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The 11 Old Boys who died at the Anzac landing

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Eleven Scotch Collegians were among the 650 Australians who died at the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915.

About 650 Australians were killed at the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and 11 of them were Scotch Collegians.

That they died at the very beginning of that vast conflict is poignant, as is the desperate enthusiasm that the records show them to have felt about participating in the war that would kill them so soon.

For example, Cuthbert (also known as Charlie) Long (1886) was only accepted into the army on the ninth attempt. The Melbourne Herald had called him the ‘Forlorn Hope’. This 44-year-old ‘cheerful optimist’ was at last enlisted, in the 7th Battalion, and The Scotch Collegian reported that ‘on camp, on ship, and in Egypt he was the life of the company’. Yet as a boat brought his company ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April he was killed. His body was eventually pulled from the water.

Alf McColl (1911), another member of the 7th Battalion, was only accepted at enlistment when, it seems, his height was falsified: his true height appears to have been 5’4”, two inches too short for him to meet the official minimum. He was not oblivious to the dangers of war, for he wrote to his parents before entering battle: ‘I do not relish the idea one little bit, but Australia owes a good deal to the Mother Country. Then, again, I could never stay at home, realising that some of my best chums from School were over there, whilst I stayed home reaping the benefit of their sacrifices.’

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He made a sacrifice himself, being last seen on a forward ridge on 25 April, reportedly wounded. His body was never found, and the anguish of his father is apparent in letters he wrote to the defence department seeking information in June 1916 and June 1921. In the 1921 letter his father suggested that his son’s body might be identified by the metal Scotch College badge he took away with him.

Many Old Boys at Gallipoli were acutely conscious of their school background. Reg Brownell (1909), Keith McIlwraith (1912) and Percy Warren (1901) signed up at Prahran on the same day, 17 August 1914, and joined the Public Schools Company of the 5th Battalion. This company included ex-students from Scotch and its rivals on the sporting field.

One of them, George Earp (an Old Melburnian), wrote that Brownell was part of a group who, as part of a firing line on the day of the landing, ‘lay in the open and snipers got on to us. Brownell was shot first through the head and died with a groan.’ He added that Brownell ‘fought without fear all day.’ Brownell’s body was never found, but his name is commemorated at the Lone Pine Memorial, near where another eyewitness claimed to have seen him killed.

Also commemorated there are Percy Warren and Keith McIlwraith, thus creating a sad symmetry: all three shared the same place and day of enlistment, and the same place and day of death. McIlwraith had been in the 1911 premiership-winning cricket and football teams with Stan Neale (1912), and the two went ashore side by side. As McIlwraith turned to answer Neale’s call to help a wounded man, he was shot in the side and killed instantly.

Walter Dyer (1908), of the same battalion, also has no known grave. The last eyewitness account saw the 22-year-old lying unconscious after three shells had exploded in front of his section, killing or wounding every man in it.

Robert Gillespie (1910) enlisted and died on the same day as Warren, Brownell and McIlwraith. Like them and Dyer, he is also mentioned at Lone Pine, but is buried rather than commemorated there and was a member of another Victorian battalion, the 6th. He was last seen alive leading two other men in an advance through thick brush on the 25th. He called them forward repeatedly with a short whistle, but eventually no more whistles came. Early in 1920 his body was found in an isolated grave at Phillips Top and reburied.

Herbert Robertshaw (1906), also of the 6th Battalion, had nearly completed his studies for the Presbyterian ministry when war broke out. He enlisted and landed at Gallipoli, but was not seen again after advancing some two miles inland with his section. His parents’ hopes rose when a returned soldier told them in 1915 that he had seen Herbert in a hospital in Egypt. His service record contains a letter to his parents telling them that the hospital denied ever admitting Herbert. In 1916 he was officially pronounced killed in action. His body was never found.

Another 6th Battalion Scotchie was Matthew Wasley (1911). This 21-year-old law student had initially been refused enlistment because he was too short, and although he lacked military experience was made a lance-corporal. This probably reflected the respect that various fellow soldiers testified that he commanded. At the landing ‘Was’ and a friend became isolated from their unit in the confusion. As he looked for a source of sniper fire, Wasley was shot in the head and killed. His body was not discovered until 1919, when it was moved from an isolated grave to Lone Pine.

Frank Moorehead’s (1905) body was found too, in 1923. Moorehead was an uncle of Old Boy, war correspondent and author Alan Moorehead (1926), for whom visiting Frank’s grave at Shell Green Cemetery was ‘a moment of truth’ in the writing of Alan’s important book on the campaign. Frank Moorehead was in the 8th Battalion, one of four Victorian battalions that participated in the landing on 25 April: the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th. All were part of the 2nd Australian Brigade under Scotch Collegian Colonel James Whiteside McCay (1880). Each battalion’s fatal casualties that day included Scotch Collegians.

There were many more who survived that day and faced another eight months of danger on the Gallipoli peninsula. No wonder that Lieutenant Stan Neale, writing in July 1915 about the death of Keith McIlwraith and other mates, was already calling this a ‘frightful war’. That was dreadfully apparent to Mrs Mary Reid, a widow who on 25 April lost not only her son and Old Boy Lindsay (1906), fighting with the 6th Battalion, but also another son, Mordaunt, fighting as a lieutenant with Western Australia’s 11th Battalion.

The landing at Anzac demanded awful sacrifices of Australians from all areas, ages and walks of life.

DR MARK JOHNSTON – HEAD OF HISTORY

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ABOVE: Officers and NCOs of the Scotch College Cadet Corps, 1908

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ABOVE: (FROM LEFT TO RIGHT):Private Reginald Clive Brownell (5th Battalion), Private Walter Dyer (5th Battalion), Sergeant Robert Gillespie (6th Battalion),Private Cuthbert Long (7th Battalion), Private Alfred McColl (7th Battalion), Private David McIlwraith (5th Battalion),Private Frank Moorehead (8th Battalion), Private Lindsay Reid (7th Battalion), Corporal Herbert Robertshaw (6th Battalion),Corporal Percy Warren (5th Battalion) and Lance Corporal Matthew Wasley (6th Battalion).

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* Guy Neal Landale Labertouche (Old Scotch Collegian, entered 1881) was killed on 14 April 1915, serving with the British Indian Army in Iraq (or Mesopotamia as it was then called). The other 11 were killed at the Gallipoli Landing on 25 April 1915.

Updated: 3 October 2016