Almost 100 years ago in the early hours of 20 December 1915, the final ANZAC troops were evacuated from the Gallipoli peninsula. At the end of the campaign, 388 University men had served in the battle, with 27 losing their lives.
The eight-month Gallipoli campaign claimed some 46,006 Allied lives, including 7825 Australians, and left 86,000 men injured.
Leaving the peninsula meant leaving behind the bodies of brothers and mates who had been killed and buried there.
"Many brave lives have already been sacrificed in this blunder. It is bitter to leave so many of our dead heroes in their lonely graves in this foreign soil. But necessity is imperative. We can do no good by staying here. God be with us!" Francis Coen [BA 1906, LLB 1908]
A week before the evacuation, official war correspondent Charles Bean wrote: "The cemeteries of Anzac were never without men, in twos and threes or singly, tidying up the grave of some dear friend, and repairing or renewing little packing-wood crosses and rough inscriptions."
There had been rumours about a possible evacuation for weeks.
"Well one day we heard definitely that the place was to be evacuated and all became sore, blue and depressed. Personally for a couple of days I walked about or sat and played patience and couldn't be bothered taking cover, hoping I would get shot. It sounds foolish now, but at the time my mental condition was not quite normal I’m afraid." Eric Mortley Fisher [MB 1913, ChM 1920] (University Archives)
"A feeling of great disappointment and depression has seized me because of this evacuation. It is one of the “downs” of the war and we must accept it. First party moves off tonight. I have not yet received marching orders. I hope to be one of the last to go." Francis Coen [BA 1906, LLB 1908]
"Then one night we got orders to leave. It was a simple process and consisted of turning out the lamp and walking out with a few things in a pack and my blankets and leaving everything else. We marched to the wharf with the shells screaming over us all the time and got there safely. After a short wait we embarked on a barge, but for some reason waited an hour and a half at the wharf getting stone cold and watching the shells burst over the water just where we had to go.
"This sort of thing was not exactly soothing to the nerves especially as we could hear bullets just going over our heads from Walker’s Ridge and popping into the water just ahead of us. At last we got word to move and strange to say the shells stopped and we heard no more bullets while going out to the ship." Eric Mortley Fisher
"I am keenly disappointed at not being one of the last to go. However, I am with the second last and hope to see the fireworks. Men leaving tonight have boots muffled with socks and sandbags." Francis Coen
During the nights of 18-20 December 1915, the remaining 26,000 ANZAC troops were evacuated from Gallipoli peninsula; among them were 134 Sydney University men.
The rear-guard duty, a post of great honour, was granted to the 17th Battalion under the command of University alumnus Colonel Cecil Lucas [BA 1910, LLB 1915]. The 17th Battalion was the last to leave their post, and the very last to embark.
Read more stories about the University community and the Great War at http://sydney.edu.au/beyond1914.
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