Athenapallas's Blog

April 25, 2010

Athena and the Anzacs

Athena the warrior Goddess did not fight in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915  but her grandfather did.

Three thousand  years earlier, however, she had  fought beside the Greek heroes in the ten year Trojan war not far from the Gallipoli peninsula so she knew the impossible terrain of this wasteland, she’d witnessed the dubious politics of such wars, and had admired the determination of the Trojans and now the Turks to defend their homeland.  She decided that unlike the Greeks who had the help of the whole lexicon of the  Olympian gods, this modern army faced a Troy  that could not be taken.

She also knew that unlike the Bronze age soldiers,  these modern ones had not been trained from birth in the art and skills of war.  Even though they were armed with guns and explosives she realised that hand to hand combat would  also be needed. And this was not the work of 20th century farmers, drovers, carpenters, clerks and teachers. 

However she had not counted on the peculiar ingenuity, character and dogged courage of so many Australian men, some hardly more than boys, when confronted with impossible odds. She watched and marvelled how in the midst of brutal chaos men held each other as they died, kissed photos of  their loved ones, dragged their mates to safety, railed  against the stupidity of their superiors, and played two up or football in no-man’s land, taunting death which often took them even at play.

How these men kept their humanity and became gods seemed miraculous even to her. It was a Turkish captain who told an English officer as they went to collect their dead in no-man’s land,  ‘At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep.’*

Athena, through her most recent mortal manifestation as a modern woman in 2010, had access to the written account of her grandfather’s experience of the landing and the first few days afterwards. In it he tells of the savage killing  that took him to the brink of insanity. He wrote: 

 A melee took place between us and the enemy on Tuesday  morning and it was a shocking affair, yells and groans and curses mingled with the crack of rifles and revolvers and men stabbing and clubbing each other to death. Might was right in that “do” and we hacked our way through them and back again, no time to see to the wounded, it was kill or be killed and we killed. This was however just a minor “scrap” only about 150 men were laid out and……..

He wrote to his sweetheart the following:

Imagine a ridge sloping towards the enemy(who were close) covered with shrubs about 2ft high on the  top of this Ridge, the remains of as brave a lot of men as ever stepped. Billy was dead, Steen was dead, dead men lying in grotesque attitudes covered  with reddish black blood which was oozing from them. Heads, arms, and legs to be picked up or one would kick a hand or face as one moved. These poor devils were raving mad (badly wounded) singing songs and cursing the Turks. When I saw Bill and  Steen I swore and cursed long and badly for the first time. It relieved some of the devil in me that was making me madder every second.

Later he came to the end to his Gallipoli campaign:

I seemed to have a charmed life as on my right and on my left next to me men fell but I was just about to take cover as they were machine gunning us when a shell burst near me and I was done. I am indebted to the signaller who was with me for saving my life, he dragging me back out of the “Scrap” and seeing with the assistance of my Sergeant that I was taken to the beach.

A final letter to his soon to be wife Alma said:

We have had love’s young dream to the fullest sense while we were together. But I’m afraid you will find me changed, not in my love for you, never! but I don’t care to joke. I’ve been through hell and it’s left an impression, a lasting one…pray for me, I need it.

He then concluded with a sobering final sentence:

The Colonel had the Battalion mustered 3 days after the landing; 98 men I am told answered the call out of  960. I think the First Battalion has done its bit.

*caption to  photo in Les Carlyon’s  classic book Gallipoli 2001

Other quotes in the above post are from the personal papers and letters of E.V. Timms, some of which were also published in 1996  in The Distaff Side by Jessica Scotford his daughter. 

E. V. Timms came back at the age of 20 to his  mother and his stepfather the Rev. Angus King, minister of St David’s church in Haberfield, to be feted as a hero. He could not bear such attention so he fled the manse (the house next to the church where his family lived) and went to stay with the family of his fiance Alma McRobert, in Summer Hill until they were married.

He suffered from hearing loss, periods of  deep depression and  bouts of  rage, no doubt the result of the neurological and psychological trauma he’d experienced. With the love and help of his wife and family and his own courage and determination he became a  writer of  short stories, radio and film scripts and 20  books including the Australian saga of 11 bestselling romantic historical novels. He served in the Second World War as the Officer in charge of the Italian section of the notorious POW camp at Cowra. (And that’s another story). After his death at the age of 60,  his wife Alma completed the 12th novel in the saga and went on to write another novel of her own.

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