Being a researcher in family history (albeit an amateur), much of what I write about is about my direct descendants. Sometimes, I come across a piece of peripheral information that catches my eye. This is one of those cases. My daughter, Gypsy, had a school project to do on a family member who served in WW1. I had previously known about my grandfather’s involvement in WW2 but had no confirmed information that he participated in WW1, other than my mothers sketchy memories of the early years of my grandfather. So, we decided to research my grandfather’s brother, whom we knew went to Gallipoli. To our surprise we ended up finding a reasonable amount of information on my grandfather and his WW1 history, which Gypsy subsequently did her project on. Gypsy had a greater connection to her great grandfather than her great uncle. So that is what she did.
This got me thinking though. Who was Arthur? Who was going to remember my grandfathers brother. Who was going to research his history, and give some meaning and memory to his life. With no direct descendants to remember him, he would certainly be forgotten in time.
I, like many of us living in post WW2 Australia, have lived a privileged life, when compared to life previously lived in this world. I felt a sense of responsibility for my great uncle, and an immense sadness for his fate. We have lived to carry on our forefathers legacy, yet Arthur, due to his circumstance ended up with no one. I felt compelled to find out as much as I could about his short life. For here was a slight figure, not particularly muscular, not particularly striking in appearance, not of any social standing, and not long out of his teens, going off to the other side of the world in an apparent adventure which would, in too short a time, end in tragedy. There is no story here of war heroism. There is no controversy about Arthur. There is nothing particularly significant about all of the recorded events. It is just so terribly sad that a young man with a family history of incredible human survival in early Tasmanian history should end his life from a bullet fired at distance while landing on a beach half way around the world, far from home.
The following is an account of all the details known for sure, about Arthur’s life.
Arthur Leslie Anderson brother to Ronald, Laura and Ella, son to Henry and Amy.
Arthur could still have been living with his parents in Bagdad at the time WW1 broke out. He was listed on his enrollment form as having been employed as a hospital attendant at New Norfolk, Tasmania. This was not a medical hospital however, but a hospital for the Insane. He originally enlisted though, at Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania on the 24th August 1914, but his final enlistment papers were not completed until 28th August at Brighton, along with many others like Victor Jacques from Glenorchy.
He was 22 years 2 months old when he enlisted in the newly formed 12th Battalion in the Australian Imperial Forces. Twenty two, would be the beginning of the end for Arthur. The last paragraph in his short life. The 12th Battalion was among the first raised for the AIF in the First World War. Half of the recruits came from Tasmania of which Arthur was just one.
The 12th Battalion was formed within 3 weeks of the outbreak of war, August 1914. Arthur, along with his co-recruits embarked from Hobart on the HMAT Geelong, after just two months of induction and training in the infantry, October 20th 1914. The Geelong left Hobart, travelling first to Perth in Western Australia to pick up the rest of the Battalion. They then sailed across the Indian Ocean, probably stopping briefly at Colombo before continuing to the Suez Canal. From here they traveled by train to Cairo where they would have marched onto their camp outside of the city. Here in Egypt they completed their training before their departure from Alexandria.
Egypt was used as a staging and training location as there was limited facilities left in Britain. Egypt was also strategically important to protect the Suez Canal and Britain’s shipping connections to her colonies, as well as preventing the expansion of the Ottoman empire.
Dozens of transport ships were used to transfer personnel and equipment from Alexandria, most, eventually arriving in and around Lemnos Island in the Mediterranean Sea, where they joined the rest of the invasion force. It is not known for sure which transport Arthur was on but it is highly likely that the following is accurate and true for the oldest of Henry Anderson’s sons. Arthur was on the HMT Devanha when he left Alexandria on the 2nd March 1915 with many more leaving over the next month or so. More than 200 ships amassed under the command of the British Navy. It was on this leg of the journey they were told they would be landing under fire on a beach. Each day more ships arrived carrying Russian, Indians, French, British, and New Zealanders, and more Australians. The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest battleship afloat at the time, was also anchored in the harbour, and many of the troops took turns rowing over to have look at this magnificent ship. Practice landings were performed to get ready for the assault, as well as rifle drills. It was about this time that Arthur must have had a run in with his sergeant, because on the 15th of March he was reprimanded for using inappropriate remarks. This was witnessed by Sergeant Major Tom Selwyn and Sergeant Victor Jacques. It was not recorded exactly what he said, but I’m sure we can well imagine it included some expletives, or maybe it was something about the Sergeant’s Mother.
He received 14 days “CB” punishment which he was not to fulfil as they were to set sail before his time was up. On the 24th the armada up anchored and headed towards Turkey under the cover of darkness, but not before Arthur managed to get a letter off to his dear Mum. This would be his last.
During the night on the eve of the landings, the HMS Ribble came along side of the HMT Devanha for the transfer of troops for the landing. It was 11pm and the night was very still. The men had been training during the previous months to transfer from ship to ship via rope ladders. It was so calm the troops were able to transfer via the gangway, and in half the time. The HMS Ribble also carried members of the 3rd field ambulance, comprising of stretcher bearers, and medical officers including Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, famed for his bravery in carrying wounded from the battlefield on a donkey. Some hours later they were in view of the shadowy Turkish coast. It was 4am on the 25th April 1915. The men on the Ribble watched the 9th, 10th, and 11th Battalions land before them. Still in the darkness well before dawn, the Ribble steamed in closer to shore further north of the other battleships. Just around the northern point of what would become known as Anzac Cove. They would be landing at the foot of what is known as the “Sphinx”.
It was here that Arthur and his fellow Tasmanians group by group boarded the launches and headed for the beach. Bullets from Turkish machine guns were hitting the water near the boats and the first Tasmanian casualties soon followed. Some time during the landings 17 men of the 3rdField Ambulance died in the landing. Three of these died in the boat even before they landed. As they reached the shallows at the shore it did not get any better. Some never made it out of the boat. Shot where they sat. Some when entering the water realized too late than the water was too deep to stand up, and either swam to shore or drowned, being weighed down with their packs. Once on shore, they had to run the gauntlet
of bullets and shells to the relative safety of the base of the cliff. But this was only a brief respite, enough to catch their breath, before starting the climb up an almost vertical cliff to where the sound of the gunfire was coming from. It was during this period that Arthur received a gunshot wound to the abdomen, either in one of the launches, on the beach or after climbing the cliff. It is not known how long he lay wounded. He was just one of hundreds of casualties wounded that day. Arthur was helped at some point that day to a boat, and ferried to the hospital ship, HMS Gascon.
Arthur was one of 557 wounded on the first day of the conflict that ended up on the HMT Gascon. He died two days later at 2am on the 27th of April 1915. He was buried at sea.
The official report of Arthur’s death was not forwarded to Alexandria until 13th September that year, although Arthur’s parents had been notified at an earlier date. We know this because they had written to the Army requesting a copy of their son’s death certificate on the 19th August 1915. March 14th1916 saw the return of Arthur’s effects, couriered by Thos. Cook and Son. The brown paper parcel contained, letters, postcards, a note book, his pipe, watch, knife and a purse. The purse contained four pence, and a penny stamp. It must have been very sad to receive this meagre package. A young man’s life now represented by the pitiful contents of this parcel.
Arthur received posthumously the British War Medal, the 1914-1915 Star, and the Victory Medal, as well as being registered for the Memorial plaque and Memorial Scroll. This took some time to organize with applications from 1920. It had all been completed officially by 1922.
Like many young men who died at Gallipoli, who had no children, no heir to carry their name and memory, they would all in time, be forgotten. I am not a direct descendant of Arthur, but do share his heritage, and feel I should carry some responsibility in recognizing his life. At least what we know about it. This is a tribute to his life and his sacrifice, and to preserve his history be it ever so short.
Lest we forget.
Researched and Written by Robert Browne. Grandnephew of Arthur Anderson.
Thanks to cousin Neville for Arthur’s last letter to his Mum.
Tasmanian Library Pioneer Index
National Archives Canberra
WW2 Nominal Roll
Australian War Diary