10. The Ridge – Quinn’s Post
Leave Johnston’s Jolly Cemetery and turn right. Head up the road past Courtney’s and Steele’s Post Cemetery until you reach Quinn’s Post Cemetery which will be on your left. Quinn’s was named after Major Hugh Quinn, 15th Battalion, of Charters Towers, Queensland. Enter the cemetery and find a position where you can look back down to the sea along Monash and Shrapnel Valleys.
Where the scorched earth lay bare
The jutting ridges (spurs) at the end of Monash Valley were seen as the ‘key to Anzac’. For virtually the whole of the campaign the Turks held the spur just to the north of Quinn’s Post where you are now standing – Deadman’s Ridge. From this position, and positions higher up the hill, concealed snipers fired down into the valley below, making movement by day up to Quinn’s and the other posts along the ridge a life threatening undertaking. Quinn’s was also the last trench in an Anzac line stretching up from Brighton Beach, along Bolton’s Ridge, across 400 Plateau at Lone Pine and Johnston’s Jolly and along Second Ridge.
Just across from Quinn’s, to the left of Deadman’s, is another spur that was called Pope’s Hill. The Anzacs held a trench line on this spur. Beyond is Russell’s Top and the Nek and beyond that again the yellow slopes of Sari Bair leading down to the sea at North Beach. The Turkish front line lay on the other side of the road and in certain places approached close to the trenches at Quinn’s. Here the Turks had only to advance a few metres, breach the Anzac line and the whole Anzac area could be lost.
Up until mid-June, the fighting at Quinn’s was of a ferocity and intensity unequalled on any other part of the line. Anzac attacks to push the line forward from the valley crest, bombing duels and aggressive tunneling below ground from both sides gave the post a fearsome reputation:
Men passing the fork in Monash Valley, and seeing and hearing the bombs bursting up at Quinn’s, used to glance at the place (as one of them said), ‘as a man looks at a haunted house’.
[Charles Bean, Story of Anzac, Vol 2, p 91]
The importance of this part of the Anzac line was quickly realised and various small parties held on here against Turkish attacks in the days after the landing. On 29 April, Captain Hugh Quinn arrived here with a detachment of Queenslanders from the 15th Battalion just as the Turks were digging in around the head of Monash Valley and across from Quinn’s Post. There now commenced a struggle at Quinn’s that was to continue 24 hours a day for eight months. Part of the incessant danger at Quinn’s lay in the fact that it was overseen by enemy positions on three sides and to raise one’s head here above the parapet of the trench was to invite instant death from ever watchful Turkish riflemen. Periscopes allowed a brief scan of the Turkish line but these too were quickly shot away if not removed in time. The invention of the famous periscope rifle eventually allowed relatively safe and accurate rifle fire to be directed back at the Turkish positions. Wire nets erected above the trenches also held back many of the enemy bombs (hand grenades).
A feature of the fighting at Quinn’s was the bombing. In the early days the advantage here lay with the Turks as the Anzacs possessed no grenades while the Turks had a seemingly endless supply of cricket-ball shaped bombs. An Anzac bomb factory, using explosives packed in bully beef and jam tins, was set up at the beach and although there were never enough of these simple devices produced, the defenders of Quinn’s were at least able to retaliate. If a man was quick enough, Turkish bombs could also be picked up and thrown back. The Turks, however, soon began cutting their fuses shorter and one Australian had his hand blown off before it was realised what was happening. Another method of dealing with the bombs was to throw a thick overcoat over them to stifle the explosion or, if you had real grit, fall upon the bomb with a half-full sandbag.
A particular bomb duel developed at Quinn’s on the night of 13–14 May 1915. The position had just been taken over by the recently arrived 2nd Light Horse Regiment, Queenslanders described by Bean as ‘little more than boys’. In reply to their questions about what it was like in these trenches, a man of the tired garrison of the 15th Battalion replied – ‘You might get a few bombs’. By nightfall the bombs were falling thick and fast on the startled Light Horsemen, driving them back and forward along the trenches. Part of the problem was a communication trench leading out into no-man’s-land that had been used in a previous Anzac attack. It had been blocked up by a sandbag partition but Turkish bombers had been able to approach close to the Australian line on the other side of the sandbags and hurl their missiles with great accuracy. Eventually, ‘a big Queenslander’, David Browning, had had enough. Angered by wounds to both sides of his face, in which particles of iron were imbedded, he got hold of an ‘armful’ of jam tin bombs and went to the Australian side of the sandbag partition. Although like his mates he knew little about using bombs, he lit the fuses and began hurling them across the top of the sandbags. The Turkish bombers were driven away and the Light Horsemen had a more peaceful night.
These few words are a very inadequate account of what it was like to serve at Quinn’s Post. As the English historian, John North, wrote:
The story of the defence of Quinn’s would make an epic in itself … the struggle to hold it was to continue without cessation, night or day, for eight months.
[John North, Gallipoli:The Fading Vision, Faber & Faber, London, 1936, p 211]
Perhaps the best way to get some sense of the nature of war at Quinn’s is to quote Bean’s words describing the environment hereabouts by early June 1915:
Every blade of vegetation had long since been swept away from the crest, where the scorched earth lay bare, tumbled this way and that in pink and brown heaps by the mine craters and trenches.
[Charles Bean, Story of Anzac, Vol 2, p 237–238]
About the centre of our line
This space is called ‘Brown’s Dip’ and is about the centre of our line. From here communication trenches were in all directions to our firing line. It is getting dusk as we arrive here and there were men in the communication trenches who act as supports for those in the firing line during the night. The trenches are totally different to what I had expected. Deep, far over a man’s head, with room between the traverses for only three men, the loopholes closed up and observation being carried on with periscopes. Below I have made sketches of these and the trenches.
As regards the trenches they twist and turn every few yards as I have shown. This is to avoid being enfiladed. The men on duty in the trenches eat, sleep and live completely in them during the time, whatever it may be, that they are there – taking it in turns to watch – generally about one hour on and two hours off. They sleep in the trench itself and upon the firing step. In fact at night time it is practically impossible to walk along for men lying rolled up in their blankets. At dusk the sandbag packing is taken out of the loopholes and the men observe through these; but as they are only about two inches by four inches you can’t see much. At daybreak these holes are stuffed up again and, as I said, observing is carried on by means of the periscope. In the trenches you can see nothing either to the front or rear but the little length of trench that you happen to be in, and it is sure death to put your head up to look around. Even the periscope mirrors measuring only three inches square at most are picked off one after the other.
[The Gallipoli Diary of Sergeant Lawrence, Sir Ronald East (ed), Melbourne, 1983, pp.21-22]