- William F. Cook, MVO, Captain, RAN (Rtd)
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney II
- March 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As April 25 approaches, it is fitting to remember that it is just on 60 years since Gallipoli was visited by HMA Ships Australia and Sydney II. I was a midshipman in Australia when she sailed from Malta on 27 April 1936 to rendezvous with Sydney in the Doro Channel, east of Athens, at 2000 on the 28th. Because the Turks were commemorating their victory there on the 25th April, approval was given for our visit to Gallipoli on the 29th and 30th.
The following account is taken mainly from my diary, augmented by references to my Midshipman’s Journal:
“When I got up to the bridge for the morning watch (29th), we were passing Imbros and Lemnos on our port side. We entered the Straits (Dardenelles) at 0700. Cape Helles with its ancient fort, light house and two war memorials (and the remains of the “River Clyde”) to port; Kum Kale to starboard stretching away to the “plains of windy Troy”. Then through the Narrows, Chanak with its ancient Castle of Asia to starboard and the Castle of Europe on the other side. We anchored off the little village of Maitos in Khelia Liman. An official of the War Graves Commission and several senior members of the Turkish People’s Party came on board to welcome us. Hands went to Divisions and then closed aft where a short ceremony, with speeches by our hosts and our Captain, suitably translated, took place.
Half the ship’s company of each ship was then landed. The lucky ones had a car (when it finally arrived) to take them across the Peninsula. After frequent stops, which didn’t bother us as we had the chaplain with us, and the ceremony couldn’t proceed without him, we arrived at Beach Cemetery where a short service was held. Our Captains laid wreaths and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded. Thereafter we dispersed and ate our pusser’s “cut lunch” (salmon-aka “sawdust” sandwiches) above Anzac Cove. We inspected the remains of the old lighters on the beach, then moved around the point of Ari Burnu to Ocean Beach, up the ridge to the top of Walker’s Ridge, which I noted was named after the father of the Captain of HMAS Canberra – Captain “Hookey” Walker. What a climb, and we were only carrying water bottles!! From the Walker’s Ridge Cemetery to The Nek and the Turkish memorial, then on to Chunuk Bair – a key position in the campaign – and the New Zealand monument. From there to hill Baby 700, round Bloody Corner to Quinn’s Post, Steele’s Post, Courtenay’s Post and Johnson’s Jolly. Then to Lone Pine down to Shrapnel Gully and the 4th Battalion and Shrapnel Gully cemeteries and finally to Hell’s Spit. We returned to the ship at 1930 after a very wonderful day. God knows how the Anzacs ever got any further than the beach. As for getting to Chunuk Bair, that was miraculous! After 60 years the memory of the mixture of excitement and awe which I felt then, the thrill of seeing those places which had become a legend in the minds of all Australians and in which we, born during WWI, had been nurtured, is still very vivid in my mind. Remember, the visit took place only 21 years after the Anzac legend was born. The debris and other signs of the conflict were all too plain to see and one needed little imagination to envisage the proximity of the combatants, the savagery of the fighting and the difficulty and discomfort of the whole operation.
An unforgettable experience.