Source: The Advertiser
ALMOST 100 years after thousands of young Australian men died at Gallipoli, a scientific team is trying to unravel what happened. Ian McPhedran reports from Gallipoli.
AS HE watched the Anzac landings on April 25, 1915, from the deck of a hospital ship moored in the Ege (Aegean) Sea off a place called Kabatepe, 22-year-old infantryman Alexander Burton must have wondered what the generals were thinking.
With his comrades from the 7th Battalion fighting for their lives and the higher ground above a narrow, rocky shore that would become Anzac Cove, Burton was recovering from a throat infection, but his absence from the fight was short lived. Just a week later he was ashore in the trenches pushing onwards and upwards towards the Turkish positions beyond the first ridge evading Turkish snipers and shrapnel shells.
The legend of Lone Pine began on day one of the campaign when the Anzacs first reached the ridge top and a few weeks later in May its place in the Anzac legend was assured when Albert Jacka was awarded Australia’s first Victoria Cross. By August, the small battlefield on the second ridge would be well and truly cemented into the Australian story in the blood of young men. Remarkably, seven VCs would be awarded at Lone Pine.
After three months in the trenches Corporal Alexander Burton, from Kyneton in Victoria, and his surviving mates from the 7th were battle-hardened veterans of a brutal and at times stealthy campaign of trench warfare.
By August, 1915, it was clear that the stalemate along the ridgelines between Lone Pine and Baby 700 could not be sustained. The trenches and tunnels at places like Quinn’s Post were so close that the two sides could almost spit at each other.
An offensive was ordered and, on the morning of August 9, Burton found himself inside an enemy trench alongside Lieutenant Frederick Tubb from Longwood, Corporal William Dunstan from Ballarat and several others. Ironically, Burton and Tubb, as well as a third Victoria Cross recipient from the Boer War, Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Maygar from Kilmore, all enlisted at Euroa north of Melbourne, the site of Ned Kelly’s last stand.
The Turks advanced in a bold bid to re-take the trench and blew up the sand bag barricade, but the three Victorians re-built it and then re-built it again before Burton was blown up and killed by an enemy bomb.
All three men, along with another four, Captain Alfred Shout, Lieutenant William Symons, Lance Corporal Leonard Keysor and Private John Hamilton, were awarded Victoria Crosses for their gallantry at the August battle of Lone Pine, making it the most highly decorated place in Australian military history.
Alexander Burton has no known grave and, like thousands of other Australian soldiers, he lies beneath the dirt of a beautiful Turkish peninsula far, far from home.
According to government historian Dr Richard Reid, the trench that generated the three VCs was located just behind where the Lone Pine Memorial now stands and probably beneath the road that carries hundreds of thousands of tourists to Gallipoli each year.
Corporal Burton’s name appears on the memorial wall at Lone Pine with all 3268 of the 8700 Australians killed at Gallipoli and the 456 Kiwis who have no known grave, including 960 buried under the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. For a fledgling nation in 1915, Gallipoli was a tragedy of biblical proportions.
Today a joint historical and archaeological survey of Gallipoli by the Australian, Turkish and New Zealand governments is using modern technology such as GPS and ground penetrating radar and a bit of good old-fashioned, bush-bashing field work to piece together the story of a disastrous military campaign that forged a young nation’s identity.
Ninety years after the event in 2005, the three governments agreed that until a detailed scientific survey had been carried out the full story of Gallipoli, and the men who fought there, would never be told. So now a dedicated team of 16 scientists and historians is unveiling the terrible story of Gallipoli’s trenches, tunnels, pits and dugouts in painstaking detail.
News Limited was given unprecedented access last week to the spider’s web of trenches and tunnels that criss-cross this stretch of hallowed ground. Now in its third season, the survey is gradually piecing together a complete picture drawing on painstaking field work, historical maps and official documents and the diaries of the men who dug and lived and died in and above the trenches of Gallipoli.
Australia’s ambassador to Turkey, Ian Biggs, said the survey was the first scientific attempt to discover what remains and how that dovetails with the Anzac narrative.
“The site itself is one of great antiquity,” Mr Biggs said. “But it is also fascinating to see how much material from the campaign remains on the ground.”
While the survey team does not do any excavation or digging, it has managed to collect an array of war relics.
Tony Sagona, Professor of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, has been the leading scientist on the survey team for the past three years.
The team occasionally finds a bone that might possibly be human and when it does the team leader, retired Rear Admiral and former Repatriation Commissioner Simon Harrington, conducts a small but dignified burial service with a Turkish official in attendance, to lay to rest what could be the remains of a soldier.
“When we find a bone, I think about the poor bloke and how his life was taken away from him,” Mr Harrington said.
“It doesn’t matter which side, it is very sad.”
What were two-metre deep trenches are now mostly 70cm or less indentations and the former network of man-high tunnels that criss-crossed many sites are visible only as slumps where they have given way or caved in. The extent and complexity of the tunnel system has surprised the team, but the amount of lead flying around above ground made life in the open air tenuous, so the only solution was to tunnel towards the enemy and to break out into firing positions.
The most terrifying tunnels are the deeper ones dug beneath enemy tunnels with the object of setting charges and destroying the enemy shaft and anyone unlucky enough to be in it at the time. The Turks did the same from the opposite direction.
Professor Sagona said every piece of material the team collected, down to the tiniest fragment of shrapnel, was recorded and photographed.
So far the count is almost 1000 exhibits. This year the finds have included Roman relics at Lone Pine, dating from 200AD.
“There are some impressive finds,” Professor Sagona says.