First in, Last out – the Navy at Gallipoli By T R Frame and G J Swinden
This is a timely book. It is 75 years since the landings at Gallipoli and the activities of the Navy of course started some months before this. I suppose most of us who have bothered to read of the exploits of our first two Submarines would have studied A.W. Jose’s excellent account in Volume IX of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18. In particular of course those exploits of AE2.
This book has brought much more life into the dry account mentioned and follows the crew as PoW of the Turks with the accompanying changes in treatment, not of course generally known in Australia as 26 men, were small beer when compared to the numbers of soldiers who became PoW.
I think that the introduction highlights one of the problems of the Australian ideas that the defence forces of Australia consist of Army, Army, Army, Air Force, and Navy somewhere way down the track. That the Navy is virtually just short of instant readiness for action never impinges on the average man in the street nor, one would sometimes think, the average politician. Suffice it to quote:
‘There was an enormous difference between ‘Jack’ the sailor and the Anzac ‘digger’. In Gallipoli Alex Moorehead put it succinctly:
‘In the case of the Anzacs there was not even a tradition to guide them, for there had been no wars at all in their country’s past. They had no immediate ancestors to live up to – it was simply a matter of proving themselves, of starting a tradition here and now.
The sailor of World War I was nothing like the Anzac. He was experienced in fighting his ship at sea, he was technically trained to some level, disciplined and loyal to his service and whereas the Anzac had to build a tradition from scratch, for the sailor it was already 400 years old.’ For herein I believe lies the reason that AE2 and the Bridging Train have virtually never been heard of by the general public.
This book, which sets out the matter very clearly, should be one of the ‘required reading’ for newly entered officers and the basis of a lecture to recruit sailors, because it follows up in RAN tradition the sinking of Emden.
I think most of the RAN had heard of the Bridging Train because of Leighton Bracegirdle. He steadily rose in rank and naturally his background became known and through that the existence of the Bridging Train. What a pity he was not in command when the mutiny took place. As has caused the vast majority of mutinies – pay – or lack of it, was the basic cause, the matter being badly handled by the temporary commanding officer. But Admiral Wemyss quickly fixed the situation by ‘bending the rules’.
One other point probably not known to many today is that the Naval Board was extremely reluctant to have reserve officers and men serve in ships. I wonder what would have happened to the RAN in WW2 if the same ideas had prevailed?
This book is well worthy of a place on your bookshelf and a welcome addition to Australian Naval Historical recordings.