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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre aims to present an accurate history as chroniclers of early Australian military developments from 1899 to 1920.

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre site holds over 12,000 entries and is growing daily.

Contact: Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

Let us hear your story: You can tell your story, make a comment or ask for help on our Australian Light Horse Studies Centre Forum called:

Desert Column Forum

WARNING: This site contains: names, information and images of deceased people; and, language which may be considered inappropriate today.

Saturday, 13 June 2009
Australian Light Horse, Myths and Legends
Topic: Gen - Legends

Australian Light Horse

Myths and Legends

 

Over the many years, powerful myths and legends regarding the light horse and the behaviour of the men has become prevalent. This has occurred due to a number of reasons. Perhaps a relative has exaggerated their role for one or another reason. This is the main reason. Following on behind is someone who has misheard or misread some information which found its way into the Official History and thus become a piece of orthodoxy. Jingoism, Spite, prejudice and covering an embarrassment usually plays its part too. The end result is a distorted picture of history. This section aims to correct some of those mistakes.

 

Items

Fleas on fleas - The results from careless work - another case study 

Ion Idriess and the Beersheba Charge description

The legend of the female sniper at Gallipoli 

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Anzac v ANZAC

Fleas on fleas -The results from careless work - a case study 

All Light Horsemen wore emu plumes 

 

The alleged Elliott photograph examined

9th LHR On Manoeuvres

9th LHR On Manoeuvres, Part 2

 

 

Further Reading:

Myths and Legends

 


Citation: Australian Light Horse, Myths and Legends

Posted by Project Leader at 11:55 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 10 February 2011 4:11 PM EAST
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Fleas on fleas - The results from careless work - another case study
Topic: Gen - Legends

A Legend from Misunderstanding

Squadron? Regiment? Brigade?

 

This is a brief examination of an entry in the book by Harvey Broadbent, Gallipoli: the fatal shore, Penguin, Camberwell, Vic., 2005. At p. 208 there is reproduced this picture:

 

It bears the caption:

Survivors. Just these forty-two men of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, lined up for roll-call, escaped death in their charge at Pope's Hill.

This comment bears some scrutiny. Since a Brigade contains about 2,200 men, although at Gallipoli just prior to the August offensive, most Light Horse Brigades were below strength to containing about 1,200 men on establishment. If the formation mentioned and the figures quoted in the caption were taken literally, that is, 42 men survived, then by implication, there was a massacre of some 1,100 men at Pope's. This, of course, never happened. These men are the remnants of one under-strength regiment of the 1st LHB or even more accurate, the balance of a squadron from the 1st LHR on their regular roll call. Unlike the attack on the Nek where failure was compounded, Chauvel, the GOC of the 1st LHB, saw that the attack failed and called off the other waves from charging. So while this may be a picture of haunting pathos for that formation, the caption needs a little bit of modification.

Here is the same picture on the AWM site:

http://cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/H00356

This is the picture caption: "All that was left of the 1st Australian Light Horse. Only 42 members of the regiment returned after the charge at Anzac."

In essence Broadbent seems to be confused between the terms "Brigade" and "Regiment", an understanding of which is fundamental to accurate military historical writing. This is an error that a novice with little understanding would make, not someone producing a coffee table sized book.

Just to recapitulate on the concepts of Light Horse formations, we have these approximate figures:

A Trooper = 1 Man 

A Section = 4 Troopers

A Troop = 10 Sections + 2 troopers or 42 troopers

A Squadron = 4 Troops or 168 troopers

A Regiment = 3 Squadrons + 1 Headquarters Section of 40 troopers or 544 troopers

A Brigade = 3 Regiments + 1 Machine Gun Squadron + 1 Signal Troop + 1 Field Ambulance Squadron + 1 Mobile Vet Troop + 1 Headquarters Section +1  Artillery Battery + 1 AASC Company with Baggage Train, or  about 2,176 troopers.

A Division = 3 Brigades + 1 Headquarters Section or 6,600 troopers.

Obviously in reality these figures varied by between 10 to 20 per cent, depending upon the circumstances. Learning this information is fundamental if one is to begin writing about the Light Horse during the Great War. The difference between a Brigade and Regiment is also a fundamental concept and illustrated above by the figures, is a vast difference between the two formations. 

Our next task is to put the "42 men" into some type of context. If we examine the 1st LHR War Diary, we see this entry:


1stLHR_WD_07081915_1qaa1.jpg
 
1st Light Horse Regiment War Diary, 7 August 1915

 

So if we tally up this data, we get these figures:

15 killed
34 missing - most will be KIA
98 wounded
42 at roll call
189 men in toto for the Regiment on 7 August 1915.

This figure is far too low for even the 1st LHR and possibly understates it by about another 150 - 200 men. In other words, there is every possibility that the men on the roll call are from a particular squadron and not the regiment.

While the loss of men at any time is tragic, the picture caption gives a false sense of tragedy by overstating the result of an event through either careless or deliberate scholarship.

Careless entries occur when the author does not put in the effort to examine the material to be published. Errors like this put the commentary about the other pictures and text into doubt as no one is able to readily discern the level of accuracy of a particular section. Unfortunately, careless scholarship does not have a sign placed upon it by the author warning the ready that something is dodgy so it ends up tainting the body of the text. This is sad because it spoils what is essentially a very well written book.

On the other hand, for conspiracy theorists, deliberate would indicate that the text is highly political with the intent to blame others for the casualties incurred by Australian forces. At first it was blame the British, now it is blame the Americans. The political idea is that it is everyone else's fault except our own. The alternative corollary of this message is that Australians are incapable of bungling themselves. We are perfection personified. A former Australian PM, Keating tried to peddle this line as did the movie Gallipoli. The truism is of course that if there was a choice between screw up or conspiracy, always go for the screw up. Thus it is doubtful that this mistake was a deliberate error designed to push a particular political line.

So with that in mind, careless or deliberate, it would be best to harbour grave doubts about the veracity of the text in this book and actually examine the authenticity of the captions let alone commentary.

 

Further Reading:

The Australian Light Horse – Structural outline

Myths and Legends

 


Citation: Fleas on fleas - The results from careless work - another case study

Posted by Project Leader at 11:26 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 13 June 2009 11:25 PM EADT
Saturday, 24 May 2008
Ion Idriess and the Beersheba Charge description
Topic: Gen - Legends
 
A Legend from Exaggeration

What did Idriess actually see at Beersheba?

 

Arguably, one of Australia's best known novelists in the 20's and 30's, Ion Llewellyn Idriess produced a book call The Desert Column. Published in 1932, it claimed to be an account of the ordinary trooper with the Light Horse during the Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine campaigns. His many vignettes are well written and have become oft quoted to add colour to dry history. The particular book was based upon his copious diaries which he kept despite his circumstances. Even today, one can still feel the grit of the desert upon the pages. It is most transforming and immediate while reading each new entry.

One of the best known and well used quotes deals with his description about the fall of Beersheba. Here is his vignette:

"Then someone shouted, pointing through the sunset towards invisible headquarters. There, at the steady trot was regiment after regiment, squadron after squadron, coming, coming, coming! It was just half-light, they were distict yet indistinct. The Turkish guns blazed at those hazy horsemen but they came steadily on. At two miles distant they emerged from clouds of dust, squadrons of men and horses taking shape. All the Turkish guns around Beersheba must have been directed at the menace then. Captured Turkish and German officers have told us that even then they never dreamed that mounted troops would be madmen enough to attempt rushing infantry redoubts protected by machine-guns and artillery. At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. Machine gun and rifle fire just roared but the 4th Brigade galloped on. We heard shouts among the thundering hooves - horse after horse crashed, but the massed squadrons thundered on. We laughed in delight when the shells began bursting behind them telling that the gunners could not keep their range, then suddenly the men ceased to fall and we knew instinctively that the Turkish infantry, wild with excitment and fear, had forgotten to lower their rifle sights and the bullets were flying overhead. The Turks did the same to us at El Quatia. The last half mile was a berserk gallop with the squadrons in magnificent line, a heart-throbbing sight as they plunged up the slope, the horses leaping the redoubt trenches - my glasses showed me the Turkish bayonets thrusting up for the bellies of the horses - one regiment flung themselves from the saddle - we heard the mad shouts as the men jumped down into the trenches, a following regiment thundered over another redoubt, and to a triumphant roar of voices and hooves was galloping down the half mile slope right into the town. Then came a whirlwind of movement from all over the field, galloping batteries - dense dust from mounting regiments - a rush as troops poured for the opening in the gathering dark - mad, mad excitement - terrific explosions from down in the town.

"Beersheba had fallen."


The exerpt is fast, exciting and thrilling. One can feel the motion of the horses, the sound of the guns and the fall of Beersheba. It has everything the reader could ever ask for in a description.

Since the claim is that the "Desert Column is more than my diary. It is myself.", there is an implied invitation to read those particular diaries. They are well preserved at the Australian War Memorial and located at AWM 1DRL/0373. Here is a copy of the specific page dealing with the end of the day, 31 October 1917 from the diary of Idriess.

 

 

Below is a transcription of the appropriate pages from the diary.

Diary entry 2 November 1917 by Ion Idriess
About 2nd Nov A few nights ago we left the camp, and rode away along the really well metalled road to Beersheba. It was full moon, the road ran between a valley of hills all the way. Or artillery, ambulance and ammunition transport rode along the road, and the noise on the hard road must have sounded a long way off. Sometime after twelve O'Clock, the road branched. Up one road went the Seventh Regt, to tackle a Turkish outpost at Bir Arara. A New Zealand regiment went up the other road to tackle another outpost. The rest of the Brigades followed on behind. Both roads Junctioned again near Beersheba and the whole force was to Join up at the Junction.

The outpost the Seventh were to tackle cleared out, but Just as daylight was breaking we heard rifle fire and machine gun fire away to our left and knew that the New Zealanders had found their outpost at home. Soon the old sun was up, and dammed glad we were. Away went that longing for sleep, and we were allowed to smoke up, which is paradise after an all night cold ride. The valley grew wider and wider, Bedouin cultivation made its appearance all around and finally five miles away in the hills we caught sight of the white mosque and houses of Beersheba. So far as we troopers knew our objective was to get behind Beersheba and stop the Turks from escaping, while the other Brigades on our left, with the infantry on their left mad a frontal attack on Beersheba itself.

Over the redoubts around Beersheba were the shrapnel clouds from our shells and black clouds of smoke and thick dust marked the bursting of high explosive shells. Machine gun and rifle fire sounded much closer. All our troops got in artillery formation as we were crossing a big flat in full vision of the Turkish guns. We went two miles before directly from the hills in front of us, came Bang then Whizz zzzz, zzzz, Bang and a shrapnel shell burst over the heads of the troop just in front of us. It was a steady hand gallop then across the flat, straight for the hills in front of us. Jacko shelled us all the way. Some of the led horses got excited, and the packs not being strapped on properly, they rolled under the horses bellies, with the result that the unfortunate beggars who were leading them had to dismount and fix the packs again as best they could. Presently we got into a deep wadi, quite close to cover and waited a while. The Seventh LH were already in action. The regiment was on the foot hills, firing up the hills at the Turks. We could see the Turkish machine gun bullets splattering the dirt up merrily all up around the chaps in the seventh. Then it came our turn to give the Seventh a hand. We had a gallop across half a mile of flat country to where the Seventh had their horses in a deep wadi. The Turks turned their machine guns and rifles on us, but their aim was bad, We got into the Wadi under cover and dismounted for action. But for some reason or other we didn't come into action. After about an hour we mounted again and took up a position on the Turkish flank where we waited until dark, alternately watching the Turks in the hills above us and watching the Turkish shells bursting amongst our men in the flat behind. In the meanwhile our little battery, with a few shots, put a Turkish gun out of action which had been troubling us all morning. When darkness fell we rode about four miles back to a big wadi, watered our horses, rode back towards the Turks again, and went on outpost duty for the rest of the night, all terribly sleepy and tired.

Coomparing the two versions indicates that they have no similarity whatsoever. The result is to question if indeed Idriess could have actually seen the charge he wrote about in The Desert Column although failed to record in his diary. To ascertain this, we need to examine a map detailing the location of Idriess, the terrain and his range of vision. Below is one such map.

 


From his position around Tel Sakati, there is a projected view that was obtainable from that position west towards Beersheba and south towards the position where the 4th Light Horse Brigade formed for the charge. The red lines describe the maximum possible vision given optimum conditions. Bisection the south and west view is the mound known as Tel el Saba, a place where the Turks built a redoubt and held it till about 3.15 pm on 31 October 1917. It was only after this redoubt fell that the charge could actually occur.

Now to view the scene from the assembly area of the 4th Light Horse Brigade prior to the charge. The picture is contemporary with the light adjusted to illustrate the map vision from the above map at that time of day, 4.30 pm 31 October 1917. The salient features have been hightlighted.

 

Charge starting point at Beersheba, 31 October 1917.

 

It takes little to come to the conclusion that it was almost physically impossible for Idriess to view the charge that he described.

The conclusion here is that while there is no problems with the description, which is stirring, it is not an account viewed by Idriess. It is no better and no worse than any other fictional or reconstructed account. The only thing it misses is authenticity. It is not an authentic or authoritative historical statement. Just because Idriess was in the vicinity does not lend any additional authority to the statement. It just means that he was nearby but missed the show. It was only many years afterwards when a mystique was attached to the charge that Idriess penned this description.

The mystique has meant that many people made claims to participate in the charge. Tales of Welsh infantrymen charging, Australian infantry at Ypres charging, light horsemen who were still in Australia charging, indeed, over the years, many wild claims have been made as part of family legends. All of them inspired by a desire to be associated with something that quickly turned from a small action to a legend. Idriess was not to be left out of this story. Reading The Desert Column, one finds many invented glosses where stories have been imported to add to the flavour of the book. This is just one example of the many imported tales.

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Beersheba

Myths and Legends

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Ion Idriess and the Beersheba Charge description

Posted by Project Leader at 10:35 PM EADT
Updated: Monday, 26 July 2010 9:43 PM EADT
The legend of the female sniper at Gallipoli
Topic: Gen - Legends

The Battle at Gallipoli

A Legend from Exaggeration

The Mysterious Woman Sniper at Gallipoli

 

Three armed women in a group of Turkish Partisans.

 

The legend

The legend of the female sniper at Gallipoli teases the psyche and so refuses to disappear, despite the elapse of over nine decades since its origin.

The iconography of the story is evident, as is the sub text. There is the motherhood of a woman, the symbol of the life giver and nurturer suddenly turning on this role and becoming the life taker. Men find this rather chilling since their first memory of life is in the embrace of their mother and thus the learnt response for survival is to trust the mother. This male embrace of the mother translates to females per se as a gender. Life experiences may alter some of the ideas but the attachment of a male to his mother still remains regardless of the passage of time.

It is into this fertile soil of masculine concepts of femininity which allows the growth of a such a powerful myth. The durability of the myth adds weight to its inherent psychological power. Tracking down the myth thus proves to be a relatively simple task. Dismissing the myth from the male psyche is  almost impossible indicating that it will endure regardless of the evidence.

However, regardless of this grim reality, in the following essay, the actual myth will be analysed through the sources to its origins with a possible explanation.

 

War neuroses and shell shock

The best place to begin is with the end product through the mind of a man driven insane by naval bombardment at Gallipoli. In the book by F.W. Mott, War neuroses and shell shock, (London, 1919) at pp. xv-xvi this cuirous story emerges:

 
""I left England the 8th of March and went to Gallipoli on the 26th May, and about the middle of August one of our monitors fired short. I felt something go in my head, then I went to the Canada hospital; they said it was concussion." ... His wife says that she has letters from him, in one of which he described how he killed a Turkish woman sniper. He does not remember writing this letter, but there is evidently some retrograde amnesia."

 

[Note: A full analysis of Great War battlefield trauma in general and the story of this man in particular was published in an article by Onno van der Hart, Annemieke van Dijke, Maarten van Son, and Kathy Steele called Somatoform Dissociation in Traumatized World War I Combat Soldiers: A Neglected Clinical Heritage.  The cases is examined in Case B, Dissociative deaf-muteness.  See: Trauma Information Pages.]

While no evidence is given as to where this particular soldier was located during the Peninsular Campaign, the internal evidence and dates seems to lead one to the conclusion that it was with the British Army at Suvla Bay, possibly the Chocolate Hill assault. However, this is a guess based upon the evidence, not a certainty. 

The issue here is raised by the wife of this soldier receiving letters from her husband in which he claims to have  "killed a Turkish woman sniper". It is this startling claim from a person who was at Gallipoli as the claim directly ties a man to an action. The only problem is that there is no body found. 

However, that does not mean that there are no references in the Diaries of a female sniper. There is a remarkable entry in the War Diary of the 1/4th Norfolks Battalion recorded on 15 August 1915:

 

lt was decided that our first line should be relieved by the Essex brigade. I, from my ridge, was to give covering fire.

The 1st Battalion Essex advanced well and lost few men. The other battalions, who had delayed, suffered more severely. All we could do was to keep down the fire of the snipers by shooting into the trees. Rumour has it that some of these snipers were tied to trees, with water and food within reach. Women snipers have been caught within our lines with their faces, arms, legs, and rides painted green.

 

The key word in this particular entry is "rumour".  There is no complementary entry in the 1st Essex Battalion's War Diary stating that they captured any women snipers - as the above entry is in the plural. Nor do any other diaries make claims at capturing copious numbers of women snipers.

Information provided by the man described by Mott to his wife regarding the killing of a "Turkish woman sniper" indicates that this was the delusions of a very ill man rather than a reality. The fact that the soldier could not remember writing or sending these letters tends to support this conclusion. While not suggesting that this soldier did not suffer, for he clearly did, one thing he did not do was to kill a "Turkish woman sniper" as there is no evidence of such an action occurring through any of the documented sources.

 

The Australian Story

The Australian role in transmitting this legend is also strong. Here is an example taken from none other than the works of the Official Historian, CEW Bean and the Australian War Memorial. 

 

Pope's Hill, Gallipoli

[From: AWM G01767]

 

The description of the photograph reads:

 
Looking north up Pope's Reserve Gully (Hill) from the old casualty clearing station, 150 yards above the supply depot. The lowest point on the skyline was held by Turkish soldiers. The high corner on the right is the extreme left corner of Pope's Hill. The high ground on the left is Walker's Ridge. A small pine tree on the left centre on the slope of Walker's Ridge is the tree which was pointed out to the new arrivals by the older hands as the place where the lady sniper was caught in the early days of the campaign. One of a series of photographs taken on the Gallipoli Peninsula under the direction of Captain C E W Bean of The Australian Historical Mission, during the months of February and March, 1919.

 

It must be pointed out that this is an iteration of a rumour, not a statement of fact by Bean or anyone else involved in the taking of the photograph or provision of the description.

The photograph and description point to an entry point for various Australian letter writers to detail the capture and killing of a "female Turkish sniper".  Stories and legends grew up about this very issue. In the book compiled and edited by C.E. Crutchley, Machine Gunner 1914 - 1918, (1975) there is a paragraph which reads:

 

"An Australian patrol caught a Turkish woman sniper who had the identity discs of several British soldiers hanging round her neck. They shot her, and that shocked me for I thought she was a brave person doing only what many British women would have done to invaders of our land. But I kept my mouth shut for I knew that in war everyone is effected by its lunacy."

 

Adding to the many Australian voices is the recently published letter by Professor Dr Mete Tuncoku, the current Director of the Atatürk and Battles of Çanakkale Research Center (AÇASAM), in whose book Çanakkale 1915: The Tip of the Iceberg a copy may be found. The letter purports to be from an Australian soldier, J.C. Davies. It reads:

 

A Turkish girl sharp shooter was fighting while waiting in an ambush on May 18, 1915. She sniped the whole day and killed many of our soldiers. I was still upset to see that she was shot dead before sunset by one of our soldiers.

 

Two aspects of this claim clearly stand out.

The first relates to the actual author of the letter, J.C. Davies. The possible candidates are:

15523 Sapper John Campbell DAVIES, 2nd Divisional Signal Company, 16th Reinforcement;

8062 Private John Charles DAVIES,  1 Australian General Hospital 1-6 Special Reinforcements and 2nd Australian General Hospital, Special Reinforcements; and,

5499 Driver Joseph Cecil DAVIES, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, 11th Reinforcement. 

An examination of the Service Files from these members of the AIF reveals that no such soldier by this name served at Gallipoli, let alone on the date mentioned in the letter, 18 May 1915. Unless the name on the letter is incorrect, then the letter cannot be attributed to J.C. Davies. 

Secondly, the War Diaries of AIF units serving at Gallipoli are totally mute on this story.

One thing that is certain is that many letter writers to home told some wild tales to their loved ones. The reasons were many fold. Much of it relates to the fact that war at Gallipoli was a weary, grinding, boring affair gutted of any great glamor. One could not write home that the trenches stank like an unkempt abatoir mixed with raw sewage. Or that the day was filled with drudgery such as guard duty, standing to, carrying water and rations or just sitting in funk holes anticipating the next shell. No glamour or derring do. So stories were invented to spice up the experience. So too was the legend of the female Turkish sniper. Deprived too long of female company, these men began to fantasize about meeting women. The only way they could have such contact on the Peninsular was if they were Turkish soldiers. So the solitary, sexually available sniper became the focus of the fantasy.

A multitude of letters were sent home to Australia by AIF soldiers serving at Gallipoli which described in detail the capture and death of the young female Turkish sniper at one location or another. The legend was as strong then amongst the soldiers as it is today.

To resolve the veracity of these claims, an examination of all the available War Diaries of the units who were stationed at Gallipoli during the campaign of 1915 is the best method of resolving the issue. The Australian War Memorial has produced a full collection of these diaries and made them available online. So the process is more of reading the diaries rather than of access. Anyone and everyone with access to a computer is able to examine the claims for themselves. The Great War Diaries may be accessed at this address:

Australian Army War Diaries - First World War

For those willing to accept the word of the author of this article, an examination of these diaries reveals that there is no mention of any female sniper being captured by any unit at any time during the whole campaign. There is not even a hint. Many notations are made about the scourge of the snipers surrounding the trenches but no mention of any female.


Even the New Zealanders get in on the act

One of the most bizarre claim is found in the book edited by Walter Wood called In the Line of Battle - Soldiers' Stories of the War. At page 60 is the following story told by 9246 Private John Frank Gray, 5th (Service) Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment.

 

It was round Chocolate Hill that we made our queerest find of all — women snipers. There was a kind of blockhouse which had been a farmhouse, and it had a very fine well, which had some very fine water — a precious thing. There was a big run on the well, and a lot of fellows were shot by snipers who could not be traced, till a fellow in a Welsh regiment swore that he could see some one moving in some trees not very far away. A machine-gun was brought up, and fifty rounds or so were fired into the trees, which dropped some very rare fruit — four men Turks and one woman Turk, all snipers. When we went up we found that they were almost naked, and had their faces and hands and bodies and rifles painted green to match the trees. And there they roosted, like evil birds, potting at our chaps whenever they got the chance, which was pretty often. This was such a good haul that firing was directed on all the trees, and more snipers were brought down, including several women. Some of the women wore trousers, like the men, and some had a kind of full grey-coloured skirt. They were as thin as rats, and looked as if they had had nothing to eat for months. I think there were six or seven women snipers caught in the trees, and it is said that the Turks have women in the trenches; but I don't know if that is true. I saw one woman sniper who had been caught by the New Zealanders. I don't know what was done with her; but as the men came back they told us they had bagged her in a dug-out, where she had a machine-gun and a rifle, and that she seemed to have been doing a very good business in sniping.

 

An analysis of the 5th (Service) Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, War Diary  of the period shows nothing. It provides a good description of snipers in this particular region. While stationed at Lala Baba, Gallipoli, on  Monday, 20 September 1915, the following entry was made:

 
Orders to take over lines of trenches from 53rd Division. We take over portions of lines of 1/7Cheshire Regt. (T.F) and 1/5 Welsh Regt. (T.F). Lines inspected of 18th September and dispositions decided upon. 40th - 39th Brigade in Firing line. 38th Bde in reserve at point 117 L 7-8. Trenches in moderate state of defence but extremely clean. Enemy trenches now between 300-400 yds distance but their snipers show great enterprise and approach & establish themselves within 12 or 15 yards of our sap heads.

 

In the War Diary of this Battalion written during their stay at Gallipoli, only three entries were made that referred specifically to snipers. They were on 20 September (above), 23 and 24 November 1915. Not one mention of a female sniper being captured either dead or alive.

So in regards to the official record of this battalion, the story has no recognition. However, this is one of the best stories yet within the female sniper of Gallipoli genre. This one has everything in it. Sex, naked trysts, nests of snipers and a lone naked woman armed with a rifle and machine gun secretly blasting away at the Enzeds, surreptitiously mowing them down with a specially adapted sniper machine gun.

Let's first deal with the machine gun toting, kiwi killing, semi-nude, sylvanian bint. This event was alleged to be personally witnessed by 9246 Private John Frank Gray, 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment [although it should be noticed that he later becomes 24067 Private John Frank Gray, Hampshire Regiment] .

Here is a vague, unknown New Zealand unit that wandered out of its position to move north to the Chocolate Hills and capture a female sniper au natural. To date the only official accounts of New Zealand troops and Chocolate Hill is them witnessing the attacks on 7 August from miles away. A quick check of the War Diaries for August 1915 indicates not one New Zealand formation was within cooee of Chocolate Hill. So while there is a named individual giving this account there mention of a vague New Zealand formation in action that could never have been witnessed by him.

But even if New Zealand were in the area, the author of the extract demonstrates a poor understanding of the use of machine guns and their usage at Gallipoli. The Turks suffered a very great shortage of machine guns at Gallipoli. Every Turkish infantry regiment [equivalent to a British Brigade] had only 4 machine guns. No Turkish battalions had machine guns. A machine gun company was deployed by Regimental HQ to where it was felt to be most effective rather than at the beck and call of the individual battalion commander. So with such a shortage of machine guns, the likelihood of such a weapon being secreted in a burrow for the personal use of a semi nude female sniper begins to look a little thin indeed.

But then we have the additional problem of machine gun usage. They are most effective as an indirect weapon. Training at that time placed machine guns at an oblique angle to the firing line rather than front on which was totally ineffective. For maximum effect, the machine gunners were trained to fire in 5 second bursts and then move the gun angle followed by another 5 second burst.

Two obvious factors arise in this situation.

The first is the consumption of ammunition - it is tremendous and this semi nude woman would not only be sprayed by hot shell casings from spent ammunition but also had to feed the gun as a solo effort, an extraordinary feat considering most teams employed a minimum of four men for efficiency.

The second factor is the muzzle flash. Any sustained use of the machine gun gave off a clear muzzle flash which was easily spotted. One technique employed by the Allied troops was to employ a sun helmet as a shield and thus reduce the muzzle flash. This required one brave soul putting the hat over the barrel and moving it around as the material disintegrated and thus suppressing the muzzle flash visibility to the Turks.

In essence, even if that brave, semi nude, woman had wanted to use a machine gun, as a solitary affair, it would have been near impossible. The story is risible and can be dismissed as pure fantasy.

 

The British angle

The following letter is from Lieutenant Colonel Frank Mills to C. F. Aspinall-Oglander, the author of the British Official History of Gallipoli. Prior to publishing the volume, various incidents were sent to the men involved for their comment. Mills sent this letter on 5 February 1930 as part of his comments on Aspinall-Oglander's Chapters XXV & XXVIII which dealt with Suvla from 9 - 10 August  and 15 - 16 August 1915.

 

Mills to Aspinall-Oglander, 5 February 1930

 

The letter reads:

 

You say nothing of the Turkish sniping, the wonderful shooting, and organisation of the Turkish snipers, shoul surely not be omitted in a history such as this. The sniping from their trenches was unique, but nothing to the sniping from the trees, by Turks left behind our line, after our advance. The country is covered with stunted oaks, low, thick boles, and very bushy. The Turks left men in these trees, in hummocks, a large amount of food, and ammunition, clothed in green, and faces coloured green. These men did endless damage. You dare not go out in search for them by day, and at night it was too dark to see them. One cannot help admiring these men. They must have know what their end would be, and yet they continued sniping till killed, and they did a lot of killing before being theselves killed. The men never forgave them, and when one was caught his end was quick. I did not actually see it, but was told on the best authority of one case, which shows how our men looked on snipers behind our lines. He was at last located, and some went out to the oak and mad him come down. To their surprise he had a girl with him. She spoke a little English. They bayonetted the man at once, but the girl said: "Ah but you English do not kill women." The men were so infuriated at the loss of their pals, that one of them said "don't we" and put his bayonet through her. She also had been sniping, and had a rifle, and knowing the state the men were in, awful as it may seem, one can perhaps understand it. 

 

While the story is very interesting, it is actually unsourced and unsubstantiated. The usual pre$$$ "I did not actually see it, but was told on the best authority of one case ...." is employed before telling the story. It is a dead give away that the story is suspect. There is no mention of a unit or a date in this story so no corroboration can occur through independent third party sources. 

Then we have the letter of 13790 Corporal Ronald A Semmence, 6th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was writing from G Ward, British Red Cross Hospital, Giza, Cairo, Egypt, 22 August 1915:

 
"I was wounded on Sunday August 15th, when our lot along with the Munsters and "Skins" took a Turkish trench and about 20 prisoners. ... The place is simply walking with snipers, and they paint themselves green. I have heard that some female snipers were captured. How true it is I don't know."
[See: Athy Heritage Centre - Kildare Observer.]

 

Semmence clearly isn't convinced about the stories of the female snipers which is indicated by his caveat - "How true it is I don't know". Since the number of snipers is now plural there is the suspicion that every sector on Gallipoli had its own female sniper story.

The next story told by Myles Dungan in the book Irish Voices from the Great War, the following extract tells a similar tale:

 
"Some of the best Turkish marksmen, as it turned out, were markswomen. 'Among those discovered was a peasant woman - the wife of a Turkish soldier - who lived with her old mother and her child in a little house near the Irish lines' (referring to Suvla). This particular woman was a good shot who specialised in hitting stragglers on the many trails between the front lines and the beaches. Having made sure her targets were dead she would then rifle their bodies. When she was finally identified and captured her house was searched. A large quantity of money was found, but more surprising was the discovery of a number of identity discs. Either she was proud of her work or she was getting paid a piecework rate for the job!"


This is a curious tale comes closer to the actual origin of the story. Bear in mind that this story takes place at Suvla as does Semmence story. Dungan also states that the story is extracted from Michael McDonagh, The Irish at the Front, (1916) indicating that it is second hand and recycled.

It is time to compare this story with the first known published account of the female Turkish sniper at Gallipoli. 

 

The first published account

The London Times edition of 16 July 1915, carried this article on page 4.

 
TURKISH WOMEN SNIPERS.

It was fitting that the first convoy of wounded from the Royal Navy to be admitted to a London hospital should have been fallen to the Dreadnought Hospital at Greenwich. The convoy, numbering about 60, arrived on Wednesday night and consisted entirely of men wounded in the operations at the Dardanelles. The men were drawn from several branches of the service, including the R.M.L.I. and the R.N.D. All of them had borne a share of the terrible work in the Straits or upon the peninsula, and all had stories to tell of heroic adventures and splendid deeds.

One of the most interesting personal narratives was that of a young fellow who worked on a minesweeper in the Straits, floating mines were encountered in great numbers, and as it was only just possible to see them the danger from them was great. "Observation mines" were also met with; these are in reality a continuous chain of tames under electrical control stretching from one shore to another, across the channel. Observation posts are stationed at either end of the chain and as soon as a vessel crossed the line mines are exploded. The mines cannot, for obvious reasons, be swept up.

One day the minesweeper ran ashore while under a hot fire. There was danger of complete destruction and the crew were disembarked. The sweeper was, however, refloated that night. The shelling from the forts was severe, the mast being cut away and the engine-room damaged.

In the next bed lay a young Northumbrian who had taken part in tho great landing on April 25. He cherished lively recollections of his experiences more especially during tho period, when tho attackers found themselves obstructed by submerged barbed wire. The scaling of the cliffs, too, seemed to have left a deep impression on his mind, " That was a great sight, and how we did it I don't know." This sailor witnessed the capture of a woman sharpshooter in a little white house near the shore. She was a Turkish woman, and the house was her own. She had refused to leave it: Her old mother and her child were with her when she was taken. She had persistently fired on our men from a window, aiming in particular at the officers. She must have rifled the bodies of her victims, for some 16 identification discs and a considerable sum of money were found in her possession.

Sharpshooting by women was described by several other men.

Marksmen in Green.

Some most remarkable devices seem to have been adopted by tho Turkish marksmen. Thus one man had his face painted green so that it would be indistinguishable among the leaves of the tree in which he hid. He was dressed in green clothes. Another sharpshooter, who worked from a trench, had erected a bush in front of him; his presence was betrayed by the disappearance of the bush into the trench during a period of inactivity. While night attacks were in progress, a fresh batch of sharpshooters invariably tried to pass behind our trenches and conceal themselves in trees or behind shrubs, and thus there was danger from tho rear as well as from, in front.

One patient described tho bravery of Mr. Asquith's son during the advance in which he was wounded. Some of the men had thought that Lieutenant Asquith was of too gentle a disposition for this rough work.

"But," said the patient, "they soon found out their mistake. He was as brave as a lion. He dashed out in front of his men and kept well in front, calling to them to come on and waving his arm. When he was hit he was 90 yards in front of the others. It was a fine sight to see him."

The general opinion about the Turks was that they were fine fighters until our men got to close quarters. Their good equipment was emphasised and the enormous numbers of machine-guns they possessed, and the extensive character of the fortification and trench workings.

Several men described the heavy shelling from the Asiatic shore of the Straits. One man said he saw a huge shell from this quarter fall on the beach and kill 60 horses; the next day another shell killed 16 horses. It was reported that the guns on the Asiatic side were mounted on rails and ran back when not in use into caves or tunnels.

Two of tho wounded men, had been at work with the Australians. They cherished a lively regard for these troops. "They fear absolutely nothing" one of them told me. "They would go through anything; and it they were all dead I believe their corpses would go on fighting. They are the fiercest thing God ever made, and there's nothing so sure in the world as that they will go through, the Turks before they are done with it."

 

This article published in such a reputable newspaper gave credulity to an incredible story. People now had permission to make up stories about this issue knowing that it was backed up by one of the most respectable newspapers in the British Empire.

The one common factor that becomes very noticable in all of these stories is the sheer quantum of female snipers at Gallipoli. They are everywhere from Suvla Bay to Cape Helles. With all this female sniping activy going on, one would think that surely one female sniper should have been captured alive. And yet not one was ever captured. Nor was there ever one body presented to an authority figure authenticating the existence of a female sniper. The shores of Gallipoli were flushed with bodies of men killed in action, of whom many were snipers, but the record is totally mute when it comes to the bodies of female snipers. 

 

Origins

Another subsidiary legends needs to be examined and thus allow an illustration of the methodology employed to move from myth to accepted history.

Below is a photograph that was originally published in the Sydney Mail, 22 September 1915, at p. 10. 

 


The caption reads:

 
The cables have told us a great deal about the work of Turkish snipers. This photograph shows one, ingeniously hidden in foliage, just after capture by a British patrol.

 

An identical photograph is held by the Australian War Memorial and is displayed upon their website: See AWM G00377.

Attached to the AWM photograph is a letter authored by 1763 Pte Arthur Greenwood, 8th Battalion. He was writing from his hospital bed in Hampshire on 16 February 1916 to his family. His parents had seen a photograph of him and another person identified as 1930 Pte George Clifton, 8th Battalion, escorting a camouflaged Turkish sniper. Greenwood wrote:

 

"That Black you see in the picture was concealed in the scrub decorated as you see him you could not see him in daytime he being exactly like a bush..."

 

The sniper had been hiding in scrub for some time -- "He was getting a lot of our men all the time" -- before Greenwood and Clifton disabled him at dusk.

From this letter, Greenwood states that he was the man who captured the sniper in this picture rather than the British as officially claimed. So now there are two stories -

1. The sniper was captured by the British; and,

2. Greenwood and Clifton caught the same sniper.


But this isn't the end of the story. We have the allegation of Bean which contradicts the claim made by Greenwood and the Sydney Mail. He said the photograph was:

 
... a complete fake. It was taken at Imbros. The Australians are from the Field Battery, and the Turk is a prisoner from the camp there.


That changes the complexion of both the Sydney Mail and Greenwood accounts. The only thing that appears to be factual is the story Greenwood invented for the sake of his parents. As mentioned before, the men in the AIF were enthusiastic yarn spinners. In this case, the photograph presents two well groomed, well fed men guarding a Turk who is also impeccably camouflaged. The one thing that stands out is that all three are clean. There is nothing remotely Gallipoli about them. The sandy, bare beach is nothing that could be seen anywhere at Anzac. In addition, at Anzac there was a stockade set up for prisoners.

 

POW Stockade at Anzac.

[From: AWM G01188]

 

One glimpse at the stockade and its vicinity would convince anyone that this scene is no where near that stockade nor Anzac. As Bean correctly records, the picture was staged for propaganda purposes and the media at Imbros.

This illustration takes the investigator one step further in unravelling the female Turkish sniper story until finding its genesis. One thing that becomes clear is that the sniper story is one of legend rather than anything that can be checked against fact. So what is the genesis of this story?

It was a common practice in these regions for women to pick bodies clean after a battle. It was a tradition that went back thousands of years. This action was reviled by the Australians as they wrote contemptuously about the Bedouin who stripped the bodies. The British felt the same. So here we have a tradition transcending the millennia relating to body stripping. Along comes tens of thousands of wealthy British, New Zealanders, French and Australian troops just covered in loot. For the impoverished farmers of Gallipoli this was a bonanza of looting that could not be missed. After all, someone had to compensate them for the damage done to their farms and halting their daily routines which was economically ruinous. So the bodies of these young men are picked clean, especially the ones who fell on the first day when there was no front line to speak of. Maybe a woman living in a white house outside of Krithia did pick some bodies clean. Who knows? But one thing we do know is that she was never part of the Turkish military establishment nor was she commissioned by the Turkish military to snipe. That part of the story just never happened.

At best we have a body looter taking advantage of an opportunity presented when the troops invaded Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

 

Further Reading:

Myths and Legends

The Battles at Gallipoli

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The legend of the female sniper at Gallipoli

Posted by Project Leader at 5:15 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 March 2010 2:59 PM EADT
The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Topic: Gen - Legends

 A Legend from Embarrassment

Homosexuality in the AIF

 

 

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name - Bill Woerlee

In the Edwardian era, when sexual issues were rarely discussed, even less was written to provide records of these attitudes. Society considered some practices, like homosexuality, as so heinous that imprisonment was the only answer. For survival in a hostile environment and in an effort to communicate their desires with each other, men invented various code words. The description of being “earnest”, as popularised by Oscar Wilde in his play “The Importance of Being Ernest”, had similar cache then as the word “gay” has now. “Confirmed bachelor” was another euphemism. Apart from a few sensational scandals, no one knew the real extent of this hidden behaviour.

When the AIF began recruiting men, no one addressed the issue of homosexuality or set out a policy to deal with its implications. To the average earnest man, the lure of an all-male institution would have been irresistible. There is every indication that such men would have been over represented within the AIF in relation to the broader community. Despite social disapproval, very few men were punished for homosexual behaviour, which seems to indicate an attitude of tolerance in the AIF so long as the conduct was not obvious. The key to understanding this attitude was embodied in the Empire’s acceptance of the British Generalissimo, Lord Kitchener, a homosexual with an entourage of like-minded men. Turning a “blind eye” seemed the only sane policy.

For those few who were detected, action was swift. Two cases in the Light Horse, that of Pte Charles Hendrick, 9th LHR and Pte Norman Benjamin Marshall of the 7th LHR, outline the consequences of being noticed. Both were discharged from the AIF for the same reason but their motivations were entirely different.

Pte Charles Hendrick came from Wellington, New Zealand. He signed up for service in the 9th LHR on 14 December 1914 with the 1st Reinforcements. As a former stockman, he was short and wiry in build. His swarthy appearance was a result of miscegenation. During attestation, apart from all the usual detail, the medical examiner also noted a tattoo on his left buttock.

Hendrick left Melbourne for Egypt on 6 February 1915 with the "Surada". While military life in Egypt was always demanding, at Mena Camp and then Heliopolis, duties were usually over by early afternoon. Ample leave for the balance of the day was always available and only denied if the man was assigned to specific camp duties. For Hendrick, the offerings of Egypt became so spellbinding that he never wanted to leave. With the forced departure from Alexandria with the 9th LHR to take part in the Peninsular Campaign at Anzac, Hendrick disappeared. He hid around all the seedy bars and hotels of Alexandria as a vagrant to avoid capture. His task was not too difficult as there was a vigorous black market trade in fake identity papers for deserters. It took until 13 June and a tip-off for the Provos to find and arrest him. Within days he was put on board a ship for Anzac where he arrived on 16 June accompanied by 21 days’ loss of pay and 10 days, No 2 Field Punishment, for his pains. At Anzac, Hendrick began to serve out his sentence. Unhappy with his circumstances, a couple days later Hendrick did something so rash on 18 June that it earned him 21 days, No 1 Field Punishment, a rarity for the AIF.

The Turkish attack on 30 June 1915 was enough for Hendrick. For him, Idriess summed up Anzac as: “Of all the bastards of places this is the greatest bastard in the world.” Hendrick wanted out from Anzac. He had tried nearly everything but still remained. One last attempt. He had to go for the big one. On 1 July, Hendrick offered to sodomise another soldier in the trenches. It was an action that brought the reward of a quick arrest by the Brigade police, a rapid transfer to Alexandria on 7 July, and there, held in detention until taken under guard to Australia, where he was immediately discharged on the day of his arrival. For Hendrick, the war was over. The Army gave the bureaucratic equivalent of “flipping the bird” by stripping Hendrick of any medal entitlements despite having served, however unwillingly, in a declared war zone for two weeks.

 

A few years later, on 25 October 1918, Hendrick rejoined the AIF. The war ended before he could serve overseas again. Hendrick was not beyond lying to the authorities. Upon signing the Attestation Papers in 1914, he put his age as being 35 and yet in 1918 claimed his age was 36, a truly miraculous feat. While Hendrick may have been discharged because of “gross indecency”, the nature of his behaviour indicates it was less a consequence of any lifestyle choice and more a motivation to leave Gallipoli by any means possible provided that it did not include sustaining hideous wounds or dying.

The case of Pte Norman Benjamin Marshall from the 7th LHR is quantifiably different from Hendrick. Marshall was a 21 year old dealer from Ryde when he joined up with the 7th LHR on 24 April 1917. He stood at 1.63m and weighed 60kg, a thin man with blue eyes and light brown hair. It would also be fair to say that while Marshall might have been an enthusiastic soldier he could not be described as one of Australia’s finest. He took a long time to be considered as an efficient soldier, indeed, it took seven months. The cohort in which he signed up with at the RAS Showgrounds in Sydney had already gone to Egypt with the 31st Reinforcements. By November he was considered to be efficient enough to be taken into the 7th LHR with the 34th Reinforcements.

When he arrived in Egypt, he spent a month at the Reinforcements camp before being transferred to the 2nd LH Bde Training Regiment. He stayed there for two weeks, when at the end of March 1918, he received an attachment to the Army’s version of the no hoper squad, the Railway Construction Unit. It was hoped that by a regime of hard work and rough company, Marshall might be transformed from a “Mummy’s Boy” into a man. A month of manly struggle later brought on a case of tonsillitis, which resulted in the hospitalisation of Marshall for over two months. After another spell in the Training Regiment, Marshall finally joined the 7th LHR on 9 July 1918, some 15 months after he enlisted.

 

 

If Marshall thought he was a welcome figure, he soon found otherwise. Within three days he was sent off for yet more training, this time a month. He was a man who appeared to need a great deal of training. When Marshall returned to Richon de Zion, no more training schools prepared to take him on as a student. Reluctantly, the 7th LHR admitted him into its ranks. Finally Marshall was set to work albeit with the supporting echelon at Richon de Zion where the ANZAC Mounted Division’s headquarters was located, rather than with the Regiment proper which at the resting at Bethlehem.

Within a week, Marshall had already found that there was a vibrant homosexual community at Richon de Zion. He participated in all its activities with the vigour of an enthusiastic young man. On the night of 24 July 1918, his enthusiastic participation came to the notice of the authorities when the Divisional Police caught him in the act of sodomising one of the local lads. Marshall was arrested. No one knew what to do with him. Chauvel interviewed Marshall and concluded that a trial would do no one any good. The last thing Chauvel needed was a scandal blowing up right at the moment when he was planning for the September break out. To avoid any inconvenience, Marshall was placed under guard, sent to Egypt and then Australia, where he was discharged on 3 October 1918. Unlike Hendrick, Marshall received his full medal entitlements.

In both these cases the men were returned to Australia and discharged on landing at the Military District of embarkation. They faced no trial, just rapid removal from the Army. If there was a policy on handling the problems of homosexuality in the AIF, it was to silently rid the institution of any known activity. The AIF appears not to have had the ability to cope with the fallout that might have arisen due to any Wilde like trial. It would appear as though there was very real ambivalence in the senior ranks towards this issue. No one really knew what actions to take due to the lack of official policy. Sending them home appeared to be the safest solution.
For the AIF, an absence of a formal policy meant doing nothing so long as no one said or did anything to bring homosexuality to the notice of the authorities. It was a policy that the Army took into this century some 90 years later. The legal barriers may be down but this issue is still controversial within the Army, with little progressing beyond Hendrick and Marshall. Maybe it is time for acceptance of social realities and some creative thinking and within the Army. It is a subject that people ignore at their peril.

 

Further Reading:

Myths and Legends

 


Citation: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Posted by Project Leader at 4:25 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 10 February 2011 4:17 PM EAST

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