08 January 1916

HELLES EVACUATION - Every possible preparation for the evacuation of Helles on the night of 8 January had been made. All they could do now was wait for night fall. The selected routes back to the beach had been carefully marked out with flour while the others had been blocked with masses of tangled barbed wire obstructions. Along the planned route were control stations to carefully monitor and report the passage of each party.

Major Norman Burge of the Nelson Battalion was in charge of the station at Skew Bridge.

"I'm in charge of the divisional rendezvous and as these small scattered groups come in, I have to sort them out into their own particular units and pack them off to the beach. I don't quite know all details yet but the idea seems to be that I've got to put the last man in on his right road, and once that's done, I can promise you that you won't see my heels for small pebbles! Of course we hope that even if they do discover that we are retreating from our front lines pretty soon after we have commenced to go, that they won't come after us too quickly. In fact we are discouraging little schemes of that kind by leaving large numbers of contact mines behind us and various other little booby traps, which should throw a considerable amount of cold water (otherwise melinite) on any thrusting and inquisitive spirits." (Major Norman Burge, Nelson Battalion, 1st Brigade, RND)

Up near the front line the final few men wore sandbags over our boots while a layer of straw had been put down on the floor of the trenches to try and muffle the sound. Sub-Lieutenant Ivan Heald of the Hood Battalion felt the tension growing.

"Never did man listen to sound so anxiously as I did, sitting alone in the old French dugout in the red glow of a charcoal brazier. I was fearful that any moment there might come clamouring in my ears the furious babbling splutter of rapid fire, which would mean an attack. But the hours wore on in a healthy sequence of occasional bombs and steady sniping, and half an hour before midnight I made a tour to the end of my line, where my commander, Freyberg, with Asquith and six men, were holding the chaos of mine craters and trenches which the French named La Ravine de la Mort. They both decided there was time to finish some biscuits they had left in a dug-out" (Sub-Lieutenant Ivan Heald, Hood Battalion, 2nd Brigade, RND)

At long last the time came for Heald and his small party to creep away and they began their fraught journey back to V Beach. 

"A touch on the back of the last man and he climbed down from the firing step and touched the next man farther along, and quietly we filed out of the long firing line, and, as we stole away, I could hear the Turks coughing and talking in their trench 20 yards away. Two or three times, to hide the shuffle of the men's gear against the side of the trench, I jumped on the firing step and let my Webley-Scott bark at Achi Baba, and somewhere on the left someone fired a farewell Very light, which lit up the sandbags until the blackness came welling up out of the trench again as the rocket died away. So we shuffled past the telephone station at the top of the communication trench."

Off they went back down the zigzagging communication trenches. 

"The Turk's own moon was in the sky, a perfect crescent with a star, and a wind rising dangerously from the north. Now and again a wistful sigh of a spent bullet, and ever wheeling behind us the shaft of the great Chanak searchlight. The men talked little among themselves, and I think we were all awed by the bigness of the thing, and saddened by the thoughts of the little crosses we were leaving behind us - the little wooden crosses that were creeping higher every day to meet the crescents on that great sullen hill."

Even when they had reached the beach Heald knew that they were still extremely vulnerable to the fire from the Asiatic batteries. 

"We toiled on to other parties coming through the roofless village of Sedd el Bahr, all anxious now with the knowledge that a Turkish telephone message would stir Asiatic Annie to pound us with shells. Sure enough one came as we waited on the beach. We saw the great flash blotted out by the night, the warning 'G' on a bugle sounded, and, full of foreboding, we began to count the 27 seconds which Annie gives one to think about one's sins before she drops her shell on the beach. This one squabbed miserably in the sea and none followed. The beach was awesome with the throbbing of motor-launches and the shouts of naval officers making perilous berths alongside the sunken steamers which make the pier. There is a curving yellow cliff here, and the foot of it was one long black line where the battalions were moving slowly on to the pier. The whole place reeked of paraffin, and we guessed that dawn would see the beach ablaze. Over the listed sunken ship we clambered, and a jolly naval petty officer chased us along a gangway to the deck of a pitching black silhouette of a destroyer. Seven hundred and fifty war-weary men covered the deck of that destroyer before she slid out into the night, and I think most of us were asleep before we had lost the shore lights."

Another of the Hood Battalion, Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray, left at about midnight on a lighter via the hulk of the River Clyde. Once inside the lighter he found it a sordid and uncomfortable experience.

"We were so packed we couldn't move our hands up at all. We couldn't! I remember the chap in front of me was as sick as a dog. Half of them were asleep and leaning .We were packed up like sardines in this blinking lighter. It was dark, of course. Apart from being dark, it was dark inside - no lights, no portholes. I remember a couple of fellows behind me pushing and shoving, and I thought to myself: "Do as you bloody well like!" All of a sudden the damned thing started to rock, and it did rock! There must have been a shell - I couldn't hear it - there must have been a shell dropped pretty close, and you know we laughed at V Beach shelling, we laughed, and there we were, no reason for laughing. There must have been hundreds in this blinking lighter, must have been, and every now and again it was rocking. All of a sudden it hit the pier. Those that were asleep were half awake and those that were sick were still being sick and, oh dear me, it was stifling hot, stifling hot! And then another one came along and I thought to myself: "Why the hell don't we get out of it?" It may only have been a little while but to me it seemed hours and then all of a sudden we felt the gradual rock and I thought to myself: "Well here we are; we are at sea now anyhow". We left there like a lot of cattle, being dumped into a lighter and just pushed to sea, and nobody gave a tinker's cuss whether we lived or died."(Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray, Hood Battalion, 2nd Brigade, RND)

V Beach was evacuated safely, but what about W Beach?

SOURCE:
IWM DOCS: N. Burge, Manuscript Letter, 4/1/1916, I. Heald, Ivan Heald: Hero and Humorist (London: C. Arthur Pearson Ltd, 1917), pp.176-179, IWM Sound, J. Murray, AC 8201