Will Lyons watched the shoreline fade into the distance as he enjoyed the breezy albeit crowded open deck of the hospital ship “Scotian” as it cruised toward Malta. For the first time in four months he was able to relax, although it would take some practice. After-all, he had spent the duration of his service at Gallipoli with very little sleep and his nerves alert, awaiting the unexpected, or for death to come crashing through the door. How can one just turn it off like a tap?
He was one of the lucky ones, or was he? Given the choices were to be wounded, to be ill or death, what would be the preferred fate? Although the finality of death would be a deterrent in normal circumstances, death at Gallipoli was surely a relief to some. As the weeks grew into months, morale decreased as victory appeared unattainable. It was a conflict that would have tested the most religious of men. William’s faith would have been tested on an hourly basis. How could one believe in a God who allows the daily mass destruction of human beings? For the men on the peninsula, their existence seemed futile.
Whatever test was set for mankind in 1915, failure rippled like dominoes across the entire hierarchy of military organizers. The Generals in charge anticipated a swift victory in the Dardanelles. Apparently confidence was so strong that the initial soldiers sent to Gallipoli were issued local currency to use when they reached Constantinople. However, no such victory was achieved and due to bad organization, victory at Gallipoli was purely based on wishful thinking and myth.
The possibility of a capable opponent was greatly underestimated, along with local knowledge of the landscape. Being totally unprepared for the sheer number of those wounded in the first few days of the conflict, resulted in a shortage of boats to transport the wounded out to hospital ships. Many wounds were left without adequate treatment for days which in turn resulted in infections. Once again, in August similar problems occurred following the high number of casualties from the fighting at Lone Pine, The Nek and Hill 971.
Burying the dead also created a problem because of the layout of the land. Our men were burrowed into the cliff face, facing the enemy above and the sea behind. The constant angry clashes between the opposing sides provided little opportunity to bury the dead. Rotting corpses in the trenches, above the parapet and in the space between the two trench lines added to the misery of living conditions. Summer’s heat exacerbated the stench with in turn brought plagues of flies and disease. Apparently, the months of May and August were the only two months when numbers evacuated due to wounds was greater than from illness.
Will’s home for four months was a breeding ground for disease. Adding to the inhuman conditions, the food issued to soldiers was grossly inadequate for men whose mental and physical endurance were tested day and night for months. The rations of hard biscuits, tinned bully beef, jam and cheese were only meant to be consumed for short periods, not seven months. With the lack of fresh food, a shortage of water, lack of bathing facilities and primitive sanitation, it was no surprise that thousands succumbed to disease.
In the end, disease may not have been Will’s choice, but it certainly was his saviour; it was his ticket to leave that hell called Gallipoli. Following a week in Malta, he departed on 17th September 1915 aboard the HS Cransbrook for England. His home for the next three months was the London General Hospital. He would never return to the Dardanelles again.