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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 25th, 1915: the 1st Battalion lands at Gallipoli from John Tognolini's Brothers Part One:Gallipoli 1915

The soldiers of the 1st Battalion were climbing down from their troopship HMT Minnewaska into their assigned rowing boats. They were going to be towed by small British naval steamboats to within two hundred meters of the beach where the soldiers of the First Invasion Wave had landed. They were part of the Second Invasion Wave. They could see the Turkish artillery exploding over the beach.

They started rowing when the steamboats cut the lines to their strings of rowing boats. Each steamboat had towed four strings of three row boats from the invasion armada two miles out.

Thomas and Harris were in the third rowing boat in their string. A British naval midshipman was at the rudder and four of his sailors were rowing with the oars. Thomas looked back towards the ships as they were being rowed to the beach. He could not get over how young the midshipman was. He was the same age as some of the boys and girls he taught back in Katoomba and Wellington. The Turkish shrapnel fire was now exploding near the boats. The midshipman yelled out, “Keep calm lads. We’ll be on the beach soon.”

“He’s a tough little bugger George” said Harris.

“What do you expect Tiny, he’s a Scouse.”

Harris look confused and asked, “What does that mean?”

“He’s from Liverpool. If you are born there you end up working on the docks or you go to sea. It’s England’s major port for the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been to sea with a lot Scousers. They’re good people. A lot of them are descended from Irish migrants.” The young midshipman heard him and smiled.

Harris said, “Typical bloody child whipper you are George. Giving us a lesson about England’s geography.”

The young midshipman asked, “What do you mean by child whipper?”

“It’s an affectionate Australian term for teachers, and by the way, I’ve never used the cane in eight years of teaching.” replied Thomas.

Harris and some other soldiers in their platoon smiled at Thomas. It took their minds off the battle they were about to join. As they rowed closer to the beach, the Turkish artillery salvos became more intense. Clouds of shrapnel were exploding nearby and raining sharp little pieces of shell casing and shrapnel balls into the rowing boats.

A shrapnel shell exploded directly above Thomas and Harris’ rowing boat. Its deadly contents killed the four sailors and the soldier’s lieutenant and sergeant instantly. Their bodies, in the middle of the boat, had been shredded apart by the shrapnel pieces and the bottom of the boat was full of their blood. The survivors were dumbstruck by the horror of it.

Thomas roared, “Push them to the side and take over their oars, lads.” He yelled for two reasons: to be heard above the noise of the Turkish artillery and to snap his comrades out of the shock caused by what they had just seen. The midshipman yelled, “I’m in command of this boat, Corporal.”

Harris said, “You tell him kid, but your four sailors are all dead. And would you have given a different order than George? Sorry, than Corporal Thomas?”

Thomas looked at the midshipman and said, “I’m not challenging your authority, Sir.”

Thomas noticed that there was so much blood from the dead that it had soaked into his boots. He looked at the dead men. So did his companions, who were rowing fast and hard, uneasy about sitting in the sailors’ blood. Harris said, eyeing the carnage, ”This is a bloody butcher shop George. We have to get to beach, boys. Row your hearts out.”

They were now within forty-six meters of the beach. Thomas saw row boats from the First Invasion Wave abandoned there, and a few figures lying on it. As they came closer, he identified the figures as Australian dead and wounded. The water near the pebble beach was a diluted red colour.

Thomas and Harris’ boat had run aground on a sandbar, five meters from the beach. Thomas yelled out, “Time to jump out, boys” and leapt from the boat. The water was a meter deep and they waded through it onto the beach with their rifles raised.

Thomas was making sure all of his soldiers were out of the boat and striding the short distance to the beach. He turn   around and yelled to the midshipman, “Come on, Sir. You’ve got to get to the beach.” Harris was next to Thomas and said, “He’s pale white, George.” Thomas strode back to the boat and noticed that a small piece of shrapnel had penetrated the midshipman’s hat and pierced his head. He was dead. “One young Scouse lad who’ll never see the Mersey River again, Tiny.”...........

Click on the link to order John Tognolini'sBrothers Part One: Gallipoli 1915  

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