SURVIVORS – THE EVERYDAY MAN AND HIS ATTEMPT AT EVERYDAY LIFE AFTER WAR.
I first met David little by way of email. I’d been asked to accompany him around the battlefield. As usual when people book through the battlefield tour company that I exclusively work with, they ask the client if there was any family history or connection with Gallipoli. eInstantly this was a different situation. David had booked his trip through his High Street travel agency who had no clue about the battlefield or Gallipoli for that matter. They sought answers and help from Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours. The trip was a quick turnaround two days and one night. There would be David, Erdem my favourite Gallipoli guide driving, and myself.
Then I heard from David.
He was a man on a mission. He had a mountain of written information that his travel agent in Brisbane showed little interest in. He emailed me directly.
David Little, the nephew of E.M.Little, known as Maurice, was a 75 year old retired businessman from Queensland. His interest and the story of his Uncle Maurice opened up to me as he explained his quest, his mission, his life’s work. Maurice had joined up in September 1914 and was recruited to the 15th Battalion A.I.F.
David told me that a family friend had come across Maurice’s name on the Honour Board at Indoorapilly Uniting Church. He came across the name and it rang a bell. He soon realised that the more he dug, the more Maurice’s story would consume him. David sent me Jim’s final draft manuscript of the book on Maurice’s life that they had been collaborating on.
This journey was not going to be straight forward. Erdem and I were up for the challenge.
Let’s talk about Maurice for a bit and the events leading upto his grave wounding at Quinn’s Post, his extraordinary recovery and acceptance of his injuries that would define him until his death. Then return to 2017.
E.M. Little, Maurice to us his friends and his family.
Maurice enlisted and was given the rank of Sergeant in the 15th Battalion A.I.F in Brisbane in September 1914. Maurice had excelled in his studies, he was a well known sportsman and teacher in Gladstone QLD where he lived. He was also involved in the military cadets, which was probably the reason why he was given the rank of sergeant to begin with. Maurice had a religious and conservative upbringing. His father was a Methodist Church preacher and moved from district to district every five years. The Littles were a very close knit family.
Maurice was born in Barcaldine Queensland on 6th July 1893. The son of a Methodist preacher. He enlisted in what became known as ‘The Originals’ on 16th September in the 15th Bn AIF. He wrote about his first journey abroad as a bright 21 year old teacher. Eager to do his bit for the Mother Country. Maurice wrote about the waiting and endless rehearsals of preparing for the landing. B Company of the 15th landed in the afternoon of 25th April, what would from that day forward be known as ANZAC Day…………
The 15th eventually took up place in Quinn’s Post. Maurice performed well in the opening engagements and was given a field promotion to Lieutenant.
The British and therefore the ANZACs faced a new and terrifying aspect of modern warfare. Not only artillery and especially howitzers which could throw high-explosives and shrapnel on a high trajectory into opposing trenches but snipers (sharpshooters) and bombs, hand grenades, were something that the Allies hadn’t planned on. Afterall the ANZACs were expected to be fighting over open ground after the initial landing. Their objectives achieved after just three days, not clinging to a steep cliff-face for 8 months.The Germans had trained the Turks very well in these aspects of war and with a seemingly endless supply….. The Anzacs had to play a game of ‘catch up’. Soldiers were trained in the art of sniping in the field. Grenades were on their way, but there was never going to be enough to counter the Ottoman efforts.
Early in the piece the Anzacs had devised a system of building the much needed bombs from used ‘jam tins’ packed with nails, barbed wire, metal, rocks etc. Maurice was given the task to test out the new devices and two of them were given to him and his men to try out. A Queensland miner in his charge gave his experience and cut the wick then placed a match in the fuse. They lit the bomb and threw it into No Mans Land, after some time it exploded. Problem was that the fuses were way too long and therefore the enemy could easily pick it up and send it back to our trenches. To use the bombs successfully the Anzacs would need to cut the fuses dangerously short to have the desired effect. Ironically it was this action that was to prove almost fatal for Maurice on the 29th of May.
From C.E.W. Bean Vol. 2
Thus on 7th of May Major Hugh Quinn (Quinn’s Post) came up to Lt. Little in No.6 Subsection carrying two jam tin bombs and instructed him not to throw them needlessly as the supply was very small. Little and his men left them scrupulously alone until during the night an alarm occurred.
Three weeks later, Maurices life would change forever because of these dangerous little weapons.
The fighting at Quinn’s was close and ferocious during May. Maurice’s 15th Bn was in the thick of it.
On the 9th of May the ANZACs were thrown into a devastating action. It was decided that there should be a ‘reconnaissance’ at Quinn’s to advance the frontline. The 15th attacked the Turkish lines and Maurice’s unit was tasked in digging a communication trench along the left flank to protect the troops flank from any counter attacks from The Chessboard and Bloody Angle, Another was being dug through the centre of the attack. Eventually the Australians had to retire but the new communication trenches remained. The only barrier between the Anzacs and the Turks were simple sandbag barricades. At the end of the day the 15th retired leaving behind horrific casualties, 14 officers and 193 men, 10 of the officers died as did most of the men. These men’s bodies lay out in No Man’s Land until after the suicidal Turkish attack along the entire line on 19th May.
Maurice came out of the action unscathed but wrote in his diary of the affair
“Dawn was approaching and in the light glow from the eastern sky Maurice could make out the glint on the tips of bayonets just below the parapet of the trench they were in. It was clear that a counter attack was in preparation. It was time to beat a hasty retreat. I went back too, Maurice recorded, nor stayed to gather my belongings. I quite forgot the periscope, and some son of Islam got a good overcoat.”
The famous counter attack of 19th of May, where the Turks threw all they had at the entire Anza line not only provided Australia with its first VC of the war awarded to Albert Jacka at Courtney’s Post. Men wrote that they were firing their rifles so much that they were warping with the heat. They needed to pass their rifles back to swap them with fresh rifles to keep the constant fire up. By 11.30 that day the attack was called off, but around 10,000 Turkish troops lay dead or wounded in no man’s land. Records state that around 4,000 Turkish and quite a lot of the Anzacs lay dead between the lines.
It was agreed that an official armistice take place to clear the dead. The truce was arranged through an amazing intelligence officer Aubrey Herbert. He spoke perfect Turkish (one thing that has eluded me all these years lol) He was famous for creeping up in the frontline and trying to convince Turks to surrender, usually only succeeding in drawing unwanted fire on the Anzac troops.
The armistice took place on 24th May when both sides downed their tools of death and stepped precariously out into the killing fields of no man’s land. Against orders the troops from both sides began to fraternise with each other, Swapping food, cigarettes and souvenirs with each other.
Maurice was involved, as he walked through the rotting corpses he saw many of his fellow Queenslanders killed since the landing, including his friend Lt. Hinman, only recognisable by his glasses, still stuck firmly to his bloated face. He arranged for his comrades to be taken back behind the lines and given a proper burial. The communication trenches that he himself had helped dig and were a source of consternation for the Anzacs were now filled with the dead.
At 4.30 that day the troops reluctantly pulled their sentries and Red Cross flags and returned to their respective positions. The Turkish soldiers shouting “Gule Gule” to their Anzac combatants “Smile as you go, and smile as we meet again”.
Maurice’s struggle continued…….
The Turks were a determined lot and saw Quinn’s Post as the key to driving the Anzacs back into the sea. On the 29th of May the Turks broke into the Quinn’s trenches. Maurice who was resting in his bivouac was awakened by a huge explosion. He rolled out of his slumber to a world of smoke, dust, screaming, gunfire and explosions. The Turks had exploded a huge mine under the Quinn’s Post trenches killing many defenders, and turning night into day. The 13th Battalion were manning the frontline. They knew the explosion would be the opening shot on a major Turkish attack. They knew that their frontline had disappeared under the debris. A shower of Turkish bombs rained down on the defenders and owing to the precipitous position of Quinn’s rolled down through the trench floor. The Turks poured out of their lines and among the remaining 13th Battalion defenders.
The situation was dire. The Turks had occupied the centre of the frontline and eventually occupied two bombproof shelters, built to provide rest and security for the garrison. Maurice and his men were given the task after two charges of the 15th to gain the frontline and of sending the Turks back across No Mans Land. Another hero of the conflict Major Hugh Quinn would also never see the light of another day. He was given an ample amount of jam tin bombs and was given the task of cutting off Turkish reinforcements trying to aid their comrades. To be able to bomb men running, the fuses needed to be cut as short as possible. Maurice and his unit pressed forward to one of the bomproof shelters. The Turks had pulled down sandbags and were fighting his unit. Eventually a young Corporal Simon crawled below the range of the Turkish troops and fired in through the loophole. He was being passed bombs by Maurice and his team, eventually silencing the Turks. Eventually 17 of them surrendered and much to their surprise were taken prisoner and not slaughtered as they were led to believe. As the fighting subsided they heard a lone shot and saw that Hugh Quinn had been instantly killed by the enemy. It was during this action that whilst bombing no man’s land, a jam tin exploded in Maurice’s hand. He sustained major injuries including the loss of his right hand, and his eyesight. His men carried him back to the aid station where he was tended by Dr Guy Luthor. He was repatriated to the beach still fully conscious. He even asked to be sent back into the line to assist his men. The last action he took that day was to recommend one of his men, Corporal Simon, for a commendation for delivering a bomb into the bombproof shelter and therefore convincing the Turks to surrender. Quinn’s Post was the last thing he ever saw in his life, but it was the beginning of a new life for the 22 year old……
Maurice lay on the beach awaiting transport to a hospital ship. Daylight was a problem for the wounded and the ships laying at anchor out of range from the Turkish artillery. That evening, still conscious and in shock Maurice was operated on. His right arm amputated and his left eye excised. There was still hope for saving his right eye. It took nearly a week for the ship to reach Alexandria in Egypt. He was taken to the AGH at Rameleh where his injuries were further treated, A nurse helped him pen a letter to his parents onboard. They received the letter just before reports of his death had reached the folks.
The first voice he heard and grew to know was that of Sister Bessie Crowther. Bessie fed, bathed and treated Maurice. She was also responsible for writing to his parents and tell them of the extent of his injuries. Twice already the authorities had listed him as Killed in Action, you can imagine the anguish of parents around Australia, families not really knowing what the fate was of their sons, brothers and fathers.
Maurice held a positive and inspiring place at the 1st Field Hospital. Instead of wallowing in self-pity he worked to lift the spirits of those around him. He decided that to carry on in this world he would be forever joined with his beloved Bessie, he proposed marriage to her……….. The union was not quickly accepted, Bessie was nearly 45 years old, twice the age of Maurice, but they insisted that this was a union ‘made of God’. They were married and so Bessie would join him for his journey home, as his wife and for the remainder of his life…………
Maurice and his new bride were married in Egypt and she would join him on his homeward journey, indeed his journey through life. They settled back in Queensland where he was hailed as a true Gallipoli hero. He knew how important it was to encourage others to rush to the side of his comrades and encouraged men through many public meetings to enlist. He also promoted the need for Conscription in the two failed referendums. He worked desperately for the assistance and welfare of the returning injured and disabled soldiers from the frontlines of Gallipoli, Palestine and the Western Front. He helped found the Sherwood RSL. he and bessie returned to England where Maurice learned braille and attended Cambridge University. They travelled for his health and often returned to Egypt. His health was deteriorating rapidly.
In 1938 finally he succumbed to the massive trauma experienced at Gallipoli and passed away from the injuries sustained to his brain from the jam-tim bomb. He never returned to Australia and his father wrote in his diary on the day he was notified of his death and burial in England. “Received today the sad news of the death of my beloved son – one of the best sons that ever breathed”.
September 2017 continued…..
David Little grew up on the stories of his uncle and his exploits in the Great War. It gnawed at him that he had never visited the place where Maurice’s life had changed forever. Where Maurice had fought up Shrapnel Valley and his desperate fighting at Quinn’s Post.
David, Erdem and I visited the usual Anzac locations. We spoke about the landing, the desperate advances made, the stalemate. We hiked up Plugge’s Plateau. I always feel the need to recount Charles Bean’s first day on the battlefield when he offered water to the 12 men mortally wounded at Plugge’s Plateau, he was told by the medic to ‘Save your water for the living’…….. those 12 men are still lying where they were on that fateful day. Nobody wakes up in the morning and willingly goes to their death.
I had recommended that as David was 75 yo and that the area has since reverted once again to the almost total wilderness I would take him up Plugge’s Plateau where he could look back down on the route his uncle had taken many times during his month on the peninsula…….. David, on the other hand, would have none of it. He was determined to walk as much of Shrapnel Valley towards Quinn’s Post that he could safely endure. Before leaving for the Plugge’s track David asked if he could just walk a little of the way up the valley. I felt he had hoodwinked me the whole time, but as long as it was safe well why not.
David’s knees aren’t very good on the downward slope and therefore hopping from one side of the watercourse to the other side in Shrapnel has its challenges. We eventually spot the track heading up Braund’s Hill. David’s words stick with me now, whenever i walk these hills “I’m not very good on the downhill but can walk uphill all day” I kept reminding that following the old track all the way to Monash Valley and/or Quinn’s would mean we would be bush-bashing completely under the overgrown scrub of Oleander and Hollyoak, nothing much would be gained and every step uphill could mean a longer track downhill. So we slowly made our way up the middle ridge of Shrapnel Valley known as Braund’s Hill. Once committed to going the entire way up to the Second Ridge we decided to send Erdem back to retrieve the car and meet us up the top at Johnston’s Jolly. We stopped at many vistas where the view was clear all the way through to Quinn’s Post. I pointed out where the trenches and sleeping terraces roughly were, where nature has washed away the soil leaving large scrapes of bare earth.
About halfway up we stopped and went through the different landmarks as best we could. I then managed to film David as he described to us the movements of his uncle up until the 29th of May. I love this track and the opportunity to enter the 4th Battalion Parade Ground Cemetery from the valley.
We found our way onto the Second Ridge and walked onto Johnston’s Jolly where I showed David exactly what the trenches looked like prior to the bushfire of 1994 and before the authorities in their infinite wisdom planted about 4,000,000 pine trees. We met up with Erdem and visited the heartrending scene of the battle of Lone Pine. After my usual choked up rendition of the supposedly act of modern warfare of 1915 which was in fact a tribute to stone-age or medieval murder, 4 days of fighting with fists, teeth, nails that led Charles Bean when he visited the site to say “It was all the respect we could show was to not step on the faces of the fallen” sometimes 4 deep in the floor of the trenches.
Quinn’s Post – 16th September.
Finally, I’d delayed our first arrival at Quinn’s Post enough, we even went for a gozleme and coke at the 57th Regiment Memorial before really hitting Quinn’s. We strolled through the trenches between what was Bloody Angle, Dead Man’s Ridge and The Chessboard. Using old photographs and trench maps I finally managed, I think, to locate the left of the bombproof shelters. David and I stood in the old trench. looking at the deep depression, which was most probably the remains of the shelter. I decided that now was the time to confirm with David that this was the spot where his uncle Lt. E.M. Little had seen his last. With just the two of us standing on the precarious hillside behind Quinn’s, it was hard not to recognise it as an emotional moment for both of us. David’s quest had been realised.
David leads the choir in his congregation and so we were treated to a rendition of the traditional Anzac hymn, ‘Abide By Me’. We still had some sites to do but everything after this moment was just somewhat of an anti-climax. We’d all expended our emotions and tribute to Maurice in his trenches.
Today was our return journey to Istanbul but who could refuse an offer of fresh Calamari and a beer in the harbour at Kabatepe? David was inexhaustible and on our suggestion we hired a local fishing boat to take us along the Anzac coast. We spent several hours and a great swim over the shipwreck of the collier ‘Milo’ before returning to port.
Our drive back was only broken by a regular stop at Tekirdag and a cup of tea and cake with my family. Turkish hospitality at its finest.
And so, even though it was time to say goodbye to David Little, we have become good friends to this day. Sadly Jim Gibson who was responsible for the journey passed away shortly after his book titled ‘Maurice’ was published. E.M. Little’s letters have since been digitised for perpetuity.