- Swinden, Greg
- WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE2
- March 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Embarking in the troopship “Port Macquarie” in early June 1915 the RANBT arrived at the Greek island at Mudros in late July. The unit’s horses were left behind and on 8 August they landed at Suvla Bay (a few miles north of ANZAC Cove) with the British IX Army Corps.
For the next five months the 400 men of the Bridging Train carried out a variety of engineering tasks at Suvla. These included building and maintaining wharves, unloading stores, salvaging vessels that had run aground, control and storage of engineering equipment and control of water supplies for the British forces. They also ran a blacksmith and carpentry workshop and were prominent in assisting with the evacuation of wounded. Based at “Kangaroo Beach” Suvla Bay the Bridging Train came under regular heavy Turkish shell fire: four men were killed and over 60 wounded.
Several sailors went Absent Without Leave and went up to the front line to assist the Tommy’s fight Johnny Turk. Two sailors from the Bridging Train rescued a British soldier pinned down by Turkish sniper fire, but when returning him to his unit requested that no one be told as they would get into trouble for being absent without leave.
During their five months on the Peninsula many Bridging Train men came down with illness including jaundice, paratyphoid. pneumonia and pleurisy. Others sustained injuries and blood poisoning caused by the essentially heavy and dangerous engineering work they were involved in.
During November the weather at Gallipoli began to deteriorate and heavy snow fell. Trenches were flooded, and men and equipment were washed away. Many British soldiers came down with pneumonia and frostbite and had to be evacuated. The Bridging Train sailors became stretcher bearers carrying the sick to the beach for evacuation.
By December 1915 the decision had been reached to evacuate the peninsula. On 17 December the bulk of the RANBT left the Peninsula after destroying stores and equipment that could not be removed.
Fifty men of the RANBT under Sub-Lieutenant Charles Hicks RANK remained ashore to assist evacuate the British rearguard. Several days of heavy shelling by the Turks preceded the evacuation and the Bridging Train detachment spent many hours repairing the wharves.
At 0430 20 December the last British troops filed over the wharves into waiting lighters. Hicks and his men joined them, and as the lighters pulled away from SuvlaBay their departure was silhouetted by the fire from the petrol soaked stores burning ashore. The Bridging Train and RAN service at Gallipoli had come to an end. The last ANZACs had left the Peninsula at 0400 on the 20th, thus the Navy had been “First in and last out”.