the popular press in the first few weeks of the campaign, would ever be seriously questioned or significantly qualified.  True, the Turks could be humanised, over the years, to become a more worthy and noble foe; but, realistically, there was little, if any, chance that the hyperbole of Ashmead-Bartlett and others, once published, could ever be scaled back.

For the press of the time, Gallipoli established Australia’s complete loyalty to the Empire, and proved to all back home that its soldiers were at least the equal of the British. For Australia, Gallipoli was – and has continued to be –  more a proof of national character than a military campaign.


The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

36. David George SUTTON 1552

David George Sutton (1552) enlisted in Brisbane on 31/12/1914. He joined the 15 Battalion. At the time of enlistment, he gave his occupation as labourer. He had been born in Gippsland (Devon North) and at the time of enlistment his father – Thomas Sutton – as next of kin, was living at Tarra Valley. According to the 1915 Rate Book for the Shire of Alberton, the father was a dairy farmer with 71 acres at Devon North. There were 3 Sutton brothers who enlisted, with David the youngest. When he enlisted he gave his age as 22yo but when his father completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour he gave his son’s age at death as only 19yo so it would appear that he had put his age up by a couple of years when he enlisted. The father also indicated that his son had attended Max Creek State School and he gave Yarram as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Of the 3 brothers who enlisted, it appears that 2 of them had moved to Queensland for work, probably not very long before they enlisted, while one had stayed behind to work on the family farm. The 2 brothers who enlisted in Queensland both described themselves as ‘labourers’, although the father specifically described David’s occupation as ‘bush labourer’. Presumably, there was not enough work for all the sons on the family dairy farm so 2 brothers had moved to Queensland – the most common destination for young men from Gippsland – to start out on their own.

Private David George Sutton was killed on 29/5/1915. The war diary for 15 Battalion reveals that very early (3.15AM) on 29 May the battalion was rushed from Monash Valley to Quinn’s Post where the Turks had ‘blown in’ some of the Australian trenches and occupied them. Some 100 men of the 15 Battalion were ordered to charge the occupied trench. The men were successful in re-occupying the trench but in the engagement the enemy threw a large number of bombs which inflicted severe casualties. 17 Turkish soldiers surrendered and the bodies of another 23 were removed from the trenches. On the Australian side there were 11 men killed – including Major Hugh Quinn himself – and another 14 wounded.

Private Sutton was buried the same day in the New Monash Valley Cemetery, with the Rev. Green (Church of England) officiating. The New Monash Valley Cemetery became in time the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery.

On the face of it, there was little chance of either error or confusion over Private Sutton’s death. However, on 18 June 1915 – some 3 weeks after the death – the father, as next of kin, was advised by cable that his son had been wounded. The cable stated: Regret Son Private D. G. Sutton Wounded Not Reported Seriously No Other Particulars Available Will Immediately Advise Anything Further Received. This was followed up by a letter on 31 August 1915 stating that No. 1552, Private D. G. Sutton, 15th Battalion, was wounded on the 29th June (sic), and there is no further report regarding him. It was not until 29 October 1915 that a formal report of his death, stating that he had been killed in action on 29 May 1915, was issued. Presumably, even though the final, formal report stated that he had been killed in action, Private Sutton must have been wounded on 29 May and this detail was recorded and passed on, prompting the cable a few weeks later. The fact that he actually died from the wounds on the same day must not, again presumably, have cancelled the advice about being wounded. It is hard to believe the mistake but, once again, the episode points to the poor record-keeping on the part of the AIF in the opening months of the fighting. More than this, both the enormity of the error and the length of time it continued, suggest that the battalion commanders were struggling to keep up with what was happening to their men.

Even though official confirmation of the death did not come until October 1915, the family back at Tarra Valley knew by early August 1915 what had happened. As for so many other families, news of the death came from a letter sent by a relative or friend. In this case, the letter was from one of his brothers – William Henry Sutton – who was in fact in the same battalion. He had also enlisted in Brisbane, but not until January 1915. The letter was published in full in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11 August 1915. The other Sutton brother referred to in the article was Thomas James Sutton (2025) who enlisted in Melbourne in June 1915. The ‘W. Sutton of Yarram’ who was witness to David Sutton’s death on 29 May at Quinn’s Post, was William Owen Sutton (1253) who had enlisted at Yarram on 16 September 1914. He was serving in the 14 Battalion. He had been born in Footscray and, as far as is possible to determine, he was not related to the 3 Sutton brothers. The article was headed: Private D. G. Sutton Killed. Letter from His Brother.

Mr. Thos. Sutton of Tarra Valley, who had three sons in the firing line, received a wire on June 19th from the Defence Department: – “Regret son, Private D. G. Sutton, wounded, not reported seriously. No other particulars available. Will immediately advise anything further received.”
No further information was received, until a letter came to hand last week from Private W. H. Sutton, to his mother, giving an account of his brother’s death.
June 22nd.
Private W. H. Sutton writes:- Just a few lines to let you see that I am all right, and I am hoping this will find all well at home. I have not been able to write since I landed at the front, 2nd May, and I have been wondering whether you were cabled about George being killed. It happened on the morning of 29th May. We made a bayonet charge to re-take part of our trench from the Turks. They had mined it and blown it up, with the Australians in it at the time, killing some, and then rushed the trench with bombs, which drove out the remaining Australians, and got in the trench themselves. We soon pulled them out with the bayonet – not one escaped. It was just after we had charged the trench that George was hit with two bombs. His right leg was broken above the knee, and left leg blown off above the ankle almost half way to the knee. He died from loss of blood three hours afterwards. I did not see him at all, and did not know it had happened (and he was only 50 yards from me) until next afternoon, 30th; but he died alongside of W. Sutton, of Yarram, who told me about it. The few things found on him were handed to headquarters to be sent home to you by the Church of England chaplain who buried him. His deferred pay is left to you in a will in his pay book. No doubt you will be notified about it. I hope you have been cabled, as I suppose you have been by this anyway.

This account confirms that Private David Sutton had, strictly speaking, not been ‘killed in action’(kia) but, rather, ‘died of wounds’ (dow).

Of the 3 Sutton brothers – David George Sutton (1552), William Henry Sutton (1559) and Thomas James Sutton (2025) – only Thomas James Sutton, the middle brother, survived the War. William Henry Sutton – the oldest of the brothers – survived right through to the second half of 1918. He was killed in action on 11 August 1918. By that point he had been wounded 3 times. All 3 Sutton brothers appear on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, with both David and William recorded as killed; and both David and William are listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

Notwithstanding his brother’s comments about the recovery of personal items after the death, there were no personal belongings returned to the family. But then in 1920 the family received a letter advising them that, per separate post, they were to receive … a Bible, the property of your son, the late No. 1552 Private D. G. Sutton, 15th Battalion, which was discovered amongst the personal effects of the late No. 1214 Private N. Matheson, 15th Battalion. Private Matheson was killed in the same action as Sutton. While it is possible that Sutton had given Matheson his copy of the bible, the more likely scenario is that when others went looking for the personal belongings of both men the various items were mixed up. The bible only came to light because the authorities were not able to locate a next-of-kin for Matheson – he was an immigrant from Scotland – and, again presumably, at some point in the multiple handling of his personal belongings someone finally noticed that the name in the bible was Sutton’s not Matheson’s. This also raises the possibility that other items in Matheson’s kit – ring, wallet, papers, cards, medals – belonged to Sutton. Both this apparent confusion over the personal property of the men, and the far more significant confusion over Sutton’s death, point to the highly problematic quality of the AIF’s organisational capacity at the time. On this point, the letter from William Owen Sutton published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11 August 1915 also highlights the significant problem that men were having with mail deliveries. The sense of frustration, if not anger, is evident:
You people complain of us not writing, but we were always writing and getting no letters in return in Egypt. I wrote 17 letters home to you people. George would not get his photo taken, as he said nobody would write to him, so I did not get mine taken when he would not have his done.
The editor of the paper added as a footnote:
Mr. Thos. Sutton informs us that letters were written from home every day, and he is at a loss to account for the non-delivery. The authorities appear to be at fault.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

War Diary of 15 Battalion, May 1915

National Archives file for SUTTON David George

First World War Embarkation Rolls: David George Sutton

Roll of Honour: David George Sutton

WW1 Red Cross files: David George Sutton

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 1 – The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915, 11th Edition.
Chapter VII – May29th -The Turks break into Quinn’s