27
May
15

Anzacs and WWI: part 2, the price.


Part 1 looked at the political side of a War that eventually caused millions of deaths, and left countless more millions physically and mentally maimed. Combatants experienced some of the most horrendous situations and conditions ever faced by men in battle. The nature and number of ongoing casualties was unimaginable with survivors having to live with countless unburied bodies decaying only metres away.

At Gallipoli, the rotting dead and the heat of summer provided an ideal breeding ground for flies and swarms of them covered everything, getting into food and drink, causing dysentery and diarrhoea among the troops. Then the worsening sanitary situation added to the ideal conditions for the flies.

Gallipoli casualtiesNot only were they surrounded by death and the smell of the dead (which reportedly reached to the campaign ships out on the Aegean), they were never free from the threat of death. Snipers regularly picked off the careless and deadly showers of pellets from shrapnel shells killed and wounded those exposed to them. Occasional charges from the enemy needed both sides to remain alert and ready to defend themselves. These charges added to the bodies lying between the trenches, and if not repelled soon enough would lead to hand to hand combat, fighting with knives, bayonets, rocks and even teeth.

At both the Western front and Gallipoli, the machine gun, an early weapon of mass destruction, would be used to literally mow down the charging enemy, firing at the legs, cutting them off and leaving men maimed and dying painfully and slowly where it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue. At Gallipoli their suffering was occasionally brought to a painful but maybe quicker end, when shelling sparked fires in surrounding scrub, incinerating those unable to move out of the way.

Not surprisingly the conditions have frequently been described as “hell on earth”.

Often the main aim to break the deadlock seemed to be to commit as many troops as possible to suicidal attacks on the enemy with the hope that sufficient numbers might survive to engage them at closer quarters to hopefully prevail and win a little ground. Men seemed more like gaming pieces used by generals planning battles on maps, distanced from the effects their decisions had on the men at the battle front.

Human life seemed to have little value.

How could any man, whether General or foot soldier submit himself (and commit himself) to this kind of situation?

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