That battle occurred 100 years (and a few days) ago and was one of the most futile events within the greater Gallipoli campaign of World War I.
Australian troops were ordered to leave their own trenches at a site named “The Nek”, armed with bayonets fixed on rifles*, and capture Turkish positions only 30 or so metres in front of them. To do this they had to cross a narrow patch of land about the size of 2-3 tennis courts. Either side of this area, the land fell away steeply.
Charles Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent later described the event as being like “trying to attack an inverted frying pan from the direction of its handle.”**
The attack at the Nek would be familiar to many people without them realising it. It formed the climax of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, in which its futility was highlighted.
Four waves of troops were ordered to charge one after the other, even though the massacre of the first wave made the tragic outcome clear. Attempts to have the charge of subsequent waves halted were rejected and line after line of troops were mown down by Turkish machine gun and rifle fire almost as soon as they raised themselves above the parapet of their own trenches.
Harold Rush of the 10th Light Horse died in the third wave, after his commanding officer had tried to put an end to the attack that he knew would see his men slaughtered. That officer’s plea was rejected by the senior officer at the site.
John Hamilton’s book Goodbye Cobber God Bless You follows the men involved in the battle from the time of recruitment through to the tragedy that took the lives of most of them. It’s a subject that he briefly touched upon in his more recent book The Price of Valour about Hugo Throssell. Throssel was one of the few survivors of the attack whose involvement in another battle soon afterwards earned him a Victoria Cross.
I found the book on Throssell was a much easier read than Goodbye Cobber Following the life of one man was easier than keeping track of many men whose names were mostly unfamiliar. The book would probably benefit from a second reading, which may give clarity to the earlier references to men whose names grow more recognisable as the book progresses.
The difficulty I had reading Goodbye Cobber wasn’t really the fault of the book or its author. By the time I started I’d already ready many books about the Gallipoli campaign and maybe a kind of battle fatigue had started to set in. My reading time was also limited so I didn’t have large blocks of time available to devote to the book. The short reading periods available didn’t really give me the chance to settle into it, and each time I picked it up was like starting over again.
* Some reports claim they were sent with unloaded rifles, but accounts given in Hamilton’s book speak of Australian survivors returning fire occasionally while stranded in “no-man’s land”.
** Goodbye Cobber God Bless You, John Hamilton page 243
Also see my short article here: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/anzacs-and-wwi-100-years-on-7th-august/