Among the many reasons that thousands of men volunteered to go to war in 1914 was that they thought it would be an adventure and a great chance to travel and see the world. What they did not take into consideration, nor could have possibly imagined, were the conditions they would face while they were overseas.
When the soldiers landed on the shore at Gallipoli in late spring the climate was at its most pleasant. Unbeknown to the Allied commanders and the ANZACs was the fact that throughout the year the peninsula was subjected to extremes in temperature. See animation
During summer, the mercury soared and remained that way through the night, preventing the soldiers from being able to rest. Although many of the ANZACs had a civilian background working outdoors on farms and, therefore, did not feel too discomforted by the heat, it was the freezing blizzards and frost that removed the soldiers most from their comfort zone. Most of them had previously spent their days under the Australian sun.
By the time snow began to fall and the north wind began to blow, the men had only the clothes which had seen them through the warmer months. Often these clothes and boots were worn out and the men not on duty found themselves having to huddle together in dirty old blankets. It was not uncommon for the men who were on duty to freeze to death at their posts. Others needed to have their toes or feet amputated because of severe frostbite. See image 1
Rain on the peninsula proved to be yet another climatic challenge for the ANZACs. Torrential rainstorms flooded the trenches and made the battlefields resemble dams of mud. For the Allies' opposition, the Turks, the climate and weather patterns were not an issue as they were accustomed to the conditions. Many of them were from a rural background and quite well adapted to enduring the elements. Even the rain was not as much of a problem for the Turks as their trenches were always situated on higher ground than those of the ANZACs and were not prone to flooding. See image 2
Food and Water
What we would consider today to be basic necessities would have been luxuries had they been available to the ANZACs at Gallipoli.
Water is something that is taken for granted. In Gallipoli, however, clean water was not abundant, even in the spring months. Wells did not last long which meant that water had to be shipped in.
Fresh water was not always available if the barge had been fired upon or a leak had formed. Even when it was available, however, the soldiers were often rationed to only two quarts of water a day (equivalent to about 2.3 litres). This was usually drunk in the form of tea. So as not to waste any precious water, leftover tea was used for shaving.
Food, although it was not usually a rare commodity, was not varied. The ANZACs' primary diet consisted of bully beef (a type of canned meat), hard biscuits, some tea and sugar and some jam. Small quantities of bread sometimes came through, with bacon and cheese also being made available at times. Vegetables were scarce. In the early days the men resorted to eating 'Julienne,' which was flaked and dried pieces of various vegetables in a tin. 'Machonochies' was a tinned meat good that also contained some potato and other vegetables.
The Turkish diet was not much better, with staples of bread and olives. Fortunately for them, their position allowed them to have access to fresh vegetables from farms inland.
Napoleon is often quoted as saying that an army marches on its stomach. It is remarkable then, that with so little variation and nutrition in their diet, the ANZACs had the strength to fight in such difficult conditions. See image 3
With the soldiers living in trenches filled with stagnant water and inadequate sanitation, being immersed in flies, lice, mosquitoes and rats, and taking into account the rotting, empty food tins and countless dead bodies piled across the area between the trenches called no man's land- it was not surprising that disease was widespread.
The rats were particularly unpleasant for two reasons. Firstly, they would often move from eating the leftover remnants of food in the discarded tins that had been thrown into no man's land to feed on the stored supplies in the dug-outs. Secondly, the soldiers had to see the rats eat the eyeballs of decaying comrades before the rodents moved on to devour the decomposed flesh.
In summer the ANZACs also had to contend with swarms of flies. Not only were they annoying, they were quickly spreading disease by spending half of their time on the rotten leftover food and human excrement and the other half of their time on open wounds and decaying corpses. This brought about infestations of maggots. Dysentery and a number of other diseases raged as a result of inadequate diet and impure water.
The pungent odour caused by conditions in the trenches was almost unbearable, especially in the warmer months. Several truces were called to enable soldiers from both sides to bury their dead. For most of the time the corpses were simply left to rot in no man's land.
Conditions for the ANZACs were horrendous. They were in the middle of a war zone, against an enemy who outnumbered them, who was more familiar with the environment, and who was holding much better trench positions than they were. Gallipoli was worse than anyone could have imagined and was certainly no overseas holiday for the ANZACs.