History – Leaving our cobbers behind

Red Beach resident Tony Gasparich’s uncle, Joseph Gasparich, of the Auckland Infantry Battalion, was one of the last men to leave Gallipoli as a member of C Party and like many others he left reluctantly.By late August 1915 it was clear that the Gallipoli campaign was a failure in military terms so an evacuation plan had to be devised. It entailed “trickling” the troops off Gallipoli leaving the frontline trenches mostly unchanged, but with only one artillery piece each, and pulling out support and reserve troops gradually so that the Turks would not notice any changes. The men were not informed until the last moment and they thought that the changes were due to winter conditions or the need for more troops on the Salonica front. There were also “silent stunts” as the men called them, where guns were not fired for 48 hours at a time.

Many men were happy to leave the ghastly conditions they had endured for so long, however the men who had been there since the beginning, including the remains of the Auckland Mounted Rifles and Infantry Battalions, did not want to leave and to a man they volunteered to stay and fight it out.

The last to leave was the 67 strong C Party who covered the evacuation and included Company Sergeant Major, Joseph George Gasparich, who summed up the feelings of the men in his diary: “We could not understand two things; one was withdrawing in front of the enemy and the other was leaving our cobbers behind. You don’t know how that hurt the blokes. We have been together so long and been through so many things together. We belonged to one another”.

The way that the Turks treated the Gallipoli battlefields after the war may have been largely influenced by a letter left by the Commander of the British Troops, Lieutenant General Alexander Godley, for the Turkish Commander, Kemal Ataturk.

Godley obviously had the same thoughts for the fallen men as the remaining soldiers when he wrote this letter in December, 1915: “Excellency, In withdrawing my troops from this portion of the Ottoman Territory, I am glad to recall that the struggle in which for eight months past our two armies have been engaged, has been characterised on either hand by a scrupulous regard for the usages of civilised war. I am, therefore, fully confident that the graveyards of British soldiers buried in Turkish soil will be respected by your troops, but I should be grateful if your Excellency will take measures for their special preservation in the territory under your command. They have fallen far from home, fighting gallantly in their country’s cause, and deserve that a gallant foe, such as we have found the Turkish soldiers to be, should take special care of their last resting place. Thanking you in advance, and assuring you of my highest consideration.”