Eye-witness moments from Gallipoli

Media release: Friday, 31 July 2015

And the following day my mate Young Duke was killed stone dead. He was sniping at the time and Len was observing for him and I was sitting down having my breakfast, when without any warning he fell at my feet, with half his head blown off.

Archie Barwick, Gallipoli 1915.

Archie Barwick was one of the many thousands of Australian soldiers who shared their intimate thoughts in personal diaries during World War I.

The National Archives of Australia has collaborated with the State Library of NSW to bring some of the personal observations of these soldiers from Gallipoli to Canberra for the first time.

Handwritten diaries and letters from the State Library formed the basis of the initial exhibition Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from World War 1 curated and presented by the State Library of NSW in July 2014.

With a focus on  the Gallipoli campaign as it played out during 1915, the current exhibition Life Interrupted: Gallipoli moments has added service records and a range of unique photographs from the National Archives' collection,to further reveal the human beings behind the official war histories.

'These diary excerpts help us experience, in a small way, what life was like for the men and women who answered the call,' said World War I expert Anne-Marie Condé from the National Archives. 'We are delighted to have access to the State Library of NSW's magnificent collection of diaries and letters and to share some more of our World War I items.'

Perth artist Ellis Silas was one of the soldiers to commit his thoughts to paper:

It was a magnificent spectacle to see those thousands of men rushing through the hail of Death as though it was some big game – these chaps don't seem to know what fear means – in Cairo I was ashamed of them, now I am proud to be one of them though I feel a pigmy beside them.

Ellis Silas, 25 April 1915 (Gallipoli)

But the next day, he noticed more than just the horror of war: '… in the midst of this frightful hell of screaming shrapnel and heavy ordinance, the birds are chirping in the clear morning air …'

Some wrote of their feelings of helplessness in the midst of turmoil:

The little hill above Taylor's Gap was strewn with dead and badly wounded whose cries for 'water water' were pitiful. We had received orders before the assault that men wounded in the abdomen were not to be given water as it would do them more harm than good.

Thomas Ray Crooks, 6 August 1915.

Photographer Henry Charles Marshall was working in the Grace Brothers photographic studio in Sydney when war was declared. He was one of the early enlistments, enlisting on 29 August 1914 just weeks after the war began. Instead of writing a diary, Henry captured his life as a soldier in detail through his camera lens. He died of wounds received at Gallipoli on 10 June 1915.

Life Interrupted: Gallipoli moments is a partnership exhibition based on a concept developed by the State Library of NSW. It is open at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra until 15 November 2015.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0417 247 157 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au

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