21st May 1915 – 10th September 1915
The dash between the above dates represents the time that my Great Grandfather William Lyons spent at Gallipoli It was less than four months, so why was it such a significant period in his long life of eighty-two years? Why did I react the way I did when I discovered the words “Anzac Cove” on his war records?
I have spent a considerably longer period of time researching my Great Grandfather’s experiences encapsulated by that tiny stroke of a pen or impression of a typewriter key. For the last 14 years I have been questioning his various grandchildren and reading between the lines of the various pieces of memorabilia that might light up that window of his life. One might even question my Great Grandfather’s wish to keep seemingly insignificant memorabilia from events that occurred decades prior to his death. I realize now how significant those items are, although they never paint the entire picture.
One thing is for certain. Gallipoli will never fade away in our history books whilst the landing at Anzac Cove is memorialized on 25th April each year. Those who lived and struggled there, have all gone, but their dash will never disappear. It remains indelibly written on their records, immortalizing events that affected thousands of men. It stands for endurance, mateship, pain, cruelty, futility, illness and the list goes on. It also represents hope in the face of hopelessness. Many survived against the odds.
For some, the dash was shorter than for others. For many young soldiers who climbed into the waters off Anzac Cove on the wings of adventure, their dash was awaiting them in a hale storm of flying bullets. William Lyons, however, was destined to carry the burden of his dash for another forty years.
He carried that burden silently, without fuss. He attended Anzac Day Ceremonies each year, but rarely spoke of his experiences, other than harmless conversation about ‘maggots in the food’. Until I began to research my Great Grandfather’s life, that short dash that represents his Gallipoli experience had long become overshadowed by the dash that stretched over his eighty-two years of life. Perhaps it was a time capsule he preferred to keep buried along with the painful memories it contained.
In writing about my Great Grandfather’s dash, I try to treat him with the respect that he deserved. I can only go on what I read and none of the diaries and books that are available paint a pretty picture. In placing him in certain scenes, I am writing a universal story that might fit any man who existed in that “bastard of a place”. I try to imagine the moral questions that consumed their thoughts. The questions of “grieving for dead mates”, “guilt at surviving when one’s mates have not”, or “leaving one’s mates behind to continue the fight”, surely would have been at the forefront of a soldier’s thoughts. Yes, the dash between the dates on a soldier’s records represents so much more than a period in time.
Lest We Forget.