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Think Piece – The Last Thing On Their Minds

Thursday 17 December, 2015

Rod BeamesOne hundred years ago in early October, Lord Kitchener sent a message to those in command at Gallipoli querying a proposal to evacuate the troops from the Dardanelles Peninsula. The fighting had reached a stalemate, rain had set in, and it was very cold. As deliberations took place by those in command, another 280 soldiers drowned in their trenches as a series of storms took their toll, including a blizzard that struck on 27 and 28 November. By this time an estimated 5,000 ANZACs had frostbite, and another 5,000 or more needed urgent hospital treatment.

At last on 22 November 1915, the formal order to evacuate Gallipoli was received. Two Australian leaders were given the authority to plan and execute the withdrawal. They were Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Aspinall and Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Brudenell White.

Their clever plan, mainly credited to Lt Col White, used deception techniques which included smoking fatigues where groups of soldiers would stand around talking in areas known to be under Turkish observation. It even included a famous cricket match played at ‘Shell Green’ on 17 December 1915 – the only piece of flat ground there was at Gallipoli. The game itself was a diversionary tactic while preparations for the evacuation continued in the background. Unfortunately it had to be abandoned after one too many Turkish shells landed close by.

Each night over a period of weeks and under the cover of darkness, the guns, the animals, the sick and wounded, even the prisoners of war, were loaded onto barges and boats at Williams Pier, North Beach until just a few ANZAC soldiers were left.

The men left in the trenches put on quite a charade by lighting cooking fires and loading the ingenious water operated guns invented by Lance Corporal Scurry, known as ‘drip rifles’ to give the impression the trenches were fully occupied to the end.

Finally, at 4am on December 20th, the last of the Anzacs left the cove. A mine was detonated in the tunnels under the trenches and the Turkish soldiers responded and fired back; the plan had worked – they did not yet know that the trenches were empty. These final scenes at Gallipoli are well depicted in the opening of the Russell Crowe film The Water Diviner that was released earlier this year.

Troops of the 10th Battalion were now leaving the site where their historical impact would last forever. Their exploits are well covered in many other books, but leaving their dead mates must have weighed heavily on their minds.

Hardly a man had been lost; a credit to the Australian officers in charge. It begs the question that, had Australian leaders been involved in the decision-making earlier in the campaign, perhaps the outcomes at Gallipoli would have been very different?

My Grandfather, Norman Beames, was there. He was serving with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment. He had enlisted in Adelaide in 1914, turning up in the South Parklands with his own horse, having travelled from Two Wells approximately 40kms north of Adelaide, to do so.  Like many of the Light Horse, my Grandfather’s horse travelled with him. They left on the transport ship HMAT Port Lincoln, embarking from Outer Harbour for Egypt on 22nd October, 2014. But the Government of the day would not let him bring his horse home.

As with most of the grandfathers who returned from the Great War, he said very little to me about his experiences. I can only surmise that he felt I need not know the horrific scenes he had witnessed.

He may also have been embarrassed, because while many of his unit were fighting in the front line, he was one of the ‘lucky ones’ tending the horses he loved so much, on the ships in the rear echelon. This wouldn’t be the case later in France.

The last thing on the troops’ minds would have been ‘I wonder what they’ll think in one hundred years?’ These men were concerned with what their mates thought, with doing their duty for their country, and with earning the respect from their parents and families at home.

The Great War was meant to be the war to end all wars. It must have been a big disappointment when twenty years later it started all over again. To date, the Human Race has only ever dreamed of peace; it has never taken real steps to implement it, despite all of our other achievements. Perhaps future generations will.

Rodney Beames enlisted in the Citizens Military Force in December 1967. He was 18 years of age. Beginning as a signaller with 122 Signal Squadron, he spent the next 20 years serving with the Royal South Australian Regiment (RSAR) retiring in 1987. In 1979, Rod was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was attached to 4 Training Group at Hampstead Barracks and was given responsibility for training new recruits. This interest spilled over into his civilian life, where Rod became an Apprentice Trainer (Electrical) at TAFE SA and where he continues to enjoy the rewards associated with training the youth of today. Rodney continues to contribute as the current President of the RSAR Association.

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