[World War I veterans 1959 reunion : life at Gallipoli]
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Part of a series in which an unidentified male broadcaster interviews World War I veterans at a reunion in 1959 in Timaru.
Mr. Fraser, [probably Alexander Arthur Fraser], and Mr. Davidson, [probably Lazzell Eric Davidson], recall their time on Gallipoli.
Interviewer: Where was the fighting the thickest? Was it in the hills or..?
Fraser: Well there's, in May, it happened to be my birthday too that the Turks said they were going to wipe us into the sea that day. They give us 24 hours to surrender and if we didn't in that time they were going to wipe us into the sea. And at 12 o'clock that night we said we wouldn't surrender and they started onto us. And machine guns held at Quinn's Post and they never got through.
Interviewer: Were the casualties very heavy?
Fraser: Yes, very heavy on the Turks side. I think we lost somewhere about 400 and they lost somewhere about 7,000.
Interviewer: Was that just in one night?
Fraser: Oh, just in a few hours.
Interviewer: Just in a few hours.
Interviewer: And what kind of artillery did you have against the Turks?
Fraser: Oh, we had nothing, practically. We had no shells or anything.
Interviewer: The ammunition was fairly scarce, was it?
Fraser: Yes, very scarce.
Interviewer: How was it brought up into the hills?
Fraser: Oh it was carried up mostly. There was a donkey there - not many but a donkey carried some up, but mostly it was carried up. Mostly they were on the low ground, the guns. But our own ammunition for machine guns and that, it was just carried up by the men themselves.
Interviewer: And what nationalities were fighting with you at Gallipoli Mr Davidson?
Davidson: Well there was the, uh, we had the Gurkhas, 29th Division. They they were just about as good as anything that was ever there, weren't they. The Australians, of course, Australian Infantry, Australian Light Horse. And it was an extraordinary campaign because we had the supported by the British Navy and the French Navy. Sikhs, and then, who were all that big crowd they had on Gallipoli and they had to send them off because they, oh a big crowd had to be sent off because they're Mohammedans. Same religion as the Turks and they refused to fight the Turks, so they were all sent back to Lemnos Island.
Interviewer: That would weaken your defences a lot wouldn't it.
Davidson: It did. But one of the most interesting incidents on Gallipoli was the time of the armistice. That was because there were so many dead lying on both sides and the disease spreading through these dead bodies of the Turks and the, uh, British troops, that they had about, what was it, an hour armistice wasn't it? And they came over, the Turks came over with a white flag and General von Sanders I can see him now, come riding over on a white horse and I thought how ridiculous war was, because we went over and exchanged cigarettes with the Turks, and they exchanged cigarettes with us and rum, and then after the armistice wore on, after it was over, then off they went again, shooting one another, which I thought was just, war is lunacy.
Davidson: Because there was just as good fellows on the Turkish side as there were on ours.
Fraser: Yes, I was out among them that day too, with, when we were burying up.
Davidson: I suppose it would be the only armistice in the whole war. Because of disease you see?
Fraser: I'd give them my pocket knife and they'd give me theirs.
Interviewer: It was quite friendly was it?
Fraser: No bite, no bark, no growl, no snarl from one of them.
Interviewer: And a few hours later you start throwing shells at each other again?
Fraser and Davidson: Smiling and laughing away. Start to kill one another - that's war..
Interviewer: I believe you witnessed the sinking of one of the ships, there too. The Triumph?
Davidson: Yes and I was one of the fortunate ones because I was standing next to a British officer that had two sets of binoculars, I never saw it before or since. And he whipped one off over the top of his head and said 'Here you are lad, you'll get a good view of the sinking of this ship'. So I saw it through the beautiful pair of Zeiss German binoculars that he'd he'd got off some German somewhere.
Interviewer: And about how old were you at the time?
Interviewer: And did you see the sinking Mr Fraser?
Fraser: Yes, I seen it, yes.
Interviewer: And how old were you at the time?
Fraser: I'd be 26 or 7.
Interviewer: And what was the sinking like?
Fraser: 27, I was. I think it was one of the saddest things I ever seen, to see such a big ship just sinking in front of your eyes.
Interviewer: How was she sank, from Turkish shellfire from the land, was she?
Fraser: No, it wasn't sunk with shellfire, it was sunk by a submarine.
Interviewer: A submarine?
Fraser: A German submarine.
Interviewer: Then in crept into the cove and... ?
Fraser: Yes. And I can see her stern coming up now. And a very interesting thing was too that the destroyers came up and took the British sailors off and in about less than, in about quarter of an hour there was these British sailors were standing on the beach.
Interviewer: Discipline was pretty tough.
Fraser: Numbered off, numbered off, formed fours, right turn and marched away up the hills just like guardsmen in London.
Interviewer: Were there many casualties from the ship?
Fraser: Oh I couldn't tell you now how many there was now, but there was casualties on it. Yes, I forget now. Forty, I think there was..
Davidson: The destroyers coming in, by God that was a wonderful thing, smart thing the destroyers. They just rushed up to her, seemed to stop all of a sudden too, right against the bow of her and the sailors were just pouring down, pouring off.
Interviewer: Yes. How far away off shore was she?
Fraser: Oh it was close in. It wasn't very far off.
Interviewer: Were there many ships in the cove at the time?
Fraser: Oh there were a few. I think the French warship was there, the packet of Woodbines [sic.] the...[unclear]
Davidson: And I'll tell you the most interesting thing, the Queen Elizabeth was there.
Interviewer: She was a battleship.
Davidson: Battleship. And as soon as this ship was torpedoed they put down nets all around her and it just looked like, she looked like a duck with a lot of little ducklings around her. From then on there were nothing but destroyers going around her night and day.
Interviewer: And what were the ships doing there - were they bombarding?
Both: Bombarding the Turkish trenches.
Interviewer: And what about the destroyers, were they just there to protect the battleships, were they?
Interviewer: Were you there at the final evacuation of Gallipoli?
Both: No, no. I wasn't
Fraser: I took dysentery and the last month I was there, I never wore trousers.
Interviewer: How long did, um, when did you leave Gallipoli?
Fraser: I left there.. it would be... June, July, I was there seven months... November.
Interviewer: And how did you leave?
Fraser: Well they took us out and put us on a hospital ship and I was taken to Lemnos Island and from Lemnos Island I was taken to Alexandria. There was three ships left. Two of those were sunk in front of our eyes and we couldn't stop and pick the...
Interviewer: Were these hospital ships that were sunk?
Fraser: No, no, no. They were not, not hospital ships. We went on other just tramps to go back. And we weren't, we just left these fellows in the water. You weren't allowed to stop and pick 'em up.
Davidson: If you stopped you'd be torpedoed yourself.
Interviewer: And how did you get off the beach, were you under shellfire at all?
Fraser: When I went off? No, no, no we weren't. Sometimes... Nearly every day there'd be a party there, somebody would get hurt down there, but I got off alright.
Interviewer: You went off in lighters to the ships, did you?
Fraser: Went off in a boat to the other one.
Interviewer: And Mr Davison were you wounded too, were you?
Davidson: No, I went off with dysentery. And I went to Malta Hospital.
Interviewer: What was the food in Gallipoli like at that time?
Davidson: Much better at the Hydro Grand [Hotel]! [laughs] Oh, it was bully beef and biscuits all the time.
Fraser: Bully beef and biscuits.
Davidson: And I can remember a destroyer coming in with bread. Yeah, and we would get given an issue of bread and I thought it was the most beautiful cake I'd ever eaten in my life. And I'll tell you how extraordinary men will get, collected together under those circumstances. There was a loaf of bread to twelve men and they cut it up a slice each, and the fellows were arguing amongst one another that one fellow had a slice thicker than the other, and that's the condition you can get into.
Interviewer: But there was no other food except bully beef and biscuits?
Davidson: When there wasn't that there were biscuits and bully beef. [Both laugh]
Interviewer: Can you tell us about any stories or incidents you saw, amusing or heroic at all?
Fraser: Yes, well after the Triumph was sunk, we went along the beach and uh, there was the carcass of a sheep there. I went to look at it. It was as black as a black dog. Anyway, I picked it up and took it up and I said to the cook "Cook this up", and he said "Cook it up yourself, I'm not gonna cook that rotten thing." But anyway it was cooked it up and there wasn't one bit of it left, everyone had a little bit of that lamb.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything Mr Davidson?
Davidson: Oh, it's hard to remember that, thinking back. Oh, one thing I do remember, there was a Colonel Sykes who was in the Indian Army. He was in charge of the New Zealand artillery and he always wore an eyeglass. And the Aussies were marching up and of course, as soon as they saw Sykes with an eyeglass, they put a coin in their eye each, marching past. And Sykes says "You think you're a clever lot of buggers, don't you? Well, do this," and he threw the eyeglass up and caught it in his eye and the Aussies cheered him. [laughs]. I can remember that incident very well.
Interviewer: Well thanks very much Mr Davidson and Mr Fraser. It's been very interesting. Thank you."
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 27620
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Ngā Taonga Korero Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
Unidentified (male), Interviewer
Fraser, Mr., Interviewee
Davidson, Mr., Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Service (estab. 1946, closed 1962), Broadcaster
World War, 1914-1918 -- Veterans -- New Zealand
World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Turkey -- Gallipoli Peninsula
World War, 1914-1918 -- Health aspects