The extra layer of his overcoat made little difference to Will as the September morning clung to the remnants of a cold night. Laying on the sandy shore of Anzac Cove awaiting his evacuation, his teeth chattered and his body shuddered with spasmodic surges of pain. Through his feverish haze, he noted the bodies crowding every inch of beach space around him; either ill or wounded, they awaited the arrival of a launch to ferry them out to an awaiting Hospital Ship. As his eyelids fell involuntarily, he listened to the droning voices and groans that muffled the echoes of rifle shots ringing out of the hills above. Although, nothing could completely drown out that ceaseless deadly chatter between the two warring sides.
Each morning in the trenches of Chatham’s Post, he has listened to the roll calls and the weary responses. Each pause brought a growing sense of anticipation, a thin thread of hope that a voice from somewhere might break the silence. Wide eyes stared out of blackened faces, yearning for a gasp, a whisper, any sort of claim to a name. When none came, the officer continued down his list until he tripped over another name of a poor sod whose life has been snapped away prematurely. Each day the list was shorter. When only 40 out of 500 names were accounted for, a heavy cloud of depression engulfed those left to continue the daily fight. Death had entwined its insidious arms so tightly around their existence that when a comrade’s life was lost no-one had time to mourn or reflect. That was a luxury not afforded to men who knew only too well that they might be next.
Will reopened his eyes and glanced out beyond the sea of khaki to the community of boats and ships that bobbed up and down on the pristine aqua waves of the Mediterranean.
“Who will ever believe,” He wondered aloud, mesmerized by the scene before his eyes.
Another man sitting on the sand next to him answered, “No-one will, will they? That is the greatest tragedy of all.”
The Crack, crack, crack of rifle fire echoed across the clear blue sky, announcing the possible loss of more lives in the hills that have been his home for five months. As much as he was glad to be leaving, Will grieved for those who would stay behind. A niggling stab of guilt cut into his thoughts knowing the possibilities of the days and the months ahead. More of the same old drudgery, in order to simply survive.
Drifting in and out of sleep, his reality blurred into delirium. Jack Hanly stood motionless, smiling. Standing to attention he lifted his hand to his forehead, forming a salute. “Don’t turn back Will. Just don’t turn back.” He said before disappearing.
Will lifted his head off the supporting sand bag to speak, but his words whirred around in the torrid of thoughts that muddled his brain, unable to escape. He searched out across the jumble of reclining figures on the sand, and through the moving forms of stretchers and bearers, carrying more injured and sick. Poor Jack had gone. He was just one of many friends who will never leave the Peninsula. For them there will be no fanfare on their homecoming, only a pink telegram laced with tears.
“Lieutenant William Lyons!”
Will managed to slowly raise his hand to claim his name. At last, it was his turn to leave this hell, although he knew that the inviting blue waters of the bay may be luring him to his own demise. There were no guarantees that he would not be a target for a Turkish sniper.
Crack, Crack…Crack., Crack, Crack…..followed by several loud booms crashed across the sky like angry thunder.
“It sounds like business as usual!” Will noted to himself, as the distant argument became more intense.
Glancing up, Will’s eyes clouded over as they mirrored the meanderings of smoke rise out of the honeycomed cliff face.
“I agree with Ion Idriess,” He whispered, recalling the words of his fellow light horseman.
“Of all the bastards of places, this is the greatest bastard of all!”¹
Photographs: All photos are from William Lyons’ personal collection.
- The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess.