Wounded in the Dardanelles
scenes from Gallipoli from the British magazine 'the War Illustrated'
Mr. H.W. Nevinson the eminent war correspondent and novelist, who contributes this week's True Tale of the War, was present in the Greco-Turkish Way of 1897, the Boer War, and was representative of the Macedonian Relief Committee in the Monastir Vilayet 1903. He has travelled much in Central Africa and Russia, where he witnessed the memorable street fighting in Moscow in 1906, and enjoyed the distinction of conveying the English address to the first President of the Duma. Later, Mr. Nevinson visited the Caucasus and India. He was one of the three official correspondents on Gallipoli, and his thrilling experience in an attack on Chocolate Hill forms the subject of the present narrative. Among Mr. Nevinson's works are "In the Valley of Tophet," "The Plea of Pan," "Between the Acts," "The Down in Russia," etc.
an overview of the area. Chocolate Hill is in center right
It was last August 21st, and the day before I had lain in my tent at Imbros, knocked over by an African fever which still returns after ten years. Up at the first dawn, I crept down to the quay constructed by the simple process of sinking a steamer at right angles to the shore, and embarked on the trawler for SuvIa Bay. Those trawlers from the North Sea - what splendid service they have done. If the Kayser had knowed as we'd got trawlers," said one of the skippers to me, "he'd never have declared war !"
The Lay of Scimitar Hill
The passage across to the Gallipoli Peninsula is about fifteen miles. On landing at the north point of Suvla I went up the rocky hillside to the carefully concealed headquarters of the Ninth Army Corps and there the Chief of Staff told me the General proposed a big attack that afternoon on Scimitar Hill. I knew that hill well. On our first landing, at dawn on August 7th, I had noticed the low hill marked by a broad and bare patch, curved just like a Turkish scimitar, but could not foretell what trouble it was to give us. It was also called Burnt Hill, because shells set the scrub on fire during an earlier assault, when some of our wounded and Turks were unable to escape from the flames. On our maps it was marked as Hill 70, from its height in metres. It stood about two and a half miles from the inner curve of SuvIa Bay, and barred our farther advance. Already I had seen it twice assaulted and I knew that our dead lay scattered behind the trees and bushes on its slope..
So off I tramped along the curving beach, and then struck inland across the broad expanse of crusted mud called the Salt Lake. That Salt Lake was exposed to shell fire over its whole surface and as one approached the farther side, sharpshooters' bullets always began to buzz and whim around, or to fall with a startling splash into the thickened mud. On the farther side rose the almost circular hill called Chocolate, from its brown soil laid bare by the burning of the bushes. The Royal Irish Fusiliers had driven the Turks from their trenches there at the first landing, and we had since entrenched it carefully ourselves, running one continuous trench all round its circle near the top, constructing emplacements for mountain guns and machine-guns and digging a short communication trench forward from it to another lower hill, which was our most advanced position.
Working round by the circular trench to the front of the hill, I stood on the firing ledge to look over the parapet. All seemed quiet in front. There stood Scimitar Hill, hardly more than half a mile away. A little beyond it to the right rose a hill called W, from the shape of its crest, on which the Turks had big guns hidden. Farther still to the right, a plain of fields and trees; and, beyond that, the precipices and mountain ravines of Anzac. It all looked peaceful. But I knew those thin lines across the hills in front were crammed with Turkish rifles, and close before my feet were our own lines, running over hill and plain, also crammed with rifles.
It was nearly three. Suddenly from the sea behind me sounded a portentous crash and from the top of Scimitar Hill in front arose a great black cloud of mingled smoke and dust and fragments. Another crash, another cloud. Another and another, till the top of Scimitar Hill seemed to be exploding like a great volcano. The naval guns in the bay were preparing the assault. The Turks answered. On previous days they had sometimes fired on our lines with some effect. But the range was long. That day, they concentrated on Chocolate Hill.
The naval shells pounded rapidly. Each shot struck the top of Scimitar Hill as though to grind it away. One would have thought no trench and no man could exist under such blows. But I had watched that sort of work before and knew that naval guns are not much use against trenches. They hit what can be seen, but for trenches you must hit the invisible. The "Hows" (short for howitzers) can often do it, but hardly naval guns. Ordinary field-gun shrapnel is better. So I was thinking as I watched those great black clouds rise like magic trees from the low and silent summit, and fade away into the dull, hot haze of afternoon.
The men in the front trenches were preparing to advance. They picked up their rifles; they fixed bayonets. It was the moment when the strain of battle is tensest. , Shrapnel burst over our hill; high-explosive crashed into its rocks and blackened I scrub. I heard neither one nor other. All my thoughts were concentrated upon those khaki, dirty figures making ready for the charge.
Suddenly, as sometimes in a thunderstorm, a terrific crash sounded close above my head. Instantly came a blow like a trip-hammer falling on my skull. There was no other sensation but a tremendous, smashing blow. No waiting, no fear, no pounding. I fell like a slaughtered ox, but was up again next second. I heard a machine-gun officer say, "Are. you hit ?" I put my hand to my head, and looked at it. Blood dripped from all the fingers. I suppose am," I said.
I saw my brown shirt running with blood. It was soaked with blood. I felt the warmth of blood like hot water against skin. I wondered that a man could have so much blood in him. If that shirt's washed," I said to myself, it will the multitudinous seas incarnardine!"
I heard a cry of " Stretcher ! Stretcher ! "I'm told I kept repeating, "I'm not going away. I must see the. battle ! I must see the battle !"
I don't remember that but I remember taking a bandage from my pocket, and the machine-gun officer helping to tear it open and bind it tight round my head. I told the men not to bother about a stretcher because I could walk. I also remember a strong objection to being led away, and how the crowded men along the trenches called out, "Gangway! Gangway for the wounded !" at the sight of so bloody a figure. But all the time I felt little pain and no fear.
An Exhilarating Sensation
They hurried me along the crowded trench to the rear of the hill and into a sheltered dug-out. There an R.A.M.C. orderly wiped the blood out of my eyes and mopped great pinkish clots or "gouts" of it off my shirt, looking like lumps of brain, which he thought they were. He believed the skull was broken, and wanted to take off the bandage to see. But I refused to have it moved, because the broken skulls I had seen always made a man unconscious, and I wasn't unconscious in the least. I only felt a queer exhilaration at being still alive. I have felt the same after the crisis in dangerous fevers. It was as though life congratulated me on being still in its company.
This pleasurable feeling was increased by the appearance of my friend, Lester Lawrence, of Reuter's, who, besides myself and my other friend, Ashmead Bartlett, was the only British war correspondent in the Dardanelles. He had generously brought my pith helmet, the crown of which, cut to pieces by the shell, had just saved the skull from cracking. "A poor thing, but my own," I said, in contemplating its ruin, and the two Shakespearian quotations were the only evidences that the mind was not quite normal.
Then I sat alone, watching the blood drip, fast at first, then slowly. At last it almost ceased to run and I walked back alone to the trench, the men again shouting, "Gangway for the wounded !" In exactly an hour after being struck I was back on the same position and noticed the rocks still sprinkled with blood. The only difference I observed in myself was a slightly increased fear at the sound of approaching shells and their explosion overhead or close by and a slightly increased caution about cover. I had no sense of pain and none of weakness, in spite of all that loss of blood. The pain carne at night when after walking back the four or five miles, I reached the hospital on Suvla Point, and the surgeons worked off the sticking bandage, felt the exposed skull all over, fearing a fracture and rubbed iodine into the big raw wound.
I write all this personal stuff only to comfort the hundreds of thousands whose sons, brothers, husbands, friends, lovers have been wounded or killed in this war. But for the pith helmet I should have been killed, and I should have felt no pain. I should have felt nothing at all. Even a wound is not necessarily painful. Some wounds are, but many of my friends have had bullets into them and felt only a comfortable warmth. For myself the blow has left no consequences except a deep and lasting groove shaped just like a scimitar, on the top of my head. It makes an excuse for increasing baldness, and if I am taken prisoner by the Turks I can point to it as an outward visible sign of the Crescent and the Prophet's faith.
But what of the many fine men whom I saw stretched out upon the hillside, isolated or in little groups during that terrible day of battle - a battle which failed in the end ? For them there was no fortunate escape their life ended in the middle. All I can say is that more I see of death on the field the more I am astonished at the quality of courage, and the greater envy and emotion do I feel for those who possess it.
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