The Anzac walk

7. Artillery Road – Shell Green

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Directions:

sign pointing to shell green
Sign pointing to shell green

About half a kilometre along the Brighton Beach road, on the left, is a directional brown and yellow sign. It points up an unpaved road – Artillery Road as it was known to the Anzacs – to Shell Green Cemetery. Follow this road uphill, stopping at Shell Green, to Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial. As you come through a small area of pines at the end of the road, you will find the entry to Lone Pine off up to your right.

Of all the bastards of places

The way up Artillery Road is the way to Second Ridge (the first ridge was considered to be the ridge leading down from Plugge’s Plateau to the coast behind Anzac Cove) and the Anzac front line. Behind the ridge and along the side of the road were many dugouts and rest positions where units could be stationed when not in the trenches. The ridge, also known during the campaign as Bolton’s Ridge, stretches down to the sea at Brighton Beach and the end of the Anzac line in 1915.

Private Hal Warren carrying shells along Artillery Road
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Private Hal Warren, 10th Battalion, South Australia, carrying two 18-pounder shells along Artillery Road in August 1915 [AWM P02321.023]

Reinforcements, and men returning from temporary rest camps on Imroz and Lemnos islands, would have walked the same route you have just taken from Anzac Cove to reach units stationed in this area. This is to the right of the ‘old Anzac’ line held by the infantry battalions of the 3rd Brigade (9th, 10th, 11th and 12thBattalions) and, from early June 1915, the regiments of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade (5th Light Horse, Queensland; 6th Light Horse, NSW; 7th Light Horse, NSW).

As the name Artillery Road suggests, there were also a number of batteries of the Australian Field Artillery stationed in these hills. Originally, the road only reached as far as Shell Green Cemetery. In preparation for the August Offensive thousands of soldiers, mainly British, were brought to Anzac and hidden in newly constructed dugouts on terraces along the hills.

The sniping position of Trooper ‘Billy’ Sing
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The sniping position of Trooper ‘Billy’ Sing. It was situated near Chatam’s Post at the southern end of Bolton’s Ridge on the southern side of Artillery Road. In this photograph Sing, described as a ‘picturesque looking mankiller’, is looking at the camera. On one occasion Sing was assisted by Trooper Ion Idriess:

I  spotted a man’s face framed enquiringly in a loophole. He stayed there. Billy fired. The Turk vanished instantly, but with the telescope I could partly see the motion of men inside the trench picking him up. So it was one more to Billy’s tally …

[Ion Idriess, The Desert Column, Sydney, 1982, p 32] [AWM C00429]

During this period, Artillery Road was widened and extended up the hill to just behind the Lone Pine position on the ridge. The hard work of road building had to be done by the Anzacs themselves and this daily grind, called ‘fatigues’, was the reality of war at Anzac:

You must not imagine that life in one of these year-long modern battles consists of continuous bomb fighting, bayoneting and bombarding all the time … [the] chief occupation is the digging of mile upon mile of endless sap [trench], of sunken road … The carrying of biscuit boxes and building timbers for hours daily … the sweeping and disinfecting of trenches in the never ending battle against flies – this is the soldier's life for nine days out of ten in a modern battle.

[Charles Bean, dispatch, Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 2 December 1915, p.3058]

The flies were everywhere, breeding in millions in the bad sanitary conditions, piles of food scraps and rotting corpses. The smell was something a veteran never forgot. Trooper Ion Idriess, 5th Light Horse, spent much of his time at Gallipoli here on Bolton’s Ridge and the rest positions behind it. Like others, he lived mainly on a diet of tinned bully beef, tea, sugar, biscuits and jam. So hard were these biscuits that it was not uncommon for men to break teeth on them. The easiest way to deal with the biscuits was to grate them and turn the resultant mush into a sort of porridge. Idriess recalled a particularly foul dinner of biscuits and jam:

Studio portrait of William ‘Billy’ Sing
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Studio portrait of William ‘Billy’ Sing DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal), 5th Light Horse Regiment, of Clermont, Queensland, the most famous of all the Anzac snipers. Sing was credited with 150 confirmed Turkish deaths but informal estimates put his tally at over 200. [AWM P03633.006]

Immediately I opened the tin the flies rushed the jam. They buzzed like a swarm of bees. They swarmed that jam, all fighting among themselves. I wrapped my overcoat over the tin and gouged out the flies, then spread the biscuit, held my hand over it, and drew the biscuit out of the coat. But a lot of the flies flew into my mouth and beat about inside. Finally, I threw the tin over the parapet. I nearly howled with rage … Of all the bastards of places this is the greatest bastard in the world.

[Ion Idriess, The Desert Column, Sydney, 1982, p 42]

Behind the names on the gravestones at Shell Green Cemetery, off to your right about half-way up Artillery Road, are many touching stories. In Plot 2, Row G, Grave 23 lies Private Roy Facey, 11th Battalion, age 23, from Subiaco, Western Australia. Roy came to Gallipoli in June 1915 to join his brother Albert Facey who was already serving in the battalion. Albert, as the older brother, put in a request to move to Roy’s company and was looking forward to being with his brother with whom he ‘always got along well’. The reunion never took place. On 28 June 1915, both Roy and Albert took part in an attack and Albert later wrote about what happened:

… on arriving back I was told that Roy had been killed. He and his mate had been killed by the same shell. This was a terrible blow to me. I had lost a lot of my mates and seen a lot of men die, but Roy was my brother … I helped to bury Roy and fifteen of our mates who had been killed on the twenty-eighth. We put them in a grave side by side on the edge of a clearing we called Shell Green. Roy was in pieces when they found him. We put him together as best we could – I can remember carrying a leg – it was terrible.

[Albert Facey, A Fortunate Life, 1984, p 273]

A daily duel

From July 13th to 17th, when the bombardments of Steele’s were most severe, Browne’s battery in the Pimple fought a daily duel with the 75’s.  The position from which some of them were firing was already known to the Australian artillery as that of the enemy’s “sandpit” battery. Presently, however, it was discovered that at least one of the 75’s was firing from some other direction. The infantry detected a flash, apparently of a gun, behind Battleship Hill. On to this Browne on July 17th endeavoured to register a section of his battery. Since only two guns under Lieutenant Edwards were available, and since the 75’s at once returned their fire, rapid shooting became necessary in order to “smother” them. Other gun-detachments were ordered to stand by, in order to “carry on” if either of the crews were disabled. The expected happened. After several high-explosive shells from the 75’s had burst on the parapet, another struck the shield of No. 1 gun and blew away its crew. Sergeant Taylor, covered with wounds, struggled to continue firing, but the relieving detachment, which had sprung at once to the gun, forced him, strongly protesting, away from it. “See after the others,” he said, “I’m only scratched.”

A snow-covered gun position of the 9th Battery in November 1915
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The position is most likely somewhere in the Artillery Road area and the photograph was undoubtedly taken after the famous ‘blizzards’ of 27-30 November 1915. While the snow might have been a novel sight for some, for others it was a disaster; 200 British soldiers froze to death at Suvla Bay. Between 30 November and 8 December, over 15,500 men were evacuated due to illness and conditions brought on by the terrible weather. At No 3 Australian General Hospital at Lemnos Island many lost feet and toes due to frostbite and gangrene. [AWM P00046.040]

Of “the others” one gunner, Barrett-Lennard, a youngster of twenty-one, lay with an arm and a thigh shattered, but life lingered for a minute or two. “Look after the sergeant,” he insisted. “I’m all right – I’m done, but, by God, you see, I’m dying hard.” Another, Stanley Carter, part of whose back had been torn away, also regained a brief consciousness before he died. “Is the gun all right, sergeant?" were his first words. Of such mettle were the men who, under almost insuperable difficulties of Anzac, fought their guns throughout the campaign.

[Charles Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, pp.343-344]

Maggots are crawling
Members of the 9th Battery, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, First Division, AIF, loading and firing their 18-pounder gun
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Members of the 9th Battery, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, First Division, AIF, a Tasmanian unit, loading and firing their 18-pounder gun on 19 December 1915, the day of the final evacuation. They had been ordered to use up their ammunition before leaving. The 9th Battery had guns positioned in the area of Artillery Road. The British18-pounder was the mainstay of the British Empire field artillery batteries in World War I. A battery on Anzac consisted of four 18-pounders. [AWM P00046.041]

… This is the most infernally uncomfortable line of trenches we have ever been in, which is saying some for the regiment. We are in “reliefs” now, “resting”, about fifty yards back of the firing-trench. For a couple of hours, to rest our nerves, they say. There forty-eight of us in this particular spot, just an eighteen-inch-wide trench with iron overhead supports sandbagged as protection against bombs. We are supposed to be “sleeping”, preparatory to our next watch. Sleeping! Hell and tommy! Maggots are crawling down the trench; it stinks like an unburied graveyard; it is dark; the air is stagnant; some of the new hands are violently sick from watching us trying to eat. Weare so crowded that I can hardly write in the diary even. My mates look like shadow men crouching expectantly in hell. Bombs are crashing outside, and – the night has come! If they hadn’t been silly enough to tell us to sleep if we could I don’t suppose we would have minded. The roof of this dashed possy is intermixed with dead men who were chucked up on the parapet to give the living a chance from the bullets while the trench was being dug. What ho, for the Glories of War.

[Ion Idriess, The Desert Column, Sydney, 1982, p.42]