The First Day at Gallipoli

This extract about Lance-corporal Phillip Robin comes from Robert Kearney's book:
Silent voices: the story of the 10th Battalion AIF in Australia, Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium during the Great War 1914-1918, Sydney, 2005, pp. 79 - 94.

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At 1 am on 25 April 1915, the battleships and destroyers stopped on the sea between Imbros and the peninsula; they were now less than 20 kilometres from the small cove where in just a few hours the legend of Anzac would be born. It was almost time to move and everyone knew that shortly they'd be given the order to begin climbing down the ropes to transfer from the ship to the small rowing boats alongside. Knowing how busy he and his medics would be after they landed, Dr Harry Nott, the medical officer, had taken the opportunity to sleep while he could. He correctly presumed that after this night, sleep for the men and especially him, would become an uncommon luxury:

I was wakened at 12.45 am on 25 April 1915, put on my equipment and had a hurried meal in the ward room; and then proceeded to my station with the stretcher-bearers. There was some delay, but eventually we fled down a wooden gangway, constructed for the purpose temporarily, into small open boats. In the boat also were Capt. Shaw and about 8 "C" Coy. men, besides my stretcher-bearers. At the last minute, a lot of picks, shovels and sandbags were bundled into the boat. When all the men were settled in the boats, we were towed away into the darkness by small steam pinnaces; and I can remember just seeing in the gloom similar strings of boats on each side of us, and hear the faint thug-thug of the pinnaces.

By 2.35 am all boats were full and they commenced to drop back into their Positions behind the small steamboats that would tow them towards the shore. The moon didn't sink until 3 am and up until the time it did, the men could just make out above the water line the forbidding silhouette of the peninsula and the hills With no ambient light and the moon completely gone, the stars flickering brightly in the ebony sky would have reminded some of the men, particularly the drovers, of the many peaceful nights spent lying in their swags up at the brilliant outback sky. At 3.30 am the ships stopped and the order was given for the tows to go ahead. As the tows moved forward into the black void, the men, listening intently, could hear only the soft chugging of the steamboat ahead, their hearts pounding, and the occasional slap of a wave as it hit the side of the boat.

In his diary, Dr Nott describes his thoughts and the tension in the boat:

Occasionally we slid passed the shadowy outline of some large vessel, I was silting in the bow of our boat with Capt. Shaw and we sat there for hours it seemed, occasionally exchanging a few whispered words; every now and then glancing back over our shoulders; but we could see nothing in the darkness, except the outline of the pinnace towing us. As we neared the shore, the first glimmer of dawn was appearing in the sky ahead of us; and then we saw the ringed clear-cut outline of the cliffs, and hills behind them. It seemed that we would never reach this line of cliffs - they appeared to be so close, but never got nearer. Then my most constant thought was 'Will we get ashore before it is light enough for the Turks to see us?' and we seemed to be creeping in beautifully, until crack! A single rifle report, and we knew we were seen.

The first report was followed by 2 or 3 irregular shots and then a fusillade of reports began. We must have been some hundreds of yards from shore when the first shot broke the stillness of the dawn - because we seemed to sit in the boat for ages, with the little steam pinnaces 'all out' towing their burdens ashore; while we listened to the irregular crackle of rifles, mixed with bursts of machine gun fire. Bullets were 'zipping' into the water round the boat; and whirring away into the distance, as they ricocheted. We had all been gradually crouching, lower and lower into the boat, as the bullets got thicker and closer.

The first faint glow of dawn came at around 4 am and some time shortly thereafter the steamboats cast off the tows. Dr Nott explains how his boat, now on its own, covered the remaining distance to the shore:

Then we were suddenly cast adrift by the pinnace, which swerved out of our onward path, as we-floated in with our impetus. Four men in the boat had been told off to the oars with instructions to pull hard for shore as soon as we were cast adrift; but for a few seconds, everyone in the boat seemed paralysed - but only for a few seconds, because we heard a faint cheer from down the beach somewhere, and that just broke the spell; the oars splashed into the water and the boat leapt towards the shore - a few strokes and we felt the boat ground, and we all jumped over the side into the water and scrambled ashore and lay flat on the sand, surrounded by similar prone forms.

Dr Nott went on to describe the confusion on the beach. From his report one gets a better understanding of how extraordinarily difficult it must have been for commanders at all levels to assemble their soldiers and get on with the mission:

I don't know what time it was, but the darkness was just fading and I could see men lying around me, while others were running about trying to find their platoons or companies. After a few minutes the crowd on the beach began to thin and the firing ceased, with the exception of a few snipers who were still firing from somewhere along the cliffs to the left. I looked round for my bearers and collected four of them. It was then light enough to see one's way about, and we soon discovered some wounded men lying about on the beach; I dressed these as well as I could with first field dressings, and collected them as well as I could in groups.

For obvious reasons the practice on the battlefield was to try to separate the dead and wounded as quickly as possible:

By this tune it was light and boatloads of men were being towed in towards shore front the destroyers; a Turkish battery was firing on these boats and on the beach from Gaba Tepe, and the battleships were shelling this battery. Then I began to think about catching up the Btn. and collected three of my bearers, and they went up over ridges and down into gullies in the direction I thought the Btn. must have gone. I then realised what a mistake it was for an RMO to lose touch with his Btn - even to wait to dress wounded men.

Dr Nott realised that as part of the headquarters element he should have remained with them and left the wounded to be attended by the stretcher-bearers who were allotted to move with the platoons of each rifle company:

There was very little firing, and now, wounded men were coming back; but we eventually came to the top of a gully and found some wounded men who said we were holding the ridge in front and waiting for reinforcements; the units were all mixed up and I couldn't ascertain what Btn was in front of us; but I thought it a good place to establish a RAP (Regimental aid post) I had no medical equipment but did the best I could with first field dressings, and sending the wounded down to the beach in batches to help one another along. I sent two of my bearers forward to direct the casualties back to me and to bring any back the best way they could - all the stretchers had been left on the beach or in the boats.

After some hours of comparative quietness, the artillery and rifle fire suddenly increased dramatically. It wasn't long before a large number of wounded men made their own way; or were carried back over the ridge to where Dr Nott and a couple of his stretcher-bearers had set up a temporary dressing station. Nott was shorthanded to say the least, especially since three of his bearers had got themselves lost during the landing.

I spent all day at the head of this gully, dressing wounded that straggled back, and sending them down to the beach in batches, sometimes in the charge of one of my bearers. Towards evening one of my bearers came back from the beach and said he had seen Cpl. Davinett and some of the other bearers; so I went down to the beach to get them to bring up stretchers.

After finding Corporal Davinett, Dr Nott sent him off to search for the lost stretcher-bearers, who as it turned out were some distance further along the beach. While waiting for Davinett to return with the lost bearers Nott met up with Captain Fry from the 3rd Field Ambulance; the pair sat down and shared their experiences to that point, as well as a tin of bully beef and a few biscuits. Corporal. Davinett and the bearers had not returned by dark so the doctor, after wandering about in the dark and getting lost in a gully, decided he desperately needed to sleep.

This wasn't easy because it was pretty cold and rained a little, and I had neither greatcoat or WP (waterproof) sheet. However, I got a little much-needed rest and as soon as it was daylight, I found my way back to the beach and found Cpl. Davinett, most of my bearers, my medical orderly and two of the AAMC (Australian Army Medical Corps) details.

Dr Nott, now reunited with his men, collected some stretchers and was heading back to the original dressing station he'd set up, when they met a soldier who gave them directions to find battalion headquarters. Failing to find the headquarters they decided to stop on the top of one of the gullies leading off what later became known as Monash Gully. After the soldiers in the gully informed him there was no medical officer in the area Dr Nott decided it was as good a place as any other and there set up a temporary regimental aid post. During the landing there were countless acts of heroism, many of which, as is the case in all battles, would have gone unreported. Private CP Green, having already safely reached the shelter of some rocks along the edge of the beach, turned and saw a wounded mate struggling in the surf and although the beach was under heavy fire, Green, without hesitation or consideration for his own safety; left his sheltered position and ran back over the exposed beach to his wounded mate. He raced into the water, reached the man and dragged him successfully to shelter. Private Green's actions were seen and reported and he was later awarded the Military Medal.

Lieutenant Eric Wilkes Talbot Smith and his scouts had been tasked to find and destroy a battery of Turkish guns as soon as they landed and so on the eve of the landing had sought out a cooperative navy gunner to give them expert tuition on the most efficient way to get the job done. The gun battery they were tasked to destroy was on a flat-topped hill near the objective, about a kilometre inland. Smith and his party of 32 scouts were scheduled to be among the first to land on the peninsula. Just before they landed, Smith recalled the brigade commander's explicit instructions, 'No shooting before daylight.' He instructed his men to, 'Fix bayonets! Load with five cartridges, cut-offs closed, safety catches out, nothing in chambers.' As soon as his party landed, Smith raced across the beach, climbed 27 metres up a scrub-covered slope and yelled, '10th Battalion scouts, are you ready?' He then called, 'Come on boys, they can't hit you!' and led them into battle as the Turks above fired over their heads. The rest of Smith's story is told in a letter to his mother, written on 7 May 1915 by Lieutenant Colonel Weir:

Your son Eric died at his post bravely fighting for the Empire. He was among the first to land on, Sunday, April 25, at about 4.25 am. He had charge of the scouts, and went about his duty in a fearless manner. After he had done all that was possible with his scouts, he took charge of our machine guns, and was in the act of firing one when he was wounded in the head. From the first we considered his wound would prove fatal, but he was taken aboard the hospital ship, and it was not until yesterday afternoon, when one of our wounded officers returned to duty, that I learned that Eric had passed away. I sincerely sympathise with you in your sad bereavement.

Eric was a soldier who would most certainly have distinguished himself had he been spared. He proved of the greatest assistance during the training of the regiment at Mena. At Morphettville he had charge of the training of the Battalion scouts, whom he handled most skilfully. I was in close touch with him on the evening before we loaded. He prepared some plans for me, little dreaming that we were to lose nearly half our Battalion during the first twenty-four hours of the landing.

More about Eric Smith is revealed in the official despatch issued from the Royal Military College Duntroon by order of Colonel Parnell CMG, Commandant:

Dear Capt. Ross,
Re: Lieut Talbot Smith,
He was about the first to land, and was in charge of the Bn Scouts. When scouting became impossible he took up his duty on the machine guns, and was working the same when he was wounded by shrapnel in the temple. The five men, who were on the gun with him were either wounded or killed, but he bravely stuck to his post and fired his gun until thus severely wounded. He was laid at the back of the gun by Sgt.-Major Sawer, who thought that Smith was dead. This all happened in the afternoon of Sunday, April 25.

On Monday morning it was discovered that Smith was still alive. He was then removed to the beach and thence to one of the hospital ships, but his injuries were so dreadful that his recovery was beyond human aid, and he gradually sank and died. I don't know for certain the date, but I believe it was April 27. Lieut. Talbot Smith was a splendid officer, most capable and energetic, brave and resourceful. As a scout, during our manoeuvres at Mersa, he furnished me with splendid information and sketches. I miss Lieut. Talbot Smith very much indeed. He had such a thorough knowledge of military subjects that he was always chosen to fill any emergency gap. He was in turn, assistant adjutant, scoutmaster, machine gun officer, and platoon commander. Yours faithfully (Signed) S. Price-Weir Col.

In fact, Lieutenant Smith was taken to Alexandria, and died there on 30 April, two days after his 23rd birthday. Returned soldiers later said he and his scouts captured several Krupp guns. They also said he was very popular with his men and 'he would have been alright if he'd retired when he was first wounded, he deserved a VC if ever anyone did.' 1172 Bugler Herbert Alexander Bartholomaeus wrote home from Gallipoli:

He was as brave an as one could meet. If you had only been here to see him lead a charge, you would have thought the same. He was simply wonderful, and it did our hearts good to be with a man like that.

In another letter home some time later, Bugler Bartholomaeus wrote M Lieutenant Smith, 'I was right alongside him. He shouted, "Come on Australians; give them the bayonet. That's all they want," and we charged up the hill, but when we reached the top the Turks hadn't waited for us.

Private Arthur Blackburn and his 'old tent mate' Phillip Robin [Private Phillip de Quetteville Robin] distinguished themselves on the first day of the landing by penetrating further inland and coming closer to the objective of the Gallipoli expedition than any other Australian or Allied troops throughout the entire campaign. The pair were with the battalion scouts and after transferring from the Prince of Wales were in the prow of one of the early boats to land. Their orders were simple but very clear 'When you get out of the boat, go like hell for Third Ridge'.

After reaching the shore they scrambled through the scrub and 'go like hell' they did, winding their way inland all the way to and even past Scrubby Knoll, the main objective. Later, Private Blackburn describing his landing in a letter to his brother, wrote:

The beach was very rocky and it was not the easiest thing on earth to clamber over big slippery rocks. All this time bullets were whizzing all around us and men were falling here and there. I rushed across the shore to the shelter of a small bank and there shed my pack and fixed my bayonet then straight on to drive the beggars away. The way our chaps went at it was sight for the gods; no one attempted to fire but we just went straight on up the side of the cliff, pushing our way through thick scrub and often clambering up the steep sides of the cliff on all fours.

Scrubby Knoll was the most prominent point on Gun Ridge and 15 kilometres (9 miles) to the northeast of the 400 Plateau, yet these two young scouts, having followed their orders to the letter and reaching the objective, were now alone. It was about 8 am and as the two men looked across to the east they saw the sun brilliantly reflecting off the shimmering waters of the Narrows. Finding no sign of enemy troops in the area they commenced to scout southwards around the knoll until suddenly they sighted a large group of Turks in a valley to the east. Being vastly outnumbered they wisely chose to about-turn and move swiftly back over the ridge before carefully making their way back to the battalion area on the 400 Plateau.

Another man who exhibited great courage was Lieutenant Noel Medway Loutit who, seeing Bugler FT Broughton was mortally wounded, stopped and lifted him out of a boat although under fire himself. In 1980, Captain David Wilson, RAR, then adjutant of the 10th Battalion RSAR, interviewed Brigadier NM Loutit, DSO and Bar, ED. Recalling the events of the landing, Brigadier Loutit described the enemy rifle fire as severe, pointing out that the Turks were using a nickel-coated bullet with a lead centre, causing the Australians to believe that the Turks were using explosive bullets. Loutit said during the interview that when the Turkish bullets hit, the lead drove through the nickel casing, which then created a small hole on entry but a much larger one on exit. Loutit reported having a man in his boat hit in the throat and said that the bullet tore out the whole back of his head. Once the firing commenced and men began to be hit, Loutit and his men jumped from the boat and found themselves in what he described as fairly deep water.

Fortunately, the men's packs were full of spare clothes and for this reason the packs managed to keep the men afloat. As soon as their feet touched the bottom the men ran ashore, dumped their packs and as they'd been ordered to move inland as quickly as possible, commenced to scramble up the slope.

Lieutenant Loutit distinguished himself later in the day by penetrating inland a great distance-for many years it was believed that he and his men had penetrated deeper than any other troops. Loutit had gallantly lead his party of 32 men to a point close to Gun Ridge and then, after leaving the main body in a tight defensive position on a knoll, he, Private Roy Ogilvie Fordham and an unidentified man went forward to another knoll. At the time Loutit thought this was Scrubby Knoll-they'd actually crossed from the 400 Plateau and arrived on a spur leading up to Third Ridge to the south of Blackburn and Robin's Position. Lieutenant Loutit, after coming under heavy fire returned to where he'd left Lieutenant JL Haig and his party of men.

It was approximately 9.30 am and the Turks were beginning to cross Third Ridge in great numbers. Loutit's group withdrew in an orderly fashion and without panic; however, during the last leg they had to outrun the Turks and both sides raced each other to the last foothill before crossing the Legge Valley. By around 10 am the Turks were swarming over Third Ridge like angry bull ants while Loutit and his party raced up Wire Gully under a hail of bullets and finally reached the main line on the 400 Plateau at around 11 am. By this time there were estimated to be around 2500-3000 Turks on Third Ridge.

Brigadier Loutit described the landing and the actions of the first day as a 'guerrilla affair'. He was probably referring to the fact that during this disorganisation men simply banded together in small groups with men of other units and fought like crazy to stay alive. After telling David Wilson how he and his men captured four field guns at the top of Shrapnel Gully in a depression known as the Cup, he said:

Now this is a story I have not told many people: I had been ordered by Brand (and appeared out of nowhere as usual), who was on his way back to the beach, to capture the Turkish, field guns by frontal attack. This I disagreed with and took other action attacking the gun position from the rear and shooting the gun crews. Then proceeding to this position we shot and let loose about twenty horses we found in a stockyard.

The senior officers had drummed it into the men that if they failed as the covering force the entire operation would fail. They were told, 'Whatever happens you must press on', and so they knew, no matter what the opposition, they had to keep moving forward. Loutit and his party pressed on and proceeded down Owen's Gully where they came across same Turkish tents with women's clothing in them and gardens around the front of each. This gives an indication of nor only how long the Turks had been there, but just how comfortable they'd made themselves.Their lanterns here still lit as they had all fled.

We pressed on to Scrubby Knoll and then up to Gun Ridge where we could see the Narrows. The fire here was too heavy and retiring across Scrubby Knoll I lost twenty of the thirty-two men I had with me. The dozen of us spent the next four days out in front of the main positions before being relieved.

Lieutenant Loutit and his men, through sheer determination and courage had actually penetrated all the way to a spur running off Third Ridge, but from his position on the spur could not have sighted the Narrows. He and his party had actually climbed a spur line leading up to Scrubby Knoll where, unknown to him at the time, there were two false crests. Moving along this spur, he passed the first false crest and after climbing a further 275 metres (300 yards) and almost to the top of the second crest, he saw through a sharp dip in the ridgeline the shining waters of what appeared to him to be the Narrows. On such a prominent point it wasn't long before the Turks Spotted the Australians and opened fire. Thinking he'd sighted the water of the Narrows and still without support. Loutit wisely withdrew.

CEW Bean, during his visit after the war, walked over Loutit's route and also saw the shining waters, precisely as Loutit had described it. However, it was not the waters of the Narrows but a stunning 'view of the Straits about Kilia Liman'.

Until 1934 it had generally been conceded that Lieutenant NM Loutit and Private Fordham had reached the farthest inland point but now with this new evidence, Bean later wrote in reference to Privates Blackburn and Robin: 'So these two men came closer even than their three comrades of the 10th, closer, so far as we know, to any other soldier of the Allies, to the objective of the Gallipoli Expedition'. After the war, in reference to which group penetrated the farthest inland, Arthur Blackburn VC said:

All that I have done is to supply Dr Bean, at his request, with charts and descriptions and the course that Phil Robin and I took after leaping from the boats at dawn on April 25, 1915. I do not know precisely now far we or anyone else went, and a statement as to who went farthest to Gallipoli is Dr Bean's responsibility based on information which he gathered from myself, other men, and official documents.

638 Private Phillip de Quetteville Robin attended the Collegiate School of Saint Peter between 1897-1900. He left school early after demonstrating remarkable skill and ability as an Australian Rules football player and in 1905 played his first game for the Norwood Football Club against fort Adelaide. For five years before enlisting he worked at the Bank of Adelaide as an accountant at the Murray Bridge branch. In 1907 he won the prestigious silver Magarey Medal as the best and fairest Australian Rules football player in South Australia. His brilliant form in the 1908 football season ensured his name was known throughout Australia. In 1909 he was chosen to play for South Australia and held his position until enlisting with the battalion in 1914.

Sadly, 30-year-old Private Phillip Robin was killed three days after the landing; he was promoted posthumously to lance corporal. In November 1915, only seven months after Phillip was killed, his young widow, Nellie Robin, died in England. The cost for the Robin family during the Great War was indeed high, for on 29 June 1916 one of Phillip's cousins, 2180 Corporal Arthur Mervyn Robin of the 7th Battalion, was killed at Messines and then in July 1916, another cousin, 329 Sergeant Geoffrey de Quetteville Robin of the 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, was killed in action at Fromelles. In February of 1917 yet another of Phillip's cousins, Lieutenant James Keeling Robin MC, was killed in action while serving with the 4th Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery.