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- RAN operations, History - WW1, WWI operations
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- March 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Within a few weeks the reputation of the Train had grown immensely. It was described by one British General as a highly organised and efficient unit. Another described their workshops as able to produce anything from a needle to an anchor. The Bridging Train’s base was set up at a small cove in the northern sector of Suvla Bay and became known as Kangaroo Beach.
The fighting at Suvla Bay soon bogged down into the trench warfare that had persisted at ANZAC Cove and Cape Helles since May, 1915. The Bridging Train’s work was away from the front line but it still received a great deal of Turkish shell fire. Casualties were light with only four killed and some 60 men wounded for the five months they spent on the Peninsula.
Many more men suffered from illnesses such as jaundice, malaria, paratyphoid and blood poisoning from infected cuts and scratches.
Towards the end of November, the weather began to turn nasty, and it was not long before snow began to fall, the first experience of it for many Australians. The novelty soon wore off as men began to suffer from frostbite and the snow turned to driving rain.
Trenches were flooded, men and animals washed away and the temperature continued to fall. The men from the Bridging Train were sent out to rescue any men they could find suffering from frostbite, hundreds were saved but many died on the backs of RANBT men on their way to the beaches.
In December the Bridging Train began to prepare for the evacuation of the Peninsula. Men were evacuated and not replaced, unnecessary stores were destroyed.
Piers for evacuating troops were built, one such pier was built at a beach near the small mountain Lala Baba, by Sub Lieutenant Hicks and a fifty man detachment They were also to act as a bodyguard for the British General and his staff.
These last few days at Gallipoli were very tense days indeed. As each day passed more and more men left the Peninsula and soon only a few hundred men held the front line. If the Turks had known they could have easily attacked and slaughtered those on the beaches.
Hicks and his men spent the last few hours repairing the pier which had been damaged by Turkish shell fire. At 4.30 am on December 20, 1915, they boarded a lighter and departed, being the last Australians to leave the Peninsula. (The main body of the Bridging Train had left on the night of December 18-19).
The Bridging Train was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos where they spent Christmas. Lieutenant Commander Bracegirdle was sent to hospital and Lieutenant Bond DSO assumed command of the unit.
In early January, 1916 the unit mutinied as they had not been paid in two months. This problem was eventually solved, but Bond’s failure to deal with it effectively caused him to be removed from the unit.
For the remainder of 1916 the Bridging Train controlled the swing bridges over the Suez Canal. These bridges were designed to swing open to allow ships to pass along the canal and then be returned to allow road traffic to pass over the canal.
This was far from interesting work and many of the men became bored and requested to be transferred to fighting units of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), over 100 men succeeded in doing this.
In December, 1916, the Train was asked to provide fifty men to take part in an amphibious assault on the Turkish held town of El Arish on the northern coast of the Sinai.
The waters and beach at El Arish were heavily mined and the Turks were entrenched on the beach. On December 22, the detachment waded ashore at El Arish to find the Turks gone, but the beach was still mined. Fortunately they suffered no casualties.
Here they began to construct a pier over which supplies for the Australian Light Horse advancing into Palestine could be landed. Whilst at El Arish they were subject to Turkish artillery fire and machine gun fire from German aircraft.
This detachment remained at El Arish until late March, 1917, when it was returned to the Suez Canal area and the whole unit disbanded.