April 1915 ….with a bullet or two on board
Transcript of a letter my Grandfather Hugh McCubbin (2nd division Australian Anzac Force) wrote to a close friend about his experiences via a hospital troopship, after being shot on April 25, during the first charge at Gaba Tepe, Gallipoli in 1915.
Mon Aug 30, 1916 Australian Base Depot
Monte Video Camp,
My Dear Arc,
Thank you so much for your very interesting letter (dated Melb 3rd July) which I have just received – from the look of the envelope it seems to have had some difficulty in digging me up. I may also mention that I received another very interesting epistle from you just about two days before we landed at Gallipoli owing to certain circumstances I was unable to answer it at the time – I am indeed sorry to hear that my left-handed letter from Alexandria did not come up to expectation but considering the fact that I wrote it lying down and I had an enormous contrivance called a McEntire splint on my left leg and my right arm was fractured just below the shoulder – not to mention two bullets, which had not been removed at that time – I think I did fairly well – even though it did take me three days to write it. Just before I got your letter I had one from Ginger describing in glowing terms the magnificent success of his carburettor – his description is as follows:
I have recently “evolved” (straight … sp?) a new petrol carburettor which works very satisfactorily, except for one incident here it is – I had attached it to the motor car (less one of its essentials) to give it a good test before “patenting”. I got splendid results (I might say that it’s a stinking car for backfiring). Anyhow it backfired on the second demonstration, and blew up the tank and set the car on fire. “Gee whizz” you should have seen the flames go up to the roof of the old stable. I thought all was over for the moment. Anyway good for the car the (?) a lot of (?) pictures. There happened to be a great big lump of rag and a bag of bran handy (this portion of the narrative is somewhat involved). “We had not a little difficulty in extinguishing it. After all there was not much damage done except that my patent tank had gone with the fire. A really amusing experience!”
You can just imagine how I laughed when I got your version of the above – poor old Ginger (could you give me in confidence an accurate description of the car – in one letter it was described as being a beautiful dove grey. Piggy describes it as being all body and no engine.
(a line missing here)
…last Saturday and yesterday we motored over to Dorchester – my youngest cousin is a sergeant in one of the London Regts and we took two other 5th Battalion boys with us, both of them had Australian uniforms on, so all the “Tommies” we passed thought we were officers, we acknowledged some really perfect salutes. I will tell you all about my doings at Gallipoli when I return to the land of my birth. People pester the life out of you about it and ask all sorts of silly questions – I have gone over the same old tale so often, that the very thought of repeating it again is too much for me – I was asked the other day if I had seen the Turk who shot me, or if it was a German. And when I was up at Manchester a dear old lady asked me if the shell was still in my leg (perhaps she meant one of “Lizzies”).
Since I left Alexandria I have only stayed in one place for more than a fortnight once, so as you say in your letter, I have been wandering around a bit. These are my movements since I first left Egypt the first time.
We left (… words missing in scan) and on Sunday (25th) We landed at Gaba Tebe at about half past eight in the morning. The name of our transport was The Novian – I was wounded in the arm at about half past 9 o’clock and a machine gun got me a bonza in the leg at about two o’clock in the afternoon. I then retired and after having my wounds dressed at a dressing station, reached the beach at about three o’clock. Then I was again attended to, but there was a shortage of stretchers. I was left on the beach until about 9 o’clock. I was taken off in a cutter and after various adventures more or less exciting was hauled on board a transport called the Siang Thun (Seang Choon ed.) – on board that boat I think I had the worst time of all. We had 600 wounded on board and only about a dozen AMC orderlies and two doctors. There were some terribly serious cases on board in fact we lost 20 on the way across. I had my wounds dressed once or twice but did not see a doctor until I arrived in Alexandria. I was lying on the troop deck with a couple of blankets over me and one (…?) first night on a stretcher. I was so exhausted from loss of blood that I slept soundly – despite the groans of some of the really bad chaps cases.
When I woke up next morning and tried to sit up I found that I had no strength in my back and whenever I moved my arm gave me hell. I did not know that it was fractured at the time. I was feeling very stiff and sore and my clothes which been drenched with blood were beginning to stink horribly. I was lying on the deck besides one of the (…?) tables (which were also used as beds) so I asked one of the orderlies to help me sit up on one of the forms so that my clothes could be taken off. He sat me up after some difficulty, but the effort was too much for me and I fainted. The chap who was lying on the (…?)table just managed to catch me in time; when I came to the stretcher had been taken away and I was lying on the hard deck. They had also removed (…missing in scan) …for over four hours and when they cut my sleeve off at the dressing station it was full of blood. The next day (Tues) I was a bit delirious so I don’t remember much but I know we set sail for Alexandria at midday. On Wednesday a chap died just opposite me after passing a terrible night. Luckily the weather was perfect… if it had been rough we would have had more consignments for the deep I am afraid.
The bullet in my arm was now beginning to give me hell, and I would willingly have consented to have it cut out without an anaesthetic – but luckily as it proved afterwards, the Doctors had more serious cases than mine to engage their attention; there were a good few chaps out of my Company on board and most of them were able to get about – Ashley ( F?) was amongst them (Y.C.L brother in law) he was wounded rather badly in the shoulder. Bitterly disappointed because I was not taken ashore that night.
The next day was spent in unloading the wounded but I was one of the last to be taken off so I did not leave until about 6 o’clock in the evening. Finally however I was lifted on to a stretcher and carried out into the open air again – down a long gangway, and then into a waiting motor ambulance with solid tyres (needless to say it was not an Australian Ambulance) then a ten mile drive, part of the way over cobble stones right through the main streets of Alexandria.
My boots which were lying on the foot of the stretcher fell out on the road; a fat old Greek picked them up and chased after the car, people started yelling out for the driver to stop, but he did not know what the disturbance was about and drove straight on, finally however he was induced to stop and amidst much enthusiasm the kindly Greek arrived …….(full line cut off in scan copy) …. in due course we arrived at the hospital after passing several detachments of French Lonaves, who cheered and got excited generally as we sped past them.
We came to a stand still in front of what seemed to be the entrance of an hotel (afterwards it proved to be such). Some (Judes sp?) orderlies hurried up and unstrapped the stretchers and I was carried inside the building by two turbaned bearers – through a spacious hall and up two flights of marble steps, and into a (…….?) room containing 3 beds. I was gently lifted from the stretcher and placed on a sprung mattress – between snowy white sheets – talk about paradise.
Well this is enough for one letter – next week I will give you an account of happenings on Gallipoli itself.
Trusting that you are all well and with kindest regards to the family
Always and your sincere friend
Ps. I expect a four page letter in return for this …
banner pic – Alexandria, Egypt. c. 1915-05. Sick and wounded Australian and British troops watching seriously ill stretcher cases being loaded into ambulances lined up on a wharf. Note the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) personnel grouped at left. The casualties had recently been evacuated from Gallipoli.
image below – Gallipoli, Dardanelles, Turkey, 1915. Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) personnel and Royal Navy (RN) sailors transferring a stretcher bearing a wounded Australian soldier from a long boat to a hospital ship. The long boat has evacuated a number of wounded Australian soldiers from Gallipoli.
Link to transcript – Hugh McCubbin’s Gallipoli story