Chas Adlard, Australian Author

Bites Of Fright

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 Australia.

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 family Bible.

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 rocks.

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 me.

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.



"Nineteen, Sergeant."

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 "colours".

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 self-righteousness.

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 as well.

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 proud.

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 welcome.

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 later.

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 fear.

"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 Mikeƕs 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.

"Shut-up, Dorsey."

"Yes, Sergeant."

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 warrior.

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 was sixteen.

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 night.

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 dying.

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 in need.

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 material.

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 1st A.F.A

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.

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