December 21 - Gallipoli: Evacuation of Anzac Cove Complete
Pictured - Soldiers break up rum cases prior to being taken offshore.
The evacuation of Anzac Cove, which had begun on December 8, was completed in the early morning of December 21, as the last 20,000 men boarded rowboats and rafts in the pitch-dark night that took them to waiting ships offshore. On the last day, the trenches guarding the cove had been guarded by only 10,000 troops. A Turkish attack would have broken through easily, but astonishingly, the evacuation was perfectly concealed from the enemy.
Miraculously, the invasion which had been chaotic from the start managed perfectly to hide the evacuation from the Turks. The trenches were depleted slowly, while artillery made occasional bombardments to convince the Ottomans to stay put. One enterprising soldier invented a trip-fire rifle using a tin of bully-beef that slowly filled with water, pulling the trigger, to make it seem like empty trenches were still full. One Australian, watching a column of mules heading to the boats, felt sure they would be found out:
“At once I thought–‘My goodness, if the Turks don’t see all this as it goes along they must be blind’. But as I went along behind them I began to notice how silently these mules behaved. They had big loads, but they were perfectly quiet. They made no sound at all as they walked except for the slight jingle of a chain now and then … . I doubt if you could have heard the slightest noise … . I doubt if at 1,000 yards [915 metres] you could see them at all-possibly just a black serpentine streak.”
The last rearguard waited until 4:00 AM for any stragglers, and then departed. The Anzac crucible was over. Soldiers had mixed feelings of relief and sorrow at leaving behind dead comrades. A sergeant from Auckland, Joe Gasparcich, remembered his conflicted feeling as he left the peninsula
“I came down - I got off my perch (the firing step) [and] I walked through the trench and the floor of the trench was frozen hard … and when I brought my feet down they echoed right through the trench, down the gully, right down, and you could hear this echo running ahead … Talk about empty, I didn’t see a soul … It was a lonely feeling.”
Perhaps the feeling was best expressed in a poem written by Company Quarter Master Sergeant A L Guppy, 14th Battalion, of Benalla, Victoria, in his diary:
Not only muffled is our tread
To cheat the foe,
We fear to rouse our honoured dead
To hear us go.
Sleep sound, old friends- the keenest smart
Which, more than failure, wounds the heart,
Is thus to leave you- thus to part,