Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Riddell letter, written 28 July 1922 regarding the work of the 4th Field Company of Engineers in Gallipoli, July 1915 / Clarence Riddell
21 Stanley Street
28th. July 1922.
My dear Nesbitt,
I was very pleased to get your letter and the news of the reunion of the old 4th Coy. of which I have so many pleasant memories and must wish them all a really good time on the 5th.
I am not quite sure what you mean by writing a few words but perhaps a note or two on the earlier dyas of the company may be of interest to some of those who came after. Read what you like and leave out the rest.
Some time in July 1915 on the decision to form a 2nd Australian Division from the reinforcements then gathered in Egypt, Colonel Elliott who had been wounded was commissioned to organise the Engineers. Lieuts. Barber, Cutler, Sturdee and Mather from the 1st. Div. Engineers were sent over together with Sgt. Thom. Various Infantry Officers who were engineers in civil life were gathered up and finally after a few days the 4th. Field Coy. emerged with Capt. Barber in temporary command, Lieuts. Riddell, Carr, Bowra and Thom in command of the four sections, C.S.M. Healy, C.Q. M.S. Puttick Wynne, O.R. Sgt. Coghlan. After a few days (about ten) of engineer training which chiefly consisted of the simpler knots and a little digging and rifle shooting during which time the tools and equipment were acquired by purchase from the shops and marine stores of Cairo, the company marched to the railway station followed by the “stretcher cases" in cabs and so to the pier and the fine ship Knight Templar which was provided with iron decks for the greater comfort of the troops.
The march to the station was the first company parade held as all training up to then had been by sections, the second company parade was several months afterwards on the island of Lemnos after the evacuation.
On board the Knight Templar our O.C. Major Newcombe joined us, a man whose varied and romantic adventures during the War probably surpass those of the famous Colonel Lawrence, they culminated when as an escaped prisoner of War in Turkey he arranged the terms on which the Turks abandoned the War and greatly influenced the surrender of the Germans.
On arrival at Gallipoli the company went ashore and was immediately divided into two parts numbers 1 and 2 sections under Capt. Barber going into the Line Pine and numbers 3 and 4 to Johnston’s Jolly all being chiefly engaged in mining operations. From then on until after the evacuation the two halves of the company saw nothing of each other and it is probably that few of the members of the right half company would have known by sight or by name such
important personages as the “quarter" or S.M.; in fact one half did not know how the other half lived.
The mining at Lone Pine was very arduous and existing, the front trenches being only separated by seven or eight yards in some places with the result that a couple of days hard digging would take either side underneath the enemy’s line. Underground clashes were frequent and both sides were constantly firing mines to destroy the tunnels and discourage the tunnellers of the other side. Such names as tunnel L.P. 3 which was landed over by the outgoing field company complete with a Turk in good order furnished with a rifle and loop-hole plate. This tunnel we were invited to share with the above mentioned Turk until we could remove him or vice versa, however we were fortunate enough to get in the first blow.
These tunnels by the way measured about one foot six wide and two foot six high only slightly bigger than the side of a kerosene case so there was little room to spare for some of us.
Other tunnels which will recall incidents are L.P.S. where the Turks blew us killing Sapper Jones, the one occasion they got us L.P. 14 in the famous Sap B where underground fighting grew very fierce and from which we captured, from below, Barber’s Gallery.
In all this underground work one name stands out, that of Sgt. Gilchrist who was in every dangerous operation and always in the lead, and who two years later at Bullecourt performed one of the most heroic feats ever accomplished by the A.I.F. when for a long time her single-handed held up repeated attacks by large parties of the Germans and when a party of men were sent to help he sent them to another part of the line which was being threatened only remarking “its all right I can keep them off here" and he did for some hours until killed, by which time the chief danger was past.
The left half of the company at Johnston’s Jolly were also engaged in tunnelling but did not meet with the same active opposition as the right half chiefly owing to the fact that the trenches were much further apart. However at tunnel C3 Turks were once heard working very close and a small mine fired successfully unfortunately Lieut. Bowra sent into inspect before the poisonous fumes of the explosive had dispersed and collapsed, in the efforts to rescue him Lieut. Thom and three more lost their lives.
For the evacuation there were great engineer preparations the mines being charged with explosives ready to fire and thus delay the enemy if he attached. Eight Horsemen of the 4th. L.H. were chiefly engaged on the working parties and not being accustomed to underground work besides being somewhat nervous of handling explosives in large quantities, the sappers were much amused by the way a tall
having bumped and sworn his way along a few hundred feet of tunnell suddenly came in sight of a large chamber containing about two tons of explosives in tins with candles stuck all over the place to give light would suddenly dash off towards the open air and comparative safety. As the Turks apparently did not suspect the evacuation the mines were not fired as it was considered inadvisable to do anything which might excite them (certain mines laid by other units were fired)
The five members of the Company who remained to operate the mines, close intanglements etc. after the infantry lead t evacuated were Lieut. Mills, Sgt. Park, Spr. Julin and two others besides these there were some on the Lone Pine side whose names I do not know but think Gilchrist was one of them.
The company was then concentrated at Lemnos under the command of Major McCall and spent Christmas there where we received the famous billies decorated with a picture of a kangaroo kicking the Turk off Gallipoli, something seemed to have got reversed somewhere.
Of the addresses you as for I only know a few:–
Cpt. Barber, C/- Rene Vanderkelan, Collins House, Collins St Melb.
Major R.B. Carr, Terry & Carr, Prells Buildings Queen St. Melbourne
Warrant Officer Healy, Engineer Depot, Alexandra Avenue
Capt. Dow, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne
Major Cutler, recently joined R.E., stationed in India, his fathers address, C/- C.S. Cutler, Union Lane, Melbourne.
Col. Elliott R.E. ask Major Tolley but I think United Service Club, Pall Mall, London.
Major Coghlan, “Pasley" Domain St. South Yarra. Victoria
Lieut. Baldwin, C/- Anglo Persian (Commonwealth) Oil Coy. Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
Col. Newcombe R.E. suggest try War Office.
I am sending a few odd photos to Capt. Mills which may interest some of the earlier members and a print of the Lone Pine trenches traced from the original plan by Spr. Fullerton (to whom will you please remember me) also a copy of the nominal roll of those on transport Simla (Lemnos to Egypt) Jan. 1916. If any negatives of photos are required for souvenir or history I will be pleased to supply them.
I hope that no one will feel disappointed if his name has been omitted from this letter, but it is only a few rough notes hurriedly strung together without any proper thought. Please give my best wishes to all the old company and thank them for the very happy days I spent among them.
(Signed) Clarrie Riddell,
Col. of Melbourne.
Copy of Nominal Roll 4th. Field Coy. A.E., H.T. Simla.
Major J.P. McCall
Lieut C.C. Riddell
2nd. Lieut J. Coghlan
2nd. Lieut C. Mills
2nd. Lieut W.R. Gilchrist
A/Q.M.S. G.E. Carpenter
Spr. Foster D.
Spr. Foster W.
Spr. Fullerton H.
Spr. Fullerton J.P.S.
Spr. Jones H.R.
Spr. Jones E.R.L.
Spr. Mackay H.R.
Spr. Mackay A.
Spr. Matthews A.B.
Spr. Matthews A.
Spr. Matthews W.
2nd Lieut. McDougull R.E.
Pte. Butcher 22nd. Battn.
Pte Daw 22nd. Battn.
Pte. Mitchell 22nd. Battn.
Pte. Pearmain A.A.M.C.
Pte. Waters 22nd. Battn.
Pte. Williams 24th. Battn.
(Sgt. Graham was on another transport)
[Transcribed by Alison O'Sullivan for the State Library of New South Wales]