In 1967 – Lieutenant John Francis Coyle finally received his medal for his service at Gallipoli.
The certificate is worded as follows ; “In commemoration of the heroic deeds of the men of ANZAC at Gallipoli in 1915, and in recognition of the great debt owed by all Australians”
His letter of application for that medal reads “Having served on the Gallipoli Peninsula (at Durrant’s Post) between ? till the evacuation – I hereby apply for the Anzac Medallion and Plaque.”
Like a few of his other memories of that time there are a few blanks & inconsistencies. He would have been at the age of 72, at the time of his letter. To fill in the details it is necessary to step back a few years…
Jack applied to the army in Sydney at one month shy of his 20th birthday, on the 25th May, 1915. Up until then he had been working as a “spreading machinist” (still as an apprentice from his enlistment notes) at Cockatoo Island. He trained hard in the months between his 1st June enlistment and his August departure from the Liverpool camp. He was accepted into the 7th Reinforcements to the 13th Battalion as “fit for active service” on the 3rd August, 1915.
With a company of men that numbered approximately 147 and their Commanding Officer (CO) Captain Edward Twynham , John Coyle embarked on the HMAT A9 “Shropshire” on the 20th August, 1915 – bound for Egypt and the Gallipoli Peninsula. They sailed via Colombo (Ceylon at that time) and the Suez Canal to arrive in Alexandria at some time in late September or early October of 1915. His company were part of a larger group on at least two ships that included the well-known “Last Anzac” Alec Campbell – who had sailed from Melbourne as part of the 8th Reinforcements to the 15th Battalion.
Quoting from Jonathon King’s book about Alec Campbell it is said that “the fresh troops went straight to the AIF Base at Mena Camp, outside Cairo, in the shadow of the famous Sphinx and the great pyramids of Giza.” Those common accounts suggest that the wide-eyed (after all Alec was only 16 at the time) Aussie boys were enjoying the first few days exploring Cairo and the grand sights of a new land. This obviously did not last for too long as there was serious battle training to be undertaken. The campaign at Gallipoli had not gone well and fresh soldiers were well needed.
The arrival at Anzac beach was a little delayed. On approximately the 18th of October the various groups sailed to Mudros harbour on Lemnos Island (Greek territory) and prepared at Sarpi Camp. The 7th and 8th reinforcements officially joined their respective units on the 23rd of August but then almost all of the new arrivals were quarantined with “the Mumps”. The 13th Battalion had been rested at Sarpi Camp since the beginning of October with their CO Major Durrant having been hospitalised.
Major Durrant returned shortly before the departure to Gallipoli, giving required training and orientation to the new officers and men. The strengthened battalion then embarked from Mudros harbour for Anzac Beach on the 31st of October, 1915. They travelled with the 14th & 15th Battalions on the SS Osmarich and landed in two stages on that night and the next day. The troops marched from the landing spot, having bivouaced in Water-Course Gully overnight to reach and relieve soldiers at Durrants Post on the 3rd of November, 1915.
This outpost, near to the approaches of Chunuk Bair and Hill 100 was a major front-line stand. The efforts of these soldiers through-out November included many reports of successful sniper attacks on the enemy, including the innovative use of the new “telescope” rifles. There was also much to be done in the work of tunnelling, trench digging and reinforcement of the post (“every available man involved in the construction of underground winter quarters”).
Field Hospital near Durrants Post
On the 24th of November, 1915, it is stated in the War Diary the “Ruse of Silence” (effective for 48 hours) is commenced. This was a very important tactic to eventually allow the Anzac troops to withdraw in December but at this time it was still a strategy only known to the top officers.
It was also during this time that the Gallipoli area suffered horrendous storms & deluges that washed away embattlements. During all of November and into December the brave Diggers at Durrant’s Post completed scouting patrols, employed sharp-shooters and snipers to attack the enemy positions. The majority of the ‘fresh’ men continued the work of holding the ground that had been secured at such a high cost of lives lost, by both the Australian and particularly, in this area, our New Zealand brothers.
The official account says that on the 15-16th of December preparations and preliminary evacuations took place while laying charges, destroying equipment that could not be transported. The report also suggests that they prepared automatically firing rifles, on delayed timers, that would fool the enemy after they left. The evacuation then took place for these men on the 18th and 19th of December with Captain Twynham playing a major part in getting his men out safely.
There is a common story amongst the accounts of the night withdrawal of the 13th Battalion from their remote post. There had been a Digger on tunnel sentry duty that had fallen asleep. Feeling a particular need he went outside to relive himself (dysentery had been rife), he discovered that everybody else had already departed. Apparently that soldier appeared at the beach getting on one of the last transports with insufficient clothing and without his weapon. We certainly hope that this was not our ‘Coyley’.
The official diary entry for the 13th Battalion on the 20th of December, 1915 reads that “Battalion completed embarkation without a casualty” and then “Brigade went into Divisional Camp at Mudros East”, at Lemnos. They were then stationed there while arrangements were made for many of the troops to return to Egypt. The 13th gathered themselves for Christmas at Mudros Island and a solemn New Year’s spent onboard the HMT Tunisia bound for Alexandria. They arrived back in Egypt on the 2nd of January, 1916 not even guessing what lay ahead in new lands and the horrors of the Western Front.