I wish to dedicate this short story to my
father, John Evan Adlard, who fought gallantly for his country during
World War One. As a source of research I depended greatly upon his
diaries that are now the property of the Australian War Memorial in
Canberra. Although the story is largely a work of fiction I have
unashamedly shadowed his footsteps during this hideous conflict.
Reference: Australian War Memorial - Private Records Collection -
Accession No: 2DRL/0020.
I had accepted their verbal condolences with the physical mixture of
hurried clammy hands and stale brushstroke kisses. They had known my
father only by a hailed "hello" and yet, for the proud members of
Mannum Town this was a duty of respect and fellowship.
My father, Tom Pascoe, had been a local since his arrival in South
Australia in '78. Martha, his bride, and with time my mother, was a
lady of determination and courage. Not once during the arduous voyage
did she voice her displeasure, although it had been her decision to
abandon their native Cornwall for the unknown regions of southern
Most emigrants from the southwest of England came as miners to be
miners. My father, on the other hand, had left one backbreaking plot
of land in search of another.
The Murray River was already an exciting waterway and the paddle
steamers carried goods to the riverside settlers and small towns grew.
On the few occasions that my father had taken me to town as a small
boy the river had enchanted me. Though, even today, I cannot
understand why my father had chosen a few thousand acres of mallee
some twenty-five miles inland.
For my parents those first years must have been both exciting and
pitiful. Clearing land of the acacia mallee resulted in the release of
hidden salt and the inevitable erosion of windswept paddocks. The
shallow topsoil was soon littered with thousands of yellowing rock
Their home was built by torn fingers and their dependence lay in the
strength of their own labour and the relentless and unreliable
weather. They experienced some good years and, until the evening of my
birth, shared their Australian venture as one.
I was born, Michael Vincent Pascoe, on the 23rd of February, 1896. My
mother passed away five days later and my father never really forgave
me. Oh, at times I'm sure he tried and he was never intentionally
hurtful toward me. My schooling was virtually non-existent although my
father taught me the way of pen and literature. I learnt to read
through the word of God that came in the form of a well-weathered
I also learnt well about the land for my father was a hard man and
knew nothing about defeat when it came to tasks. Secretly, I loathed
the repetitive challenge of daily chores and all those confounded
In spite of myself I soon became a competent farm worker and my skill
with the horses and bullock teams gained the respect of my father.
There was another side to those early years, for despite my lack of
enthusiasm for farming, I really loved the beauty of this harsh land
and with little talent and brittle charcoal sketched the scenes around
At least my mother has company now. By her side lies my father, dead
at 66 years, and by my mind for only one reason - he was completely
and utterly worn-out.
I had repeated my age as requested. The rest of my induction was
filled by scant medical and written formalities. Although by
enlistment I was a South Australian, my skills, it seemed, were
required elsewhere. My journey would take me first to the Broadmeadows
Camp in Melbourne, Victoria.
By the time I had sold the Mallee property and paid in turn for a
proper and fitting headstone for my parents' grave I was almost
penniless. Travelling to Adelaide I became aware that the Kaiser had
become a bigger problem and as such there was immediate employment
available in His Majesty's Service. The sinking of the "Lusitania" by
a German submarine had been the last straw and many of us who had
until then been employed on the land finally answered the call to the
Broadmeadows Camp was a hustling bustling affair that neither made men
or destroyed them. I left camp as a member of the Australian Field
Artillery with a higher sense of discipline and an aura of
The German decision to close the Dardanelles drew the Turks from
teetering neutrality into the war. Winston Churchill then revived an
old idea - force the Dardanelles and seize Constantinople. Alas, the
Dardanelles' minefield stopped the Royal Navy and under General Ian
Hamilton, the Gallipoli campaign began on the 25th April, 1915.
However, at this time war secrecy prevented the common serviceman
having knowledge of such military strategy that was in hindsight just
Our first port of call was Newcastle where we picked up 339 horses.
The Imperial Expeditionary Force enjoyed a ripping send off with every
ship in the harbour sounding both whistle and siren. We all felt very
Conditions on board this old "coaler" were seriously poor. Mike Poole
and I were given three days as trimmers while the ship fought the
perilous Australian Bight. This duty was not much fun and poor Mike
had made a pretty awful sailor down in that stoke hole. We had to
shovel coal from here to there and then again, this way and that. Her
heavy fuel load threatened the old vessel and our work was essential
to maintain her trim. However, we were very glad when our relief came.
We scrambled out onto the deck where the salt laden air was most
We didn't get ashore in Albany and after a few hours were once more at
sea. Two weeks had now passed since leaving Port Melbourne and Italy,
we heard, had joined the war. During the next week we made our own fun
and boxing matches were arranged during the evenings.
If our conditions were poor then the conditions for our horses was
murderous and our losses were heavy. I had survived the voyage without
sickness, which was probably due to our arduous workload rather than a
strong stomach but mentally I was drained. Those animals meant a lot
to me and their suffering cut me deep. The temperatures below deck
were, at that point in time, well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
I tried to keep fit exercising on deck but the ship was a trifle small
for lengthy walks and I felt trapped. When Africa was sighted we had
lost 33 animals and as Cape Gard de fer slid behind us I prayed for
the voyage to end. We reached our destination of Port Suez six days
We disembarked and entrained 180 horses. Our train had rattled through
the desert sand that was broken occasionally by green oases. We
reached Cairo late and got little or no sleep until we marched into
our new quarters at Zietoun Camp. Within two days I was attached to
the 6th Brigade. The daily temperatures reached 125 degrees in the
shade and most of our work or training was in the latter part of the
day. We undertook riding and marching disciplines for no reason I
thought than to fill time. Many of us were unwell, through lack of
real exercise and the depressing weather.
Finally, our orders came and we left Zietoun siding for Alexandria.
Two months had passed since Newcastle. After three days we anchored in
Lemnos Harbour. The island lay between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean
Sea. The link between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is a small
passage of water known as the Dardanelles that leads, in turn, to the
Sea of Marmara and the salt lake. Constantinople, as the guardian
city, was the key to the whole operation.
We weren't the first troopers to reach Cape Helles on the Gallipoli
Peninsular, and unfortunately not the last during 1915 - but arrive we
did. Anchored safely away from the angry Turk we waited to be
disembarked. Strangely, the mood I remember was of excitement, not
"Bugger that,' said Mike Poole as he scrambled for his rifle.
"What you going to do with that lad?" queried a crusty sergeant who
had been at Helles for five weeks.
We had come ashore during the night and were immediately attached to
6th Battery, 2nd Brigade. The Turks had welcomed us in an appropriate
fashion with five H.E. shells and MikeÕs intended retort would have
been a little futile.
I ducked for the sixth time when some idiot knocked over his metal
mug. This was my introduction to the war - a big bite of fright.
"You'll get used to it, mate," said the sergeant. "After awhile you'll
realise that ducking won't save your skin."
"But it'll make your neck ache like crazy.
The shelling didn't continue and we left the dugout for our first
daylight glimpse of Base Camp Cape Helles. I was amazed. Although fine
dust, not unlike cement particles, covered all and sundry the bigger
picture was not as I'd imagined. Not only were the roads well made but
lines had been laid and the cliff-work that was visible was nothing
short of brilliant. The whole area was busy. There were motors,
horses, mules, stores, dugouts, sandbags and even aeroplanes that
stretched all along the foreshore. Some vessels were anchored off
shore away from the Turkish guns. Scattered among this hustle and
bustle were the wounded - many wounded.
Mike and I walked up to the Battery during the evening and in the
morning went for a swim. Strange you may think, but we as "new chums"
simply followed the example of the experienced mass. We left the water
pretty quickly after the Turks found us with a couple of 60 pounders.
No one was injured, although later that day a shell killed twenty
while they visited the canteen.
We were introduced to "taube", the German name for a dove. "Taube"
came indeed from the air but not with a peaceful gesture. Instead
bombs fell from the aeroplane producing craters all around our dugout.
The following morning many of us were sent out to a trawler for the
short trip to Gaba Tebeh and Anzac Cove. That was the last time I saw
Mike Poole. He was killed two days later.
Shells missed our trawler by five yards showering us with water
instead of death. We'd already heard the rumours of Anzac, but nothing
prepared us for the next three days of constant fear.
For hour upon hour the shells kept us praying in a dugout and the
hellish concussion numbed one's mind to the verge of insanity. When
the heavy rounds finally stopped falling the snipers had achieved new
ground and men fell to their cull. Then came the aeroplanes with their
own form of destruction and more men died. The wounded cried out in
anguish, and many screamed for help. Strangely, I answered one such
call without room for thought. One moment I was crouched in an embryo
attitude and the next on my feet and running to help this fallen
He lay on the lip of a bomb crater and I just fell on him and rolled.
He screamed, a high pitch wail, and then was quiet. In the comparative
safety of the crater I tended his wounds. We had very little training
with wound dressings but I did my best. There was a lot of blood and
by the time I'd finished my hands were a sticky red. He was just a
boy. No, I mean really just a boy. Not as I, a young man nearing
twenty but an immature lad. After he regained consciousness I learnt
his name, Gordon. His lie on enlistment had not been challenged - he
Suddenly, I was too frightened to move, too frightened to go for help
- and my calls were unanswered. Gordon died less than an hour later,
quietly calling for his mother.
Later that evening as we hauled guns on the beach an officer stopped
and had words with Sergeant Doyle who was the N.C.O. in charge of our
small group of drivers. I was aware of this interchange but unprepared
for the next event.
The officer, a lieutenant, had heard of my effort to save the boy
soldier and thought this an act of bravery. He hoped his
recommendation would see me promoted in the field. That night I cried
in shame and with deep humiliation. I also prayed a little for young
Gordon but more, far more, for me.
We cooked our own tucker and the food wasn't very appetising - bacon,
spuds and bully beef with an occasional bit of bread. After the recent
barrage we were given a ration of rum and lime but this didn't erase
our tiredness. We worked at call. Our hours of duty varied and sleep
had become a nap of chance. The Batteries had to be supplied and we
drivers hauled the load. At times when waggon teams were short we
manhandled stores and ammunition up the hills, as many as five trips a
My first "stripes" arrived, thankfully without ceremony. Among my mob
were good men and few needed instructions let alone a terse command.
As drivers we were happy to do our bit for those closer to the Turkish
lines. We met these fellows, but only as they passed us - dead or
I think that's what made us a bit foolhardy, but certainly not brave.
After a while we took little notice of the pain and suffering that
surrounded us. There was just too much of it and none of us could cope
with such mental anguish. We mostly disregarded the falling shells and
cracking bullets - the sergeant at Helles had been right - there
really was no point.
We mattered to each other, within our group. I guess we closed ranks
and in doing so kept the war a small private affair. Rumours of
battles won and coming peace were constant. Certainly, the left flank
had seemed to be advancing. There were many fighting for this patch of
earth. Thousands of Ghurkhas backed up the Australian, New Zealand and
British troops - as did the Hindus and Sikhs and the French.
The Wiltshires charged, all 2000 of them, and we heard only 150
returned unhurt. The whole beach was littered with the injured and
among them a few Turkish prisoners. The Turks were barely clad.
However, compared with us they looked far better fed.
We had many dead and the stench of mortification was unbearable. Our
rations had worsened and the water was tainted. Day after day we stood
in the same clothes and boots without the chance of a wash. The
reckless chance for a swim was pure luxury, shells or no shells.
We were hauling a Howitzer when my guts first gave out and within
thirty minutes I was weak and pretty useless. Four of our mob had been
stricken that week and yet not one had reported sick.
All the food fermented and slowly we gave in and saw the doctor. Our
prescription was the same, 1 oz of castor oil, 3 bismuths, quinine, 3
tablets of sodium bicarbonate, a handful of oatmeal, 1 tin of
concentrated milk and 2 eggs.
I held out for three days longer than the others only because of those
perishing stripes and "esprit de corps". The night shelling known as
"Beachy Bill" continued as we sick lay in the dugout and frankly I
personally couldn't have cared less for either the war or an early
demise. Our illness? Dysentery.
We played cards all day, every day, and when the diarrhoea stopped I
went back towork. I was excused duty on the hills and returned to work
on the beach.
Four days later I awoke from a nightmare to clean sheets and a bright
smile. My head hurt like blazes but aside from that my other bits and
pieces were intact. The coma, the result of a very near miss, had
taken me out of Anzac to board a hospital ship oblivious to all.
"Where am I?"
I barely heard her answer but I do remember my first impression - I
thought her delicious. Considering I had absolutely no experience with
the opposite sex one would think that my first romantic thought might
have been more complimentary and descriptive. Alas, delicious I
thought and delicious she was.
Her name was Gladys Harkness, aged 22, from Esher in England. She had
been nursing for two years before 1914. After that her work had
intensified until she had found an active role on board the hospital
ship. I was very pleased that she had.
I'm afraid I rather played on my war wound just to keep her near to me
but she didn't seem to mind. This was fine until I realised the
suffering of others around me and immediately cast aside my
selfishness. After that I made a remarkable recovery and was a little
worried that I'd be returned immediately to Anzac. However, I suffered
another bout of dysentery that slowed me down somewhat but I still
managed the occasional short walk on deck.
We were just leaving the Bay of Biscay when the submarine struck. I
was knocked clean off my feet by an enormous shudder that seemed to
last many minutes but in truth was a measure of seconds. The torpedo
had hit us low down in the after section and killed nine of the crew.
With no escort we awaited the submarine commander's "coup de gras",
but it never came.
Then we were very busy. The old ship was taking in water fast and the
Captain had given the inevitable order. All walking sick and wounded
were requested to move to the deck. I went straight below and began to
help where I could, shunning instructions to "Belay that and get
topside". Some of the walking wounded were those suffering shell
shock. This latest incident had not helped their recovery. Many
shuffled in aimless attitudes, tears falling silently from vacant
eyes, hopelessly lost.
I took seven of these men to the deck, ushering them before me like a
mob of sheep. One of the ship's officers was already in charge of the
lifeboats that had been swung at the ready. I left them in his charge
and returned below.
God knows how many trips we all made during the next fifty minutes and
when we'd finished it was dark. There was no moon, just black sky and
an even darker sea. The stricken vessel felt the rage under her and
had known the current would be her final executioner.
For the Captain and crew, doctors and nurses that got us all into the
boats I can express nothing but praise. What happened after that was
no more or less than a terrible and unjust fate.
The storm pushed the small whalers clear of the Bay but not into
calmer waters. As a man of the land I found those next eleven hours a
time of battering bewilderment where I clung desperately to the
lifeboat stays hoping for deliverance. At no time did I even consider
those with me and would have gladly traded their lives for my own.
Then it was over, as quickly as it had begun. We were alone, not a
single boat or ship was visible in any direction. The deckhand manning
the whaler's tiller had encouraged us all back to reality and we
checked each other and our rations. None of our lot had gone missing
during the horrid night but still we had our dead. All three were burn
victims from Anzac and another, with facial wounds, was gravely ill. A
nurse - a quite delicious nurse, attended him.
One brief smile from Gladys had strengthened my resolve. I knew then
that we'd survive. I volunteered to dispense our water rations and
also some ship's biscuit. The deckhand and I worked out a roster for a
few of the sturdier hands to help and in particular to reassure those
With a fit crew we could have managed the oars and set a course for
either Spain or England. However, with so many injured we could only
hope for a kindly current or an early rescue. Henry, the deckhand, had
still kept the tiller active but with little purpose.
The Royal Navy found us late that afternoon. We were put ashore in
Plymouth. Of the sixteen boats that took us from the sinking ship,
only two were ever found.
Even though I had assured the medical staff at the hospital in
Plymouth that I was fit enough to return to duty they insisted that I
stay under observation in Pompey. As it happened this was a bit of
luck as the following week Gladys and I shared the same London train.
She had a spot of leave due and was returning to Esher in Surrey. I
had to report to Horseferry Road for further orders but we managed a
quick lunch together. When we parted I had her address and an
invitation to join her family for Christmas festivities.
The news was awful on that day, the 20th December 1915. The Gallipoli
campaign had been in vain - they were pulling out. The Australians
alone had suffered 25,000 casualties.
I was thoroughly depressed. London didn't enthral me and I found its
vastness overwhelming. The weather was wet, cold and very windy when I
arrived at HQ Horseferry Road, Stepney. I was drafted to Abbey Wood
and was granted Christmas Leave. Luckily I was paid 30 shillings, for
I had no money and, at that time, no kit.
With more confidence than I actually possessed I found my way to Esher
several days before Christmas hoping that Gladys' family would embrace
this young Australian. They did, with great generosity. Her father, a
retired Colonel, questioned me endlessly about my role in Gallipoli
and seemed rather disappointed in my cautious narration.
Gladys and I spent much of our time walking through the local woods. I
had never seen many deciduous trees so found the landscape interesting
and despite the cold, quite beautiful. Gladys found me some sketching
paper and some pencils and delighted in my artwork.
The war had closed many of the art exhibitions and valuable paintings
had been secured away from the bombing. However, Gladys had been
determined to improve my education and took me to several local
galleries. I thoroughly enjoyed that leave and when we parted I had
already fallen hopelessly in love.
After a few weeks of repetitious training in very poor weather I was
bored and ready to say my good-byes to England. Gladys aside, I wanted
to rejoin my mates in battle - any battle that would cause this
tiresome war to end.
I volunteered for the draft to leave England and was confident of
success when, out of the blue, I was offered a Commission.
The deck officer that I'd met on the fated hospital ship while
shepherding the wounded had survived the ordeal. Apparently he had
been the ship's Second Mate and had taken charge of the only other
boat to come through that frightful night. He had written a report
that exaggerated my role, and then a further investigation had found
my leadership aboard the whaler also worthy of a note. When my A.F.A.
record supported their dubious findings I was thought officer
At first I declined this offer. It was Gladys' father, Colonel
Harkness, who finally changed my mind. How he did so I can't recall
but I think it involved a good deal of bullying. Maybe I weakened
after he gave his approval for our marriage. Gladys was to be my wife.
Some time later after a trip to St John's Wood I emerged as an
Artillery Officer Cadet and reported to barracks at the Lord's Cricket
Ground. Twelve weeks later I passed out of Lord's as a 2nd Lieutenant
That weekend Gladys and I were married. Our honeymoon was a very
hurried affair as I had my orders to sail. I was thankful that Gladys
was stationed in a London hospital and not at peril on the sea. She
saw me off at Waterloo Station and our parting mirrored those of other
couples that shared the platform.
I arrived in Mervill, France via Le Havre on the 21st April, 1916 -
Good Friday. For the next four months I seemed to be constantly on the
move but never far from Ypres. My training at Lord's hadn't been in
vain and I could confidently work the angles allowing the Battery to
be put accurately on target.
The mantle of rank, although at first unsettling, became easier to
bear - although my commission had ensured a leading position at the
front. When our guns weren't returning fire I found my main role was
supporting those men around me. Their spirits as a whole - considering
the confounded weather, mud and lousy rations - were high, but
individuals often needed a boost of confidence.
I wrote many letters to Gladys and waited without much patience for
her reply. London had been bombed quite frequently during my absence
and each letter that I received from her allayed my fears.
My hardest task at that time was an assignment of infinite care
writing letters of bereavement. So often my men were virtually unknown
to me and I to them. They came and went almost on a daily basis,
drafted here and there, on leave or worst dead within minutes or hours
of arrival. No, those letters tormented me, for there were many and I
still wonder if I've ever really helped, even in small way, to console
those left behind.
Every day I promised not to complain about the mire that engulfed
horses, waggons and man alike and every day I reneged, for the
insidious mud was our bond, shared by all. Oh, some days were almost
normal and if strung together positively mundane. Those days when the
shelling, for some obscure reason, slowed or stopped and men had time
to grizzle about the poor food, their loose teeth, rotten feet and no
letters from home. On other days we were continually masked against
that murderous gas that was so invasive. We damned the Hun, their
fathers and fathers' fathers - no war should be fought with such evil.
We moved as flanks were pushed forward or back as the battle dictated.
The worst days saw men and horses blown asunder, where body parts were
strewn like confetti on the pitted landscape. Then, once in a while,
on the fine quiet days I'd have time for my sketches. Here within my
own little peace I would strain to hear the voice of nature brought to
me by the song of a solitary bird. I'd dwell on a happier time and I'd
write to Gladys and share my thoughts and my dreams for our future.
Although I had been granted leave at the beginning of 1917 I had only
got as far as Paris. During the ensuing months conditions changed and
at last I moved away from the mud to 16th Battery at Ghyvelde. The
countryside was quite beautiful and only marred by the German
artillery that chucked everything our way, including 11-inch shells.
We had lost one ammunition dump, consisting of 3,500 rounds, and later
that same day while visiting the 17th Battery a fire started in a
similar dump. I grabbed the nearest group of gunners and we spent five
nerve-wracking hours getting the flames under control. During the
blaze I had barked at another officer to move all other personnel to
safety. I returned to my dugout in dire need of rest during the small
hours of a new day but the Hun disallowed my sleep. Unlike at
Gallipoli I had heard the shell coming and was lifted high in the air
by the blast, still fully conscious.
The next eleven days were full of nightmares and horrendous agony. I
couldn't see through my bandages and I thought myself blind and
disfigured. The left side of my body felt on fire and I cried and
whimpered with my hurt. My prayers, had they been answered, would have
seen the instant annihilation of the Kaiser's army.
Returning once more to England I underwent repetitive surgery until
the medical staff was happy with their work and my progress. I still
had my sight, although my left eyelid drooped with scar tissue. On the
same side, two fingers had welded together from the heat and it would
be a year before my legs fully supported me. My Gladys had helped me
fight the mental trauma, supporting me with her unselfish love.
They pinned a medal on my chest - a Military Cross. I'd inadvertently
barked at my own Officer Commanding while fighting the ammo fire. He
had been impressed by our initiative. The others, I'm glad to say
received Military Medals and one Distinguished Service Order.
At the end of the war, Gladys and I set sail for South Australia.
Later, those who had fought overseas were rewarded by a grant of land.
The grant made to me was ironically bittersweet. Gladys and I found
ourselves the proud owners of Mallee land that once had been part of a
far larger title.
I knew this, better than any other, for my mother and father had
previously owned that few thousand acres of mallee with all those
confounded backbreaking rocks.