As we came on deck the next morning a wonderful sight met the eye. Our ship was one of the farthest out, and on our looking up-harbour towards Lemnos, a veritable forest of masts could be seen. Slightly on our starboard side the stately H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth (or ‘Lizzie’, as she was familiarly called) rode at anchor, for the time being not belching forth her deadly missiles of destruction. Ahead of us was H.M.T.S. Southland, a large liner. Ahead again, developing into a huge fan-like shape, were craft of all descriptions – battleships, cruisers, T.B.D.’s, mine-sweepers, liners, tramps, colliers, paddle-steamers, down to a felucca slipping along in the breeze, its owner watching with Greek cunning his chance of selling the fruit piled up in the bow. The selling the fruit piled up in the bow. only blot in the landscape – or, rather, the heavens – was a German plane at a high altitude, evidently out for reconnaissance work.
Here on their transports were the 29th Division, ready for the fray; and though much has been said of this famous division, the reader will, I hope, pardon my digressing for a page or two in order to pay tribute in passing to its soldierly qualities.
The division was composed of troops of the same standing and calibre as the original British Expeditionary Force, with the exception of the divisional Signal Company, the Argyll and Bute Mountain Battery, and the 5th Battalion, the Royal Scots. These were Territorials.
The Royal Scots, as we have seen, had had the privilege of coming out from the Old Country on H.M.T.S. Caledonia (a Clan liner, commanded by Captain Blaikie, who was taken prisoner later when his ship was torpedoed) along with the 1st Essex. The 1st Essex were magnificent men, tall, well built, and trained to the moment. We looked like pigmies in comparison, and rumour had it that the Territorials would probably be used as hewers of wood and haulers of water. It was a natural assumption on the part of men who had been on duty abroad for years, and most of whom, officers included, had never seen a Territorial. But still it was consoling to us Territorials to think that both the water and the wood were necessary to enable our Regulars to fight. The greatest compliment I was ever paid was a month later when their adjutant (Captain Wood, since killed) came up to me one day, shook hands, and said, ‘Mure, I should be damned proud to lead your men anywhere’. I felt indeed proud myself.
On the peninsula we fought practically the whole time side by side with our shipmates, and soon got to know one another after our natural Scottish shyness had worn off. On also the head-board the Caledonia was quarters staff of the 88th Brigade, in which brigade we were. General Napier and the brigade major were killed when landing from the River Clyde, the staff captain escaping (Captain Sinclair Thomson, 1st Essex, later general staff officer, 1st grade). They were charming and courteous, and though rather overawed when addressed by a ‘brass hat’ you were soon put at your ease. During the war it has been my good fortune, perhaps more than most Territorial officers, to work with Regular officers of the old school, and I can only say that I have always met with the greatest courtesy and kindness, together with an unfailing desire to help an amateur in acquiring the necessary knowledge in the art of war which only comes by experience.
The present day Socialist, or whatever he calls himself, may decry the army, but if a battalion, band at its head, marched past his home, I am certain he would get up from his fireside and watch it passing. The law of order and discipline cannot be got over, just as the law of supply and demand is inexorable. It is a well-known fact that the Australians were, at the beginning, slack in saluting (I mean no disparagement to our friends from the Antipodes, as discipline is not instilled into a being in a day or a month), but a 29th Division officer was always saluted by them – not, perhaps, from the routine of drill, but from respect for their fighting, qualities. And this, I venture to say, was a high compliment from these grim, determined, fearless soldiers. It was a sort of Masonic hall-mark given by them to a division whose conduct they had witnessed and approved.
All that the ‘29th’ did and endured in Gallipoli may never be told. What it lost is numbered and recorded, and its part from the beginning to the end of the war, if ever chronicled, will be found second to none.
One might write much more, but to return to our story.
A week ‘s hard training had now to be gone in for – training in descending and ascending rope ladders dangling over the ship’s side into lighters. This was no easy matter in full marching order, but it had also its humorous side. To me it wasn’t particularly funny, because the rifles of the men were in my charge, and though you can fish a man out of the water, a rifle is not so obliging as to give you the chance. We had gunners also on board who did not participate in this form of amusement, but they were not to be done out of their share, which consisted usually in throwing the manure over the side where the ladder was. Even the cooks had to have their look in with the slops.
It is said that we Britons are not facile, that we learn with difficulty, and adapt ourselves to new conditions and circumstances badly. Well, it is not true of British soldiers ; nothing could be less true.
After a few days my secret orders came, telling me what to do after we had unloaded, and where to go. Excitement began to run high. The air commenced to tingle, and though you couldn’t see it, you could feel that a great commotion was going on in the inner harbour.
On April 24, about five o’clock, the cruisers, their decks crowded with troops, started to pass us. One cruiser, I noticed, was packed with Australian troops, a magnificent body of Men. Mudros harbour may not have looked like Sydney harbour, but it had elements of wide space and active emergency, probably more welcome to them and more appropriate than the Bakerloo tube, a Clapham side-street, or the purlieus of Tottenham Court Road. They appeared splendid they were splendid and with the ships’ bands playing, they were radiant with high spirits and enthusiasm. It must not be thought that they took the enterprise lightly. Every man there realised its momentousness and its terrible tragedy.
They were young gladiators, stripped for one of the biggest fights the world has yet seen. They were exultant because they were brave, and because they were proud of their cause, not because they were for one moment foolhardy. They knew their danger, and they mocked at it. They knew their peril, and they jeered at it. They knew the odds against them, and they didn’t give a damn. We cheered them with a will, and they cheered back mightily. It was to be the first battle of a young people, giants girded and exultant. I don’t know how it made them feel, but their eyes were primed and their faces glowing. It made me feel that at last we were going to do something, and that Melbourne, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hobart were all Homeland – ours – and that they and we were closest of kin, ‘Jock Tamson s bairns’, every mother’s son of us.
Then our ship came. Not the tramp I was on, but the liner carrying my battalion. Ah, how we cheered them! That evening we ourselves received sailing orders for 6 A.M. the next morning.