Monday, 15 November 2010

Gallipoli Diary by John Graham Gillam

Official Blurb

Major John Graham Gillam, British Supply Officer, wrote in his World War I "Gallipoli Diary" that when he sailed from England for the Dardanelles in March, 1915, he had visions of “trekking up the Gallipoli Peninsula with the Navy bombarding a way for us up the Straits and along the coast-line of the Sea of Marmora, until after a brief campaign we entered triumphantly Constantinople, there to meet the Russian Army, which would link up with ourselves to form part of a great chain encircling and throttling the Central Empires. . . We little appreciated the difficulties of the task,” he continues, in potent understatement.

Gillam’s charge was shepherding supplies--food and munitions--from beach depots to the trenches for a brigade of 4000 men. Since it was his first experience with “real war,” he decided to keep a diary, which he did from the day he landed at Gallipoli (April 25, 1915) until he was evacuated at the end of the campaign in January 1916. He aptly states in the preface to the published version of his diary: “those who desire to survey the whole amazing Gallipoli campaign in perspective must look elsewhere than in these pages. Their sole object was to record the personal impressions, feeling, and doings from day to day of one supply officer to a Division whose gallantry in that campaign well earned for it the epithet “Immortal.”

As the campaign intensifies, Gillam’s entries mature. Early on (May 30), a sample entry: “This afternoon I ride . . . to Morto Bay, and on the way have a delightful cross-country canter. I have difficulty, though, in making my mare jump trenches. She jumped hurdles at Warwick race-course like a bird.” A month later, on June 30,“The smell of dead bodies is at times almost unbearable in the trenches, and chloride of lime is thrown over them. I know of no more sickly smell than chloride of lime with the smell of a dead body blended in.” Another month, and respect for the Turks, and also for the rugged terrain of the peninsula is evident (August 29): “Behind me, purple Turkish hills, every point of which is held by the enemy. Then in between our line and the hills the scrubby low-lying country. . . I look at it hopelessly--for I know now, as we all do, that the conquest of the Peninsula is more than we can hope for. All that is left to us is to hang on day by day. . . Death in various forms walks with us always . . .”

Today, the Turkish Government maintains a war memorial and cemeteries at the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park. Memories are very much alive there. Preserved trenches and the sad graves of many, many soldiers from both sides of the conflict are made especially poignant by the beauty of the setting-- the sea and high hills beyond.

My Review

This book caught my interest in history. I had a vague idea that the WW1 Gallipoli campaign was unsuccessful but that was about it, so I downloaded this book and gave it a listen.

The joy of this kind of history is that it's personal. It's not some high minded historian presenting his interpretation of historical facts with the benefit of hindsight. Instead you get the facts from the horses mouth as such, and even better from my point of view, its not some grand strategical overview it's through the eyes of someone who was there, first hand, literally in the trenches.

When you get personal viewpoints you really get a better idea of what it felt like to be there. You get to know what matters to the men on the ground. You get to hear about how much pleasure could be gained from managing to light even a small fire while snow lies all around, or how getting a simple drink of water can be a genuine risk to life! How reaching a treeline is a massive achievement, even though its just a few yards away.

The author in this book, is a supply officer who finds himself constantly under fire and struggling to get the food and ammunition through. You get a real feel for the difficulties suffered by the men on the ground.

As well as the difficulties the author suffers in doing his job you get a feel for his hope and high expectations during the opening of the campaign. Then you can feel that change to unbelief as he slowly comes to realise that things are not going well.

All in all I found this a terrificly interesting listen, a genuine history lesson from someone "who was there". The reader was excellent, having a pacing and tone that suited the tone of the text very well.

Reading 2/3
Production 2/3
Story 2/3

Total Score 6/9

Download it from Librivox

Listen to the first part