Photo: Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, Commander, Mediterranean Expeditionary force; Field Marshal Lord Kitchener; Major-General Alexander Godley, Commander, New Zealand and Australian Division; and Major-General John Maxwell at North Beach, 13 November 1915. [AWM
By the end of December 1915, winter had caste a mood of death over the English landscape. The green fields had faded to a ghostly white; skeletal trees reached out their fingerless limbs begging for life; and the grim stone and masonry buildings stood like the new tombstones in the Weymouth Graveyard as a testament to a world that was gripped by war.
During the previous month, Lord Kitchener visited the Dardanelles for the first time. During the campaign, he had continually denied General Hamilton’s requests for the reinforcements and supplies sorely needed in order to have half a chance of achieving their objectives. As he climbed to the observation posts, the complex situation he had reluctantly initiated with Winston Churchill earlier in the year, stared back at him with glaring eyes.
In no time, Lord Kitchener’s pristine uniform became tainted by the smell of death. As he walked through the treacherous labyrinth of trenches, sidestepping ill-concealed bodies and inhaling the foul air that was polluted by rotting flesh, he found himself in the middle of a human quagmire. Perhaps it was the living dead who inhabited the trenches, who brought tears of humanity to his lofty eyes. They finally saw for themselves the futility of the cause. Thus, upon meeting with General Monroe and other Generals commanding beneath him, a plan was devised to evacuate the Peninsula. By the time the full story was reported, the plan had already been executed with astounding success.
William was met by a chorus of laughter and smiling faces as he entered the barracks.
“Sir, have you heard the news?” One young trooper, holding up the Daily Telegraph, addressed Will.
“What is that son?”
“The war in the Dardanelles is over Sir.” The young man shouted above the background din.
“Well, that is good news.” Will spoke as he sank into the nearest chair, gazing around at the sea of faces creased with joy. He could even detect a soft glimmer in the hollow dark eyes of a young man who sat in a wheelchair nearby. For as long as William has been in the camp, the young man has been totally void of expression.
“Can I read the newspaper article?” William outstretched his arm towards the young man who told him the news.
William spread out the newspaper on the table before him and saw the headlines for himself on page 9.
The headline “The Biggest Bluff in the History of the War”, jumped off the page, compelling his eyes to scan the narrow column. He was hungry for evidence that something was actually achieved on the Peninsula; that the entire operation was not all in vain.
“It is over at last. Everyman, every animal, every baggage cart and out of the guns, all but six, which were intentionally left behind to fire till the last minute, and were then destroyed, have been embarked from Suvla and Anzac under the nose of the unsuspecting Turks.”
William shook his head slowly as he thought about the ingenuity of the entire operation. He continued to read:
“The biggest bluff in the history of the war has been brought off. A new record has been established and the British Army and Navy, working hand in hand have set up a joint triumph of organization which will last long in the memory of war…
Whatever the fruits of this Dardanelles campaign may prove to have been, it will always stand out in military records for two things – the gallantry of the first landings and the skilfulness of the evacuation….
As he tried to digest the words, his finger ran along the simplistic lines of a map drawn in black and white on the page. He knew first hand that nothing about the operation was simply black and white. He continued to read the words, glorious words that were as empty as the millions of spent shells that littered the beaches, gullies and ravines of Gallipoli. His initial feelings of joy were now drowning as memories began to flood to the surface; real memories of real events that no glorious words could possibly describe.
For a moment, he stared blankly at the page whilst crumpling the edge of the paper with his clutching grip. Uncurling his fingers, William closed the paper firmly, holding his clenched fists upon the flattened pages, wishing he could erase that chapter of his life.