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Think Piece – Suspension of Arms

Thursday 21 May, 2015

Robert KearneyThis year Australians and New Zealanders at home and around the world gathered to commemorate the bloody sacrifice that for us began on 25 April 1915 and continued until the Armistice in November 1918.

The first armistice the ANZACs were involved in occurred on 24 May 1915.

Despite the ANZACs having fought bravely under the most abysmal conditions during the weeks after the landing, the poorly equipped, courageous Turks fought fiercely to repel the invaders and had soon checked the ANZAC advance.

On 18 May, for the first time since the landing there was a lull in the white noise of battle, which heightened the existing tension along the ANZAC line.

At 5:00pm the lull was shattered when Turkish guns delivered the heaviest bombardment since the landing. Between 3:20am and noon on 19 May a tsunami of more than 40,000 Turkish troops swept toward the ANZACs in waves which crashed into the firestorm of almost 100,000 bullets.

Zeki Bey, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 57th Turkish Regiment on the morning of the landing, told Charles Bean in 1919; ‘Ten thousand men were killed or wounded in that attack.’1

With thousands of corpses scattered about the scrub heavy black clouds of filthy flies soon descended upon the battlefield. So overpowering was the odour of maggot infested flesh that when the Turkish commanders requested a truce to bury their dead a special instruction below was drawn up containing 13 articles to be adhered to during a nine-hour “Suspension of Arms” beginning at 7:30am on 24 May.

Australian War Memorial – Suspension of Arms document

Prior to the armistice, men who had never seen what damage a .303 bullet does to flesh and bone generally believed the Turks were using Dum-Dum bullets.

In a letter to his family before the armistice, a 10th Battalion corporal described how he was wounded.

‘They got me about 4 a.m. with a dum-dum, which made a beautiful mess of my left forearm. I suppose you have heard tell that when a bullet hits you, you feel a stinging sensation. It’s all bunkum. I thought that someone had hit me with a 28-lb. sledge hammer.’2

The ANZACs having now seen up close the damage their ammunition had caused to the enemy dead and wounded immediately knew the Turks had not used illegal Dum-Dum ammunition.

The burial and removal of the dead was completed by 3:00pm and with time still remaining, soldiers from both sides mingled, laughed, shook hands and were genuinely polite and friendly to each other, some even exchanged small gifts such as cigarettes, matches and rations.

Men on both sides of No Man’s Land now realised they were no longer just shooting at “targets”.  Watching the Turks grieve as they buried their thousands of dead many of the ANZACs must surely have thought, the biggest losers in war, are us who do the fighting.

1 Bean, C E W, Gallipoli Mission, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1948, p. 159
2 St Peter’s School Magazine – W K Thomas & Co, Adelaide, August 1915, p. 39

Robert (Bob) is an historian and author who has had a varied career having served in the Australian Regular Army for 20 years (1963-1983) including two tours of duty in South Vietnam. This was followed by 18 years in the Army Reserve. In 1983 he joined the South Australian Correctional Services, becoming a divisional manager and in 2000 joined the South Australian Country Fire Service as their senior leadership consultant. Bob is currently a volunteer  for the South Australian Returned and Services League’s Virtual War Memorial project, while continuing to pursue other writing projects. He is the author of five books including his most recently published title “Fallen Saints”.

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