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The New Zealanders at Gallipoli

Burying the Dead on Armistice Day

page 143

Burying the Dead on Armistice Day.

Next morning, the look-out on the destroyer guarding our right flank was mystified by a Turk waving a big white flag on Gaba Tepe, previous to coming out right into the open, and well within range. After the tremendous losses a few days previously, some of us thought that here at last was the long-looked-for peace. After a certain amount of justifiable hesitation on our part, a patrol went out to meet the white flag party. The groups met along the seashore, and finally, a Turkish officer, blindfolded, was escorted through the lines, past Hell Spit, and along the beach to Army Corps Headquarters. He carried no proposals for a surrender, but only for a truce to bury the dead. In the interests of both armies this was desirable, but extremely difficult to carry out. No
Black and white photograph of a doctor searching for wounded.

An Indian Doctor Searching for Wounded on Armistice Day.

Man's Land was very narrow, especially opposite Quinn's and the Nek, and we, for our part, did not care to have inquisitive soldiers poking about, ostensibly burying dead, but with an eagle eye upon our front line trenches.
It took some days to work out the rules to be observed. They ran into many typewritten pages, but briefly they were as follow:—

The suspension of arms was to be from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., on May 24.


A line was to be pegged out down the centre of No Man's Land—the Turkish burying parties to work their side of the line, while we worked on our side.

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Any dead belonging to the Turks on our side of the line were to be carried on stretchers to the centre line. The enemy was to do the same for us, so that each side would bury its own dead, and so identify them.


Rifles found on No Man's Land were to be collected, and immediately placed on stretchers. No man was to carry a rifle in his hand. Each side was to carry off its own rifles found in its burying area. Enemy rifles were to have the bolts removed, and were to be then carried on stretchers, and handed over to the original owners.

The morning of “Armistice Day” broke with a steady drizzle. At the appointed hour fifty Turks, with Red Crescents on their arms, and fifty Australians and New Zealanders with Red Cross armlets, met on the extreme right. Each party had a staff officer and a medical officer. The men carried short stakes with little white strips of calico on the top, and, headed by the staff officers, who each walked near his own front-line trench, the party went right down the centre of No Man's Land, sticking in their little white flags.

By about 10 o'clock the demarcation was complete. As the party had moved down No Man's Land, heads appeared over both parapets, and, cautiously first, and then quite boldly, the soldiers on both sides scrambled up on the parapets and experienced the uncanny sensation of safety.

The burying parties struggled up the greasy clay tracks, marched out with their shovels and their stretchers, and the day's work began in earnest. And what a work! In some sectors the dead lay in heaps. In one area of about an acre, three hundred bodies were tallied—mostly Turks. “They are lying just as thick as sheep in a yard,” said a Hawke's Bay boy in the demarcation party. It was soon realized that proper burials were out of the question, and that it was impossible to carry the enemy's dead to the centre line. A mutual agreement was made to cover up friend and foe, the Turk on his side and we on ours. So the Anzac dead in the Turkish area were not identified by us; these are the men who eventually were described as “Missing, believed killed” by the Court of Enquiry.

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Black and white photograph a Turkish Staff Officer bringing in the flag of truce.

Armistice Day, May 24, 1915.
These two pictures were taken by Brig.-General Ryan, of the Australian Medical Corps. The top one shows the Turkish Staff Officer who brought in the flag of truce. While going through our lines he was blindfolded, according to custom, and escorted by a British Staff Officer.
The bottom picture shows the burying parties at work in No Man's Land.

Black and white photograph of the buying parties at work in No Man's Land.
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Away in the tangled gullies on our left flank, several wounded Turks were discovered in desperate straits. These men were evidently snipers who had been hit while crawling round in the prickly scrub past Walker's Ridge. One man was picked up, and as he made gestures asking for water, an N.Z.M.C. orderly lifted his head up and discovered that his bottom jaw was almost shot away. Another wounded Turk was carried in a distance of two miles, and most inconsiderately died as the hospital was reached.

Very few New Zealanders were found unburied, but there was evidence that they died game. One Aucklander was found still grasping his rifle, which was—barrel and bayonet—firmly embedded in the body of his dead opponent.

By midday, the heat was tropical, and the Anzac beaches were crowded with the battalions from the trenches. The Turk was wont to boast that he would drive us into the sea. What Enver Pasha failed to do, the lice achieved, and the unique opportunity to get a safe wash was fully appreciated.

Up on the hillsides the burial parties were hard at work. The chaplains never had a busier day, searching for identity discs, and reading the burial service. In some parts of the line the men mingled freely with Johnny Turk. A Melbourne medico was an object of great interest to the Turkish soldiery, as he wore the ribbons of the Medjidie and the Osmanieh, gained in a previous war when the Turk and we were allies. A German doctor in Turkish uniform asked for news of his whilom friends in Sydney. The Turks had a supply of brown bread, and many exchanges were made with the Colonials, who were very pleased to barter their flint-like biscuits for something that would not torture their tender gums.

The afternoon wore on, and as 3 o'clock came, we realized that our work was nearly done—over 3000 Turks buried. By 4 p.m., everybody had returned to the trenches, and for the next half-hour deathly silence reigned. To all appearances the truce had been honourably kept. At 4.30, both sides delivered tremendous volleys at nothing in particular, and settled down quietly for the night. Thus ended one of the strangest days in the history of the campaign.

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During the day we had been requested not to use binoculars, but all along the line it was noticed that Turkish and German officers were taking the bearings of our trenches and emplacements. From the Turkish trenches on the Chessboard, officers were quite obviously marking down our machine gun emplacements commanding the Nek and Russell's Top. But the New Zealand machine gun officers were equal to the Turks in cunning. During the night all the machine guns were taken down and the crews took cover. With the dawn
Black and white photograph of grave renovation.

Renovating Graves on Turk's Point.

came the searching shells of the Turkish Field Artillery. The empty emplacements were badly damaged, but as soon as the guns switched on to another target, the New Zealand gunners rebuilt their emplacements and were again ready to fire within twenty minutes of the bombardment.