Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

‘The night seemed to be lucky’: letter from Gallipolli [October 29]

On January 12th 1916 my great uncle Tom Jones – a World War One soldier – sent a letter to his family back home in Australia. Tom was serving in the 23rd Battalion and had recently been evacuated from Gallipolli. In his letter – an astonishing example of what the psychologists would call ‘positive re-framing’ of a situation – he writes that he expects his large loving family is wondering whether he’s ‘still in the land of the living’.

Just seven months later Tom was killed in action at Pozieres.

‘Dear Mother, Father, sisters, brothers,

I suppose ere this you will be wondering whether i am still in the land of the living. The reason for the long interval between letters is that we have been forbidden to write by the Military Authorities. Lots of things have happened between this and the last letter, the chief feature being the complete evacuation of Gallipolli – you will no doubt have read it in the Daily News before this reaches you.

The whole thing was a very big success being carried out, i think, without a casualty. Our company was the third last to leave, and by this time it left us with a very thin line of defence. The morning of the day we left we had some very heavy shelling of the trenches we were occupying, but luckily no one was hit. It certainly puts a bit of fear into you when you hear the big things flying towards you, and more so when they are landing two yards away. i saw a shell land in the middle of a platoon of men but luckily for them it never exploded. It just shows you the fortunes of some people.

In the evening we were ordered to put sox over our boots to have absolute quietness and about nine o’clock we started for the beach, then we were put onto lighters and transferred to a transport ship. The night seemed to be lucky as the gun we called “Beachy Bill’, which was the dread of the beach, hardly fired a shot.

We sailed away with very glad hearts and arrived at Lemnos the following morning. Lemnos is about four hours run from Gallipolli and has a population of 15,000 mostly of Greek nationality. The country is very rocky and mountainous, the villages are very scattered and i suppose antiquated. The methods of the people takes one back to the biblical times but of course makes the place very interesting. The sower sowing his seed by hand, the shepherd minding his flock (dressed in goat skin and crook in hand). Hand spinning cotton and large windmills are all to be seen.

The biggest novelty was a hot bath which was the first for many months, at a place called Thurmos. Here they have hot sulpha springs. You go down underground into a room which holds about 30. The floor is of marble and from each wall water runs out into basins from which you dip and throw over yourself. I can tell you it was great after such a long spell from the water. The worst part was that we had to do 16 miles march to get there from the Town. We received the billys etc while we were there and they were greatly appreciated.

On the whole we spent a very Merry Xmas. New Years Eve was spent kicking up plenty of row, the boats in the harbour doing their share in it. That is another thing that is well worth seeing, the boats in the harbour; to see about a dozen or so Hospital ships lit up of a night is well worth seeing. We were here 21 days altogether and I think most of us enjoyed our sojourn.

We are now at Tel-El-Kebir, about 60 miles from Cairo. The trip from Lemnos to Alexandria took about 40 hours and we had to wear lifebelts the whole time in case of submarines. At night we had no lights at all and had to crawl about the best way we could. We were transferred from the boat into cattle trucks and had a pretty cold run for about 8 hours. I don’t think much of the place although we have only been here for a couple of days. As (we) are well away from everywhere but i suppose we will knock out a bit of sports amongst us. I am hoping that (brother) Theo’s crowd are here and am having a look around to see if they are.

I received the parcel with the vest today also lots of letters. I think i receive most of the things that are sent. Tell Walters and Uncle Will that i received their letters and very much appreciate their thoughtfulness. Tell (sister) Gladys that i congratulate her upon her engagement and hope to be there at the next event.

Well they have just come in for letters so will have to close this epistle and will write again at my earliest.

Lots of love to all
from your affectionate son
Tom.’