Blizzard in the Dardenelles

We woke up to heavy snow this morning — halfway through April. Clearing off the car was a challenge, and then there was ice to scrape off the windows. I saw a container garden of daffodils and snowdrops that were frozen solid.

But, to paraphrase another blogger (That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele). this snow is nothing compared to Gallipoli. The Dardanelles’ average temperature in November is a tolerable 54 — jacket weather, we would say. But on Nov. 28, 1915, the peninsula was hit with a blizzard.

The Australian, New Zealand and other British troops began landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 — with another monthly average in the 50s — but the summer months were extremely hot and many soldiers developed dysentery and typhoid fever, because of the flies flourishing on the unburied, decomposing dead.

But the weather was hot, then it was warm, then it was cool — and then there was a horrific thunderstorm with rain so heavy that many men drowned in their own trenches.  The next day, the blizzard hit.

Here is one New Zealander’s account, from the Poverty Bay Herald, posted by the National Library of New Zealand:

More accounts and discussions can be found at the Great War Forum:

Snow at Gallipoli

April 25 is a day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders, and it’s also commemorated by the Turks.  Ceremonies around the world are very moving.

Put it on your calendar — and hope for better weather.




An Aussie and his memoir

Capt. R. Hugh Knyvett an intelligence officer with the 15th Australian infantry, wrote a memoir, or so  it was called, published in 1918 that is stunning for its good humor and sunny outlook.  He takes the strangest positive view of Gallipoli, that successful diversion for the navy (who dropped the ball) that was only ended by the weather and established the Aussie as a force to be reckoned with. He was writing to encourage the Americans coming into combat. Most Americans knew nothing of Gallipoli then — and most of them don’t know much about it now, except that Mel Gibson was in the movie.

Knyvett had a sharp eye for detail, especially whimsical detail. His accounts of his experiences in a London hospital are so entertaining, it’s hard to remember that he was badly wounded.

He greatly disliked his service in Egypt. If you’re sensitive to racist language, you will find these chapters hard going. Then he writes something like this:

“There were gorgeous sunsets—poetry there, but more poetry still in the wonderful mirages. Why, here, hung above the earth, were scenes from every age: Cleopatra’s galleys, Alexander’s legions, the pomp of the Mamelukes, Ptolemy and Pompey, Napoleon and Gordon—their times and deeds were all pictured here. Perhaps the spirit world has its ‘movies,’ and only here in the desert mirage is the ‘screen’ of stuff that can be seen with mortal eyes.”

Here he is at Gallipoli,

“Never did men live under worse conditions than in those eight months of hell, yet never was an army so cheerful. ‘Bill-Jim,’ which is Australia’s name for her soldier-boy, always makes the best of things, and soon made himself at home on that inhospitable shore.

“The first thing he decided needed alteration was his uniform. Breeches and puttees were not only too hot but they closed in the leg and afforded cover to the lively little fellow who lives indiscriminately on the soldiers of both sides. As each soldier began to trim his uniform to his own idea of comfort, it was soon, in very reality, a ‘ragtime’ army. Some felt that puttees were a nuisance—everybody realized that the breeches were too long, but differed on the point as to how much too long. Some would clip off six inches from the end, others a foot, and others would have been as well covered without the article at all. Almost everybody decided that a tunic was useless, but some extremists threw away shirt and singlet as well. A Turkish army order was captured which stated that the Australians were running short of supplies, as they made one pair of trousers do for three men.

“Evidently Johnny Turk could not understand the Australian disregard for conventionality and his taking to nakedness when it meant comfort and there were no women within hundreds of miles to make him conscious of indecency. Clothes that couldn’t be washed wouldn’t keep one’s body clean and became the home of an army that had no interest in the fight for democracy. The Australian showed his practical common sense in discarding as much as possible—but, say, those boys would have caused some amusement if drawn up for review!”

Actually, I have read elsewhere about an abandoned house in France that was looted because Australian soldiers had discarded their lousy, unwashable underwear and marched away in lacy, but clean ladies’ drawers.

Here’s the link to a free copy of Knyvett’s book, “‘Over There’ with the Australians:

And here’s a review of of the book by blogger Lisa Hill of ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, who has read more of it than I have:

You’ll want to know that he also writes about Nipper, the shepherd’s dog who went to war. He doesn’t say what kind of dog Nipper was, so I am arbitrarily assigning him a breed. Thus, here you are, from the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian kelpie.







A real-life Joey and Albert duo

The Brisbane Times has an interesting story today — I think it’s now yesterday in Australia — about a man and his horse who went to Gallipoli together. Only one came home:

“Shot by snipers at Gallipoli in May 1915, Major-General Sir William Bridges was bleeding to death in a hospital ship when he reportedly asked that his beloved horse Sandy be sent back to Australia.”

Sandy was returned to Australia in 1918 — the only one to come home of the 6,100 horses sent to Gallipoli.


When Hell froze over

You can get a good look at the Battle of Gallipoli from photos at the website

Here’s the gallery’s mission statement, from the website:

“The gallery commemorates the part played in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 by four West Country regiments and a Royal Naval Infantry Battalion, with strong county connections. In order of arrival on the Peninsular they were, the Collingwood Battalion of the Royal Naval Division, 5th (Service) Battalion the Dorset Regiment, the Queens Own Dorset Yeomanry and the two Devon Yeomanry Regiments. The majority were in action for the first time and in common with the other units of rapidly expanding British Army learned hard lessons of warfare at a terrible cost, fighting in an environment where they sweltered in the desiccating summer sun and froze in an ice storm from the heart of Asia.”

The heat and the flies are part of the enduring images of Gallipoli. It’s the last place I would ever have expected a blizzard to hit, but a massive storm struck Nov. 26/27, 1915, beginning with torrential rain with thunder and lightning, followed by flash flooding in which many were drowned, followed by a blizzard during which many men froze to death.

Here’s a description taken from the history of the 6th Bn, South Lancs:

At Suvla alone in the three-day blizzard, there were more than 5000 cases of frostbite and over 200 soldiers were drowned or frozen to death; no words can depict the horror of the situation with no shelter for the sick, overworked doctors, no winter clothing, and the absence of any means of evacuating the stricken, as no boat could approach the Gallipoli beaches until the fury of the storm had abated.”

Here’s more about the storm from various war diaries with much discussion of the number of casualties:


A group of men recovering from hypothermia following the great ice storm, in a hut made of biscuit crates. Photo from the Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset.


Memorial in London to the Royal Fusiliers, photo by ell brown. The 2nd Bn suffered nearly 90 percent casualties related to the storm.

Under the sea

The Telegraph reports that submarine HMS E14 has been found on the ocean floor in the Dardanelles. The sub was sunk by the Turkish in 1918.

The newspaper cheerfully reports that it probably contains the remains of the crew, which at least means the families will know where they are, surely a rare situation for sailors. Where are their names recorded? Where is the Menin Gate, so to speak, for those lost at sea?


1915 photo. Australian War Memorial caption : “Group portrait of the crew of the British Royal Navy submarine E14 as she came out from the Dardanelles straits. Identified, left to right, Lieutenant (Lt) Edward Courtney Boyle VC RN (centre), Lt Stanley (right) and Lt Lawrence (left), standing high on the conning tower.”