20 December 1915

ANZAC EVACUATION - As the various parties began to wind their way as quietly as possible to the beach the men left in the trenches had to create the impression of an undiminished occupancy. Obviously the ‘quiet’ periods had helped but it was still best to try and maintain a physical presence as best possible. One of those left behind in the Lone Pine sector was Second Lieutenant Stanley Savige of the 24th (Victoria) Battalion

"Each man would take ten to fifteen fire bays as his sector. This demanded great individual activity, as each man, though able to fire from only one bay at a time, must maintain a regular fire from all. This fire must be maintained by firing from irregular bays and not bay after bay in succession. Everything must be done as normally carried out by the full garrison, even to throwing the occasional bomb. These plans were not difficult in making, but extremely difficult in their execution, as the average distance between the line was only 15 yards, and, at places, considerably closer." (Second Lieutenant Stanley Savige, 24th (Victoria) Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, AIF)

As the hours passed by Second Lieutenant George McIlroy of the same battalion began to hope that they might, against all the odds, get away with it. 

"A still night, with a bright moon overhead casting shadows in the bottom of the trench - a scene so peaceful one could hardly associate it with war. The mind found leisure to wander off to far Australia and imagine something of the surprise which would be caused by the newspaper headlines on the morrow. All quiet in front and everything working so smoothly to schedule, one even began to contemplate the hitherto very remote possibility of our getting away with it altogether. It was a great satisfaction to know that most of the troops were already clear and it was beginning to look like a sporting chance for us, although time enough for quite a lot of things to happen yet." (Second Lieutenant George McIlroy, 24th (Victoria) Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, AIF)

Yet there were still occasional excitements. Routine Turkish activity, which in normal circumstances would have passed without comment, was suddenly perceived as very threatening - at least by Second Lieutenants George McIlroy. "A little after midnight the officers were sharpened up a bit by a telephone report that a Turkish patrol had been observed pushing up Wire Gully. If this meant a general move forward, we could expect trouble very shortly, while our isolated party might easily be cut off in the rear. Our orders were clear, however, that the position must be held, even though attacked heavily, until 3am at all costs. Nothing was said to the men, except a warning to be alert and the time arrived - about 12 midnight - for ‘CI’ and ‘C2’ parties, including the machine gunners, to retire, while the phone from the rear was cut off, leaving three officers and 34 other ranks doing their best to sound like a whole battalion, although feeling somewhat isolated in the world, for as far as we could tell no other Australian troops were on either flank for some distance. When each officer, precisely at 2.40am, moved along his front with instructions to slip quietly out to the rendezvous in Gun Lane, instead of the frenzied anxiety to depart which one might have expected, the popular idea of the moment seemed to be, "Just another shot at the old **** before we go!'" (Second Lieutenant George McIlroy, 24th AIF)

As they filed back they met the neighbouring sections including that commanded by Second Lieutenant Stanley Savige. Many of them felt the eerie remoteness of the situation as they walked down deserted trenches and paths that were normally packed full of soldiers. The hundreds of dugouts that lined the gullies still had candles burning but there was no-one at home. This strangeness was intensified by the muffling effect of the blanketed trenches and swathed boots. In the pitch dark the route down to the beach was not easy and the exhausted men needed all their officers’ motivational powers to keep them on the straight and narrow. 

"The strips of blankets around the boots began to unwind and impede progress. There was not time to halt and rectify this. Before we had traversed half the distance we faced our greatest difficulties, difficulties we had not foreseen. The men of the last party had not slept since the night of the 17th. It was now morning of the 20th. While on the job in the line the excitement of the situation had kept all of us actively awake. Now that we were clear of the trenches, the nervous strain had its reaction. We were all loaded with packs and rifles. Some men began to drop out of line. All they desired was sleep and to be left alone. All the Turks in the world did not interest them. Persuasion was useless and time was slipping by. There was nothing left but to ply the boot to the fleshy part of the anatomy. We literally booted some of them along to, and on to, the last boat". (Second Lieutenant Stanley Savige, 24th AIF)

As the mines detonated up on Russell's Top, the exhausted ‘last ditchers’ finally reached the beach. Even here they were not safe from an old enemy - the guns from behind Gaba Tepe that had been firing intermittently into Anzac ever since 25 April. Still George McIlroy’s luck held good. 

"At the beach we found a sentry, who warned us to hurry past, as ‘Beachy Bill’ was dropping his ‘pills’ regularly every few minutes. We crowded on to the barge lying alongside the jetty and between decks was soon filled with a mass of unshaven, haggard and dirty looking ‘diggers’ all talking at once, and the air thick with tobacco smoke. After the recent strain and the prohibition on smoking for fear the lighting of matches might arouse suspicion, one can imagine the clamour which broke out - everybody at once trying to tell the other fellow his experiences. I will always remember those men - probably the pick of the whole Force, and they looked it, despite their ragged appearance; some with full beards, while the lean cheeks of the others were covered with several days' stubble."

As they sailed away from Anzac Cove for the last time. The attempted destruction of the stores was a grand sight at both Anzac and Suvla. Huge fires blazed and the ships of the Royal Navy poured shells into the abandoned stores depots. They had done it: not only had Suvla and Anzac been evacuated but without it had been achieved without casualties. 

OTHER SOURCES: G. S. McIlroy,'Silent Stunts: Turks Outwitted' (Reveille, 1/12/1932), p.54.

SOURCE:
S. G. Savige,'Lone Pine Sector:24th Battalion’s Goodbye' (Reveille, 1/12/1932), p.60.