Interview by Gwlad McLachlan recorded live to air in the studio, on 19 February 1990.
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Roy Kyle speaks about his experiences at Gallipoli during World War 1. This interview was conducted by Gwlad McLachlan, recorded live to air in the studio, on 19 February 1990.
Gwlad McLachlan: I’m Gwlad McLachlan, and I’m speaking with Roy Kyle, Gallipoli veteran, so we’re very privileged to have him come into the studio today, to share with us some of his memories of the First World War. Roy, thank you very much for coming in, from what I’ve read, there were just thousands of men, throughout Australia, wanting to enlist, could you tell us about what the circumstances were, that you decide that you wanted to enlist?
Roy Kyle: Well, I think, the Gallipoli landing. Oh it’s a strange thing, you know, but that Gallipoli landing, where we lost thousands of men, oh, stirred the whole country into a wave of patriotism, and I think that’s probably never been equalled in Australia, and probably never will be equalled again, and you had to live through it to realise it, it’s almost impossible to explain it, actually, and that people were, I don’t know, um they were, well they went off their heads, really, with patriotism, and oh well I know the thing was a terrible tragedy, but it inspired, inspired, the young people to want to go, and it’s funny reaction, but it was, that was the reaction.
Gwlad McLachlan: Roy, what were your feelings, though, what were your memories, of that landing, at Gallipoli? Was it night-time when you arrived?
Roy Kyle: Yes? Well, yes, it was, it was early morning, actually, and when we got off it was early morning, and I think the day, and daybreak was, just about breaking, and we got off at Watson’s Pier, it was the only pier there, it was a ramshackle little affair, but, we got off there. And we unloaded the boat, and that all the (laugh) stores were stacked at the end of the pier, I was one of the unfortunate ones, who were, allotted to stand guard over them. And there was a gun, called Beachy Bill, it was on a hill called Achi Baba, about oh some two or three miles away I suppose, but and he wasn’t very accurate, he just simply used to fire it down, I think down the beach and in the hopes that he would hit somebody. And he hit about, oh, I think he accounted for about two or three thousand Australians, all told, while we were there.
Gwlad McLachlan: That happened when…?
Roy Kyle: That went on, and until about midday, when we, mm all, the whole crowd ever got together and unloaded the, and carried the, stores away, to a safer area, under the cliff.
Glad McLachlan: Right, apparently there was, everything had to be brought into Gallipoli that, the food, the water?
Roy Kyle: Yes everything, even water, had to be brought, there was no water, there was nothing there, it was the most desolate hole you ever saw.
They’d said there had been a fisherman’s hut (laugh), at Gaba Tepe, which was about so, oh perhaps a couple of miles down, towards Cape Hellas where we were supposed to land, so as it was relatively flat country there. But they were not aware of the currents, there was a current, that took them up about two miles out of our route, and out of the er, under the cliffs of Gallipoli. And but there was nothing there, and everything had to be brought in, we even we as I say, even water, all our foodstuffs, and water, and ammunition, everything else, had to be brought in, by boat.
Gwlad McLachlan: And what did that mean, as far as living conditions, with the severe restriction on water, that must have been, a bit, mm.
Roy Kyle: Well the living conditions were bad, I mean they were, food, well the food was bad, oh, I think it was probably the best that could have been done, but it was mainly billy beef, and hard tack biscuits, and when I say hard tack biscuits, they were really biscuits that you wanted a sledgehammer to break, because they broke your teeth while you were trying to break them. But, and jam, we got some jam to put on these biscuits, if we could possibly eat them. We used to soak them of course, and them into a sort of porridge, pulp, and eat it that way. But it was mainly billy beef, and rice, and the water, and we had practically no water;
I think the cooks were issued about oh, well about a pint a day, it might have been two pints, I don’t know if it was one pint, anyway it was very little, the cooks got it, and they had to do all the cooking with that some oh, give us what cup of tea we possibly could, if they could get us, and they couldn’t give us much, and well out of the dregs of the tea we had to use to shave with, because there was no other, no other water, except the sea water, and you couldn’t shave with that. (laugh)
Gwlad McLachlan: I believe that you were…
Roy Kyle: (laugh) They were rough, believe me, they were, they were rough, rough conditions (laugh).
Gwlad McLachlan: I believe there was quite a problem with lice, and flies?
Roy Kyle: Naming them in order, I would say that the biggest pests on the Peninsula were lice, and then the flies, rats, and Turks, I think Turks were the least of our troubles, but the whole place was absolutely louse-ridden. You’d clean yourself as well as you could, by, because they used to get under the seams, of your singlets and that sort of thing, of course, and you’d go through, squashing these things, with your thumbnails, by the hundreds, and in, but within half an hour after putting it on, they’d be just as bad as ever.
And they used to lay their eggs, too, out of in the seams, of course, and we’d go through, get, to try and burn those, by a running a match, a lighted match, down the seams, and but and there were, you got some of them, but not many of, it didn’t make any difference anyway, because the adults were soon there.
Gwlad McLachlan: (Tch) Oh, dear.
Roy Kyle: It was filthy.
Gwlad McLachlan: Yes.
Roy Kyle: And the flies, you’ve got no idea, we talk about a flies here, in Australia, and what a pest they are, you couldn’t get anything into your mouth, (gagging noise), without flies. You’d get a biscuit, one of these biscuits, and you’d load it up with the, butter if you had any, and those, the only butter you ever really ever got was when we sent parcels over from Australia, and perhaps there’d be a tin of butter in it. And but you’d try and ward them off with one hand, while you got, you got it into your mouth with the other, but you were very, you always got a mouthful of flies as well.
Gwlad McLachlan: (laughter) I guess you sort of, sort of started to not even try to think about it, was, the only way to cope, would it?
Roy Kyle: (laugh) But the Turk, the Turk was the least of our worries, I think.
Gwlad McLachlan: Was it?
Roy Kyle: Yes.
Gwlad McLachlan: Roy, what was the Nek, at Gallipoli?
Roy Kyle: Oh the Nek was just a spur, oh, it was desperately defended by the, it was almost impregnable, you had to be a mountaineer, to climb it, to get to it, but I think the Turks probably looked upon it as a, un-takeable, but our fellas, in some, I was not there, but our fellas in some, miraculous manner, managed to clamber up these, the cliff face, to, and with Turkish firing down on them all the time, and got there, and rooted them out at the bayonet-point. And the Turks, of course, they mounted, and the, it was a commanding position, and they mounted attack after attack, to try and take it back, but they never did it.
It was held, right through, it’s all, really formed part and parcel with er, the front line, around towards the, oh Steel’s Post, I suppose, on the left, from where I was, we went to the, straight into Lone Pine, and stayed there.
Gwlad McLachlan: Right, Lone Pine is a name that comes up again and again, in, when you’re speaking about Gallipoli, what was it about Lone Pine that…?
Roy Kyle: Oh, it was desperate, it was a desperate place. (laugh)
I remember, when we relieved the First Division, you’ve got no idea, what their physical condition was like, but they were like the, well, not much difference with these fellas that came out of the concentration camps, during the last war. They were half starved, and they were, in a bad way, but oh their morale, the morale wasn’t, that was still high.
But Lone Pine, it was an isolated little spot, and more towards the right of the Line, it was the only plateau, it was only a small plateau, just covering a few acres, actually, I think on the Peninsula. And it was a desperate fight, on the 6th of August, to get to it, they lost about, oh wait on, six or seven thousand men or something, that was sort of in taking it?
The Turks had their trenches covered in, with oh, at the tops, with logs, logs, and they had to dig through these logs, and prize them out. Oh, but we went there, and I remember we were, we spent a, for the first night, I think, in Steel’s Post, and then we were moved down to the Lone Pine, and the First Divisional fellas said: “Oh, God help you” (laugh).
Now, we didn’t realise what they were talking about, but how do they knew? And we got down, it was a small, it was a salient, actually, in that they could fire at you, impullade you, from, the front, and both sides, fire down your trenches, you see, so, you had little cover. And the trenches were so close together, and I used to serve on a post, called Number Five, and I think the trenches there were about 30 feet away, 30 feet apart, now that was quite a distance, other parts they were 10, 15 feet apart, and that sort of thing, well a constant, it was, it was constant bombing, on both sides of course, when you had bombs, we, the only bombs we had were made out of jam tins, with all sorts of rusty nails and anything they could find to put in ‘em, and they were made down on the beach, and with a detonator put into them, and but they were, minor.
But the Turkish bomb, fortunately, wasn’t much better, and they used to throw these things at us all day long, and what landed on your firing stick, you’d kick into the bottom of the trench, and throw a blanket or an old overcoat or something down, in the hopes that it would muffle it a bit, and hug the front of the trench, when if you did that of course, and you were and you were fairly right. But it was a constant business, there was no let-up, from it. And for that reason I think, it was known as a pretty, you know, unfortunate place, pretty deadly place, to be in. But we were there, we went there, and we stayed there, until the, evacuation, we never got away from it.
Gwlad McLachlan: But, Roy, that evacuation, apparently, I… the Australian, and New Zealand soldiers had been there, about eight months, is that right, and lost thousands of men?
Roy Kyle: Oh yes, that’s from April, to December.
Gwlad McLachlan: From what I’ve read, apparently there was a sense of shock when you were told that you were going to withdraw?
Roy Kyle: Well there was, we were, see Kitchener came over, and he had one look at it, and said: “Get out, no matter what the cost is, get out” because you can’t possibly hold it, during the winter, you’ve got no idea what the winters are like there, they’re bitter, and we had no clothing, for winter clothing, we had no experience of the, you know, living under snow, and ice, and so forth, and he said: “We’ll never hold the place, so get out”. And then, and after he left, a man named Brudenell White, Lieutenant General Sir Brudenell White, oh he and Brigadier Blamey, who was later on, of course, General Marsh, Field Marshall Blamey, they started to work out on a scheme to get them out, and it was estimated that they would have up to, at least up to 25% casualties, and they were prepared for that.
But, they devised a scheme, now what we, well it’s silent warfare; there used to be a perhaps every, at odd intervals, oh, an hour, two hours, three hours, when we weren’t allowed to fire a shot or make any noise, whatsoever, and one time it went on for two days, and the idea was to hoodwink the Turk, he’d think oh, you know, when we did leave, oh well just another one of our foolish stunts, and though, that’s it.
And of course when we left, we went down, and we marched down, through the trenches on, really on blankets, we had the trenches lined with all the old blankets, and all old pur, overcoats and so forth, they could find, they were all at the bottom, rugs, and some sacks, or anything at all, that would deaden the sound of people walking. It was wonderful, the only really, was well organised piece of, it was, there was a, well it were others, others, I suppose actions that were well organised, but this was a wonderful piece of organisation, we didn’t lose a man, didn’t lose a man, there was one man, killed, but that was a stray bullet, that wasn’t …
Gwlad McLachlan: Oh you must have a very vivid memory of that, that night, and that, yes.
Roy Kyle: Oh I do, yes, I, they’d called of volunteers, for mm people who wanted to, you know, just, being towards the end, and being young, and very foolish, I’d volunteered, and I think I was about the second last party that left the trenches, we left at about half past 11, I think it was, we got down to the beach about midnight I suppose, no hesitation there, we marched straight onto small boats, and by the time we just when we were landing on the boat, the last party was leaving the beach, so we waited for the last party to join, and they joined about half an hour later, and we pulled out. And as we pulled out, with all the stores, and ammunition dumps, and so forth, and the beach went up, in a regular bonfire! (laugh)
Gwlad McLachlan: Wow.
Roy Kyle: That’s when the Turk of course realised, that we’d…
Gwlad McLachlan: That you’d gone.
Roy Kyle: That we’d gone.
Gwlad McLachlan: Wow.
Roy Kyle: I often wonder, whether the Turk really knew that we were going, I don’t know, and nobody’s ever disclosed, that the Turks have never claimed it, oh, I don’t know.
Gwlad McLachlan: No.
Roy Kyle: I don’t know.
Gwlad McLachlan: No.
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