Thus to leave you–thus to part
At about 1.40 pm on 13 November 1915 a small boat arrived at North Beach. From it stepped Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief of the British Army. He had come to Anzac to see the positions there for himself. As he walked up the pier with other generals, he was recognised and men came running from all over towards the pier where they surrounded the great man. Charles Bean watched Kitchener walk up from the pier:
The tall red cap [Kitchener] was rapidly closed in among them-but they kept a path and as the red cheeks turned and spoke to one man or another, they cheered himthey, the soldiers-no officers leading off or anything of that sort. It was a purely soldiers welcome. He said to them, The King has asked me to tell you how splendidly he thinks you have done-you have done splendidly, better, even, than I thought you would.
[Kevin Fewster, Frontline Gallipoli C E W Beans diary from the trenches, Sydney, 1983, p.176]
Kitchener spent just over two hours at Anzac surveying the Turkish line from Australian trenches inland of the Sphinx and at Lone Pine. Two days later, after further consultation with senior commanders, he recommended to the British War Cabinet that GallipoliAnzac, Suvla and Hellesbe evacuated. Without significant reinforcement and the bringing in of considerable artillery resources, little progress could, in his opinion, be made against the strengthening Turkish trenches. This was especially so at Anzac where a further surprise attack, such as had been conducted in August against Chunuk Bair and Kocacimentepe, was virtually impossible. Moreover, local commanders were extremely worried about the problems of supplying Gallipoli throughout the winter with its many severe storms.
Once the decision had been taken, the biggest problem was how to leave the peninsula without arousing the suspicions of the Turks. A detailed evacuation plan was devised by an Australian, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White. This involved elaborate deception operations such as the so-called silent stunts of late November where no artillery fire or sniping was to occur from the Anzac lines. It was hoped that this would accustom the Turks to the idea that preparations were underway for the coming winter. Hopefully, the enemy would not, therefore, interpret these silences as a withdrawal. Right to the end, great care was taken to keep up the kind of irregular rifle and artillery fire from Anzac that would be expected by the Turks.
An evacuation schedule planned for the leaving of Anzac in three stages. In the preliminary stage, to be set in motion while awaiting word from London that the British Cabinet had approved Lord Kitcheners recommendation to evacuate, men and equipment would be taken off consistent with a garrison preparing for a purely defensive winter campaign. After Cabinet approval, the intermediate stage would commence, during which the number of soldiers on Anzac would be reduced to a point where they could still hold off a major Turkish attack for about one week. During the first two stages, the Anzac garrison would fall from 41 000 to 26 000. These 26 000 would then be withdrawn over two nights in the final evacuation on 18-19 and 19-20 December 1915. In the event, by 18 December at the end of the intermediate stage, there were only 20 277 soldiers left at Anzac. Although Anzac Cove was used, the chief evacuation points were the piers at North Beach. It was at North Beach, therefore, that many men spent their last moments on Anzac and caught their last glimpses in the dark of the Sari Bair Range as they pulled away from the piers.
During the evacuation, movement to the piers took place after dark. An Australian observer watched a busy night scene at North Beach:
I went down to see the sending away of the British Labour Corps [the Old and Bold] and Egyptians and Maltese. Flares were burning on Williams Pier and Walker's Ridge. Baggage was piled on the wharfmostly field ambulance; four gun-teams made their way through the crowd out towards the left; ammunition was being carried in on gharries [a type of horse-drawn Indian carriage] and taken on to the pier or stacked on the beach truck-load after truck-load of warm winter clothing was being sent running down the little railway on Williams Pier.
[Quoted in C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, pp. 865-866]
At night, from the positions north of Walkers Ridge stretching through the ranges to Hill 60, mule columns looked after by men of the Indian Mule Cart Corps brought material for evacuation to Williams Pier. Once on flat ground and heading south for North Beach, these columns passed a stretch of coast opposite the Snipers Nest where they could undoubtedly be heard by Turkish patrols. However, as the mules were constantly going up the line with supplies, there was nothing to tell the enemy that they were now returning, equally heavily laden. Moreover, so skilled were the Indian handlers that hardly any noise was made. Encountering a column, an Australian confided to his diary:
At once I thoughtMy goodness, if the Turks dont see all this as it goes along they must be blind. But as I went along behind them I began to notice how silently these mules behaved. They had big loads, but they were perfectly quiet. They made no sound at all as they walked except for the slight jingle of a chain now and then . I doubt if you could have heard the slightest noise . I doubt if at 1,000 yards [915 metres] you could see them at all-possibly just a black serpentine streak.
[Quoted in C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol II, p.866]
Although much equipment was removed from Anzac, a great deal, especially foodstuffs, was left behind or destroyed.
So well were the objectives of the first two stages kept secret from all but those who needed to know, that it was not until the second week in December that the ordinary soldiers realised that a full-scale evacuation was in progress. Charles Bean felt that everyone knew by 13 December. Mens reactions varied, but a common sorrow was the thought of leaving behind their dead comrades. Bean noted how many now spent time in the small Anzac cemeteries tidying up the graves.
On the nights of 18-19 and 19-20 December the final 20 000 Anzacs were taken off. On 19 December, the British cruiser HMS Grafton lay in off North Beach ready to take the soldiers on board and, if necessary, to open fire on any enemy attempt to hinder this final withdrawal. An observer on the Grafton noted:
It is about 9 o'clock. An ideal night for the job. No ships (only a few lights) visible at Suvla. One ship about a mile on our port beam. Barely a wrinkle on the water. Soft air from the north. Moon at present quite invisible. The wash of the destroyer has been lapping against our sides like wavelets at the edge of a pond.
10.00 pm- Three ships just gone in
10.35 pm- Five trawlers coming out with cutters in tow.
On 19 December just 10 000 men held the lines of trenches from Boltons Ridge in the south to Hill 60 in the north. The day was spent in constant activity aimed at convincing their watchful enemy that things were proceeding as normal. At 2.15 pm the British started a feint attack at Helles to distract the Turks. At dusk the rear guard began leaving for the beach until finally there were but 1500 left in all those miles of dark trench. Company Sergeant Major Joe Gasparich, Auckland Infantry Battalion, was among the last to depart in the early hours of 20 December:
I came down - I got off my perch (the firing step) [and] I walked through the trench and the floor of the trench was frozen hard and when I brought my feet down they echoed right through the trench, down the gully, right down, and you could hear this echo running ahead Talk about empty, I didnt see a soul It was a lonely feeling.
[Gasparich, quoted in C Pugsley, Gallipoli The New Zealand Story, London, 1984, p.343]
By 4.00 am, 20 December 1915, a handful of men were left at North Beach. Among these was the commander of the Rear Party, Colonel J Paton, from Waratah, Sydney. At 4.10 am, Paton, having waited ten minutes for any last Anzac straggler, declared the evacuation complete and sailed off. The Anzacs had successfully left Gallipoli with hardly a casualty.
On 19 December, as he waited to go, Company Quarter Master Sergeant A L Guppy, 14th Battalion, of Benalla, Victoria, confided his feelings in verse to his diary. His words probably spoke for them all:
Not only muffled is our tread
To cheat the foe,
We fear to rouse our honoured dead
To hear us go.
Sleep sound, old friends- the keenest smart
Which, more than failure, wounds the heart,
Is thus to leave you- thus to part,
[Guppy, quoted in B Gammage, The Broken Years Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Penguin Books, 1975, p.110]