22 June 1915

HELLES - Major Norman Burge, Nelson Battalion, 1st Naval Brigade, wrote a wonderful series of letters from Gallipoli which were witty evocations of Gallipoli life designed as much to amuse as to inform, One of the best was written on 22 June 1915.

"My word it is baking 'ot today - the hottest we've had - no wind and 30 billion more flies than yesterday. I suppose there must be a maximum number allowed otherwise I don't know what will happen if each one is capable of laying so many thousand eggs per minute or whatever it is! They are getting so impertinent too - a reproving shake of the head is no longer enough to dislodge one off your nose, but a slap is necessary - which makes one hot and also in exasperation one sometimes slaps harder than was intended - which is more exasperating. There's been a dreadful calm all day most uncanny - very few guns and practically no rifle fire, so I suppose something devilish is brewing. We had the rare spectacle of a duel in the air this morning between a German Taube and one of our biplanes, who were indulging in a friendly bickering up aloft - we could hear their pistol shots at each other. The Taube managed to get away however - as he could turn twice as quick as our feller. So presently back comes our biplane and settles down on the aerodrome with her propeller making a sort of smug sort of whirr - just as if saying, "There you are - now I hope you'll cease saying we never do anything!" At that moment back shot the Taube from behind Achi Baba really with the sort of look of a mischievous puppy making a dart from underneath the sofa, but this time he proceeded to drop large bombs, one of them came disgustingly close! Ours of course went up at once but it takes some time to get up to a few thousand feet - so off went the Taube having distinctly scored. So ours came down to rest again not quite so blatantly as before but in a more subdued fashion."

There was one passage in the letter where his inner feelings escaped, just for a few lines, before his sense of humour reasserted itself.

"I've been rather trying to analyse ones feelings at different times and find it very difficult. Mostly, I think, one doesn't have any feelings to speak of and yet at other times you sort of look at things in a light you'd be rather ashamed of, that is if you didn't happen to know that all the other fellows are feeling just the same. I know they do, 'cos I asked them and they said they did. So each of us was quite happy to find the others had nervousy moments. For instance on a Monday - down here in the rest camp. You hear there's going to be a night advance of 100 yards on Tuesday. On Tuesday morning a sinister message all about stretchers and where the 'dressing station' will be at comes in etc and also what part of the line we'll be in and so on. I don't mind confessing that for a moment one feels as if you hadn't had your breakfast. Sudden flashes of awful horrors one can picture only too easily, intrude themselves on one's mind in a most insistent way. The uncomfortable feeling generally comes on when you know you've got to do something at a certain hour and you are just sitting down waiting for the clock to strike as it were. That feeling again stops with a click directly you begin doing it, whatever it may be, and from then on you cease thinking how absurdly inadequate Government pensions for widows are and mild wonders as to how the world can possibly get along without you - and all that sort of morbid nonsense. Also one gets, or always has been (the same in the end) very callous indeed to other folks' suffering. You say "poor old So and So" and soon forget all about him and when you do remember you sort of mechanically say to yourself 'Poor old chap' as if it were a necessary formula that you ought to have repeated more frequently."

His thoughts then reverted to his recent close escape from a bomb.

"I've quite decided (since this morning) that the worst one of all is the sinister swish of an aeroplane bomb coming down. You feel such a "fearful ass" (in every sense of the word). You can't do anything and there's nowhere to go and no time to get there if there was. Everyone shouts "Bomb Coming" which is a peculiarly fatuous remark as the fact needs no announcement - then you stand still and look foolish and talk rather unnecessarily when it has gone off. Most shell are gentleman. To begin with - the vast majority of 'em you hear coming and a very little practice enables you to tell the probable size of it (as if it mattered), its direction, (more important) and probable place of explosion (most important). So that newcomers duck and dive and assume most comic attitudes over noises which do not in the least disturb the equanimity of the cook preparing the omelette - we've never had one yet but we have hopes especially with the French so close!"

IWM Documents: N. Burge, letter dated 22/6/1915