- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney II
- June 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
During the Abyssinian crisis in 1936, H.M.A.S. Australia and Sydney were serving with the Mediterranean Fleet, the former having been on exchange with H.M.S. Sussex and the latter was temporarily serving in the Mediterranean having been seconded during her voyage to Australia.
It had been hoped that they could visit the Dardanelles on 25th April but the Turks held their own ceremonies and would only approve a later date.
The following is an extract from a letter from one of the midshipmen serving in Australia at that time:
“We left Malta on the 27th and the following forenoon we passed the south of Greece and later several of the famous classical islands in the Aegean. At 2000 that night we rendezvoused with “Sydney” and “Basilisk” in the Dore Channel. We took some officers and our mail from the latter and then continued on our way, entering the Dardenelles about 0530/29th. We anchored at 0800 off Maitos in Khelia Liman, about 15 miles from Cape Helles. What we could see of the country to starboard i.e. Asia Minor, was very pretty. We might have been in Australia. On the other side however, were steep cliffs about 250 feet high.
Shortly after anchoring, some Turks of the Turkish People’s Party, and some members of the War Graves Commission came on board. The President of the Turks Party welcomed the two ships (in Turkish), his speech being translated by a girl when he had finished. If she were a typical Turkish girl I’ve no wish to meet any others. She was dressed in a frightful shade of green and smelled most foully of garlic. She could speak English quite well tho’, and the speech was quite good. They were very glad to see us and hoped we would see all we wished. He then referred to the fact that Turkey and Britain had always been friendly and it was only the bungling of the politicians which prevented them being allies in the last war. He said he hoped that was forgotten and that we would continue to be friends. All visitors were then given breakfast in the wardroom, after which they landed with our officers and men to show them the scene of the battle.
I was unable to land the first day, but half the ship’s company landed, and at noon a memorial service was held at the Beach Cemetery, Anzac Cove. The Turks laid wreaths on the memorial and later our people laid some of the Turkish Memorial. We entertained the Turks in the evening with supper and the cinema, which they seemed to enjoy immensely.
The following day, Thursday, I landed. Cars were provided for officers and lorries for the Chief & P.Os. Unfortunately the car destined for us had broken down, and we were forced to ride in one of the lorries, which was most uncomfortable. Arriving at Brighton Beach we disembarked and walked towards Lone Pine. After following the road for a short time, we cut inland and walked along the top of a ridge about 150 yards from the beach. This ridge was crossed and recrossed by trenches, some of them being in a very good state of preservation. Following this for over half a mile, we cut into a gully and eventually reached Lone Pine (the cemetery and the memorial). After looking round this place for a while we pushed on in the direction of the Turkish Memorial, passing Johnstone’s Jolly, Courtney and Steele’s Post, and Quinn’s Post cemeteries.
On either side of the road, trenches, dugouts, saps etc. were very conspicuous signs of a former battlefield. Thick scrub is growing over them now and successive rains have washed away the earthworks and have nearly filled the trenches in some places, old water bottles with bullet holes in them, and “bullybeef” tins are the ones in heaps; the water bottles are very numerous but are not in heaps, whilst here and there the lid of a Capstan cigarette tin is to be seen.
After passing Quinn’s Port, we eventually reached the Turkish War Memorial and cemetery which overlook Ocean Beach, Suvla Bay and that part of the peninsula. Anzac Cove was also visible through glasses. That was the farthest point we reached, as we had to be back on board at 1600. It was about three miles walk from where we were to the lorries, and if we missed them it meant five miles more across the peninsula at an accelerated pace. In addition, Harold, who was with me, was suffering from the effects of the roads in Malta, so he could not walk as fast as we had anticipated. On our way back we passed Anzac Cove. Shrapnel Gully and Hell Spit.
Some of the old lighters used in the landing, and the water condensers are still lying where they were beached. Wire, barbed and spiralled, used during the campaign, is lying about in large quantities (some of it as good as new), where it was dumped after being cleared from the water. Hundreds of 10 pdr. and 12 pdr. shrapnel shell cases are lying about the hills. Pieces of H.E. shell and shrapnel were very much in evidence. Nearly half the side of a 15″ shell was found lying among the bushes. In some of the more remote gullies, which the War Graves Commission has not yet penetrated, shell holes, with skeletons of the men killed by the shells lying about them, are still to be seen. In many places, skulls and heaps of bones are as common as shell cases. When one reads about the difficulties of the landing they seem bad enough, but the place has to be seen for those difficulties to be properly appreciated. The place looks, as the Turks thought, impregnable. Back a little from the coast, and parallel to it, are steep-sided gullies from the sides and tops of which sniping would be very easy.
Shrapnel gully and other gullies leading from the shore inland should be very easy to defend and absolute death traps for the invader.
The cemeteries of which there are several are very well kept and small headstones of concrete with the man’s name, battalion and official number on them, are the only indication that they are cemeteries. Without that they would be small memorials. The majority of the headstones carry the epitaph “Their name liveth forever more”.
Incidentally we had two Anzacs in the ship – the schoolmaster and the Bandie.”