Armistice

Eric Wren
Randwick to Hargicourt
pp. 84-87

The next day [19 May 1915] everybody was amazed to see a flag appear – white with red crescent – out in the Turks’ trenches. Three Turks climbed out and approached the Australian line slowly but determinedly carrying this flag. A party from our side carrying a red cross flag almost immediately advanced to meet the strangers, when the Turks expressed a wish to bury their dead.

The order “cease fire” was passed along the line, and the Turkish stretcher-bearers began to collect their wounded. However, the Australians’ suspicions being aroused, they were fired upon. Again came orders to “cease fire”, and the enemy came out again. The orders now were not to resume hostilities until 7 p.m. unless precipitated by the enemy. The watching Australians noticed that some of the Turks not bothering about the wounded were collecting rifles and ammunition. This action was quickly checked by firing shots over the heads of every Turk who touched a rifle or ammunition.

Suddenly the Turks withdrew and the Australians also went back to their trenches. It was the general conclusion now that the armistice was a mere ruse. Following the withdrawal, heavy artillery and rifle fire was immediately poured on the Anzac trenches. Next morning an enemy aeroplane came over, and in the afternoon an 8-inch gun dropped six high-explosive shells near battalion headquarters. One shell buried three men and wounded four others.

The unburied dead now became a real menace to health and of the gravest concern to both combatants, and as a consequence another unusual happening is recorded on May 24th [1915]. This again served to show how unlike any other campaign in British military history was the great Gallipoli adventure. An armistice was now formally arranged. This embraced the daylight hours between 7.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., and both armies contracted to bury their own dead. Fifty men from the 3rd Battalion went out as one of the burying parties, and worked strenuously throughout the day. The Turks, too, were very active burying their dead.

It was all so uncanny, so unreal and disturbing after the hectic days that had gone before. The roar and rattle and crash of war were stilled. Not a single rifle spoke all that day. The hush was almost unnerving after 29 days of almost continuous rifle, machine-gun, and artillery fire, which had come to be regarded as inevitable in the new so-cramped world which was Anzac.

But it was a silence which to the sorely tired troops was really heavenly. Those men who were not actually on fatigue or other duty lazed and slept or cleaned and oiled their rifles, looked to their equipment generally or scrambled down to the beach to swim and wash their sweat-clogged shirts and foul socks in the limpid sea, a molten Gallipoli sun drying these garments as the men, sockless but booted and clad only in breeches, scrambled back up the slopes to the trenches, shirts flapping on bare backs with sleeves knotted loosely about the neck.

During the afternoon, with nothing else to do, men of the battalion climbed out of the trenches and endeavored to get into conversation with the dark visaged Turks, and shouting across No-Man’s Land, “Hello, Johnnie” – “Saida Johnnie” – “Give it baksheesh” – and the various “bon mots” that had come to grace the Australian vocabulary during Cairo days. Generally, however, Abdul was unresponsive. An occasional grin and a glimpse of white teeth – somewhere a hesitant exchange of cigarettes or souvenirs – but no fraternizing in the real sense. *

At 4 p.m. the burial parties vacated No-Man’s Land and returned to their respective trenches. Men of the 3rd Battalion “jollying” the Turks from out on top of the parapet were ordered to come down, but they lingered enjoying each other’s quips or too pointed compliments shouted across at the Turks. The enemy were voted to be poor linguists – they showed no inclination to enter into chaffing arguments in Cairo Arabic with the Australians. ^ “Jacko” was anxious to get on with the war. He appeared above the trenches and signalled the Australians to get down. But the latter were in good humour and reluctant. They stood their ground. However, a warning volley just over their heads from the opposite trenches was the signal for a scramble for shelter. The war was on again.

That night at 9 p.m. and again at 11 the enemy made slight attacks from the nullah. Several bombs were thrown into that section of our trenches. The next day, May 25th [1915], the new sap-trench leading to the 2nd Battalion lines was completed and the 3rd Battalion occupied 25 yards of this new trench, its frontage now taking in the head of the gully. Days immediately following were occupied in deepening trenches and contriving disguised loop-holes. A constant look-out was maintained through periscopes. But there were few signs of movement from the enemy trenches.

[footnotes]

* Captain Leslie Dunlop, Battalion Medical Officer and A.M.C. Corporal Malone, went across to the Turkish trenches, spoke to a couple of Turkish doctors, and exchanged English for Turkish sovereigns. They searched for and found the bodies of some of our own men and attended to their burial, collecting the identity disks. The burial parties plugged their nostrils with medicated wool. Father McAullife read the burial service.

^ H. C. Armstrong, in his book Grey Wolf, which actually is the story of the life of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who commanded the Turks on Gallipoli, on page 72 says: “He (Mustafa Kemal) was constantly in the line talking with the company officers and the men (Turks), and so getting first hand information. Often he was up in the sap-heads, or even in the danger zone beyond with the advanced snipers, studying the ground. During an armistice in May he worked as a sergeant in one of the burial parties so as to be able to spy the Australian trenches himself.”

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